The Bright Side: Pua’a to ahi — locals seek balance

Nothing much happened in Pu’uanahulu this week, except the pigs stopped coming around.

Junior said that when something stopped happening it couldn’t be said that it happened, but I ignored him.

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Oh, and then there’s the moon. Maunakea snow, brought to life in the moonlight, sent Jack Russel winds howling down the mountain, biting and nipping at everyone who was not already tucked away.

Junior asked if I could ride him down to Kailua to warm up, and to join some other local fishermen. Some “officials” from Honolulu were coming to see the small boat guys and talk story. Junior said no one could remember the last time they did this, so word was getting around that something was up.

Since only chill was happening out on the ridge, we drove in to town to see what all the fuss was about, and find higher temps.

On the way down, Junior said, “No matter it’s pig hunters, kia’i up mauka or us guys in small boats, when “official guys” come here to talk story, I always put on two or three pairs BVD’s.”

I allowed as to how I could relate to that, but suggested he keep an open mind. He looked at me from the corner of his good eye, and then fixed it out the shotgun window, all the way to town.

What was said at the meeting was kind of confusing, but the pictures and graphs in the handouts were easy to understand.

The “officials” were from a federal agency called the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — WESPAC. They said that every coast of the USA had their own council, and that their job was to manage the fisheries. Then they told us that they didn’t really manage the fish, they managed the fishermen.

Junior slid down in his chair and folded his hand into the church and steeple position. “I’m ready now,” he said.

The city guys seemed nice, and one of them talked about how WESPAC was a grass roots organization, and that they listened to everyone when making decisions about managing the fish.

I looked over a Junior and he just raised an eyebrow. The church remained, perched on his chest. He moved his thumbs to the side so he could peer inside and then looked over at me. “I thought they managed the fishermen, not the fish?”

I shushed him and looked up. The WESPAC guys reported that they were fishery analysts, and then started showing us those pictures and graphs.

The first one showed how the big guys on the Honolulu based long line boats had been steadily catching more and more fish, while the small guys on the graph caught less. Big boats were blue and small boats were mostly red, but other colors too.

Junior said, “Look how the blue grows taller and us reds and greens are coming more short.”

The second graph showed that the number of guys fishing from small boats declined by about 12.5%. What caught his eye was that the number of days the small boats fished went down by 30%.

Junior looked at me and said, “Try look. The more long liners catch, the less we catch. The less we catch, the less times we go fishing. That’s why I got on all these BVD’s.”

The next story and picture were our favorite because everyone laughed. The analysts said they were here because the federal law that governed all the guys who fish outside of 3 miles had been updated. It required them to get good data on small boat fishermen. The data they had now, was not so good.

A new picture showed the yellowfin tuna catch by “non-commercial” small boats between 2014 and 2018 varied from 3,000 pounds up to about 8,500 pounds. However, these were just estimates because of the way they figure this stuff out. The analysts laughed at how this graph was created.

The State has some guys who talk to the fishermen at the ramps and docks, asking how much fish they caught. They only have a few guys doing this so they don’t talk to all the fishermen.

Another group of guys call fishermen for a phone survey about how much fish they caught. Then an analyst multiplies one times the other some certain number of ways and that’s how they came up with the catch estimates and the graph.

“So, this is why we need to work with you guys in the small boats. Our data really needs to be better. We don’t know if these estimate are true, but they could be.”

Junior broke the little church apart and pulled his cap down low over his eyes. I thought he’d seen enough and was going sleep, but he put the church back up and started praying, “God help us. The city boys went come here and sound like CNN and Fox News.”

He took a deep breath, and the church on his belly appeared to ride an earthquake.

Then everyone in the room got serious. The analysts told us that if fishermen in small boats tangled up with a false killer whale, or an endangered white tip shark, or even a monk seal – they could end up in court and weren’t protected from the law. The Honolulu guys fishing from the big long line boats were protected, but the small guys weren’t.

Junior sat up straight.

Then they said that new regulations were going to come in with a quota on how much tuna Hawaii boats could catch. If the Honolulu boats caught the limit of the quota and small boat guys catch went over the quota, then they could go to court.

Next, they opened the meeting up for the Talk Story part. Junior stood up and pushed me out the door. “We gotta go. I no more nuff BVD’s for this.”

On the way back up country Junior sat quietly again. Around Pu’u Wa’awa’a he said, “What you think?”

“Well,” I said as I leaned into the curves of the ridge, “Sometimes we have too much pigs around. Not the same with fish. If you small boat guys want plenty fish to come around you gonna have to work with those analyst dudes. Otherwise, you aren’t even gonna be a slice of red on those graphs. All you will see is one completely blue column from the Honolulu long line boats catching all the fish.”

When we pulled in, I looked over and Junior had his hands in the church position again. He said, “I think you right, but you know what? I want to talk with the folks in here about it first.”

“Who’s in there?”

“Us small boat fishermen.”

“Well, you the guy who said that when something stopped happening it couldn’t be said that it happened.”

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“Yeah. And den?”

“Make it happen. You don’t want the fish to stop coming around.”

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