Darrell Tanaka has heard the same story too many times – a fisherman gets caught using an illegal net, they head to court, “to get tapped on the fingers” and soon they are back on the shore doing the same thing again.
“It’s really worth it for them to catch their fish illegally, sell it, so what? They only pay the small fine,” said Tanaka, a recreational fisherman who lives in Haiku.
That’s why Tanaka sees a new state law that increases penalties for fishing violations and allows state officials to recommend that certain violators be barred from entering the ocean or waterways. as “a game changer” that will make people think twice about overexploiting fish, lobster and other aquatic resources.
“No one has the right to abuse the ocean. It is a public resource. Tanaka said. “And if they’re going to be selfish about it, take the punishment that’s coming.”
House Bill 1653, which was signed into law by Governor David Ige on Wednesday and takes effect July 1, would create a flexible, tiered system of fines based on the type of specimen caught illegally and whether it is a first or a recurrence.
When someone is ordered to perform community service instead of a fine, the new measure allows the state’s Department of Lands and Natural Resources to recommend activities, such as shoreline cleanup or beach restoration.
The department may also recommend to the court that defendants be granted probation with conditions including restrictions on access to the ocean, estuaries, rivers and streams; engage in certain fishing activities; use certain fishing gear or navigational equipment; and the taking or possession of certain aquatic species.
“I think it would be particularly effective for serial poachers or people who have continued to break the law undeterred by fines,” said David Sakoda, Commercial Fisheries Program Manager for DLNR’s Aquatic Resources Division. “The ban on going to a certain ocean location or owning certain fishing gear is a major deterrent and I think if people know they are subject to these potential penalties, they can think twice about going. ‘break the law.”
Currently, most first violations result in a $100 fine, but often amount to less due to plea bargains in court, Sakoda said. Prosecutors could charge each illegally captured specimen as a separate offence, but “it’s a lot of work” and they are usually grouped into a single offense instead.
“This often results in disproportionately low penalties relative to the value of illegally caught aquatic life,” DLNR told state lawmakers during public testimony on the bill in April. “For example, a defendant who illegally collected five specimens will often receive the same minimum penalty ($100) as a defendant who illegally collected a single specimen of the same species.”
Under the new law, instead of charging defendants with five separate offenses, prosecutors could charge one offense and add the sentences based on the number of fish, Sakoda said.
For example, offenses involving a threatened or endangered species currently result in a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense, up to $10,000 for a second offense and up to $15,000 for a third or subsequent offence.
The new law allows additional fines for each threatened or endangered specimen taken – up to $5,000 or the retail market value of the specimen, whichever is greater, for the first offense; up to $10,000 or retail value, whichever is greater, for the second offence; and up to $15,000 or retail value, whichever is greater, for the third or subsequent offence.
“It would only expand the toolbox available to prosecutors and courts to deter fisheries violations,” Sakoda said.
Like many anglers and divers, Tanaka notes that there are far fewer fish in the ocean than when he started spearfishing 30 years ago.
“We’ve seen the declines and it’s unbelievably bad,” he said. “So fishermen have been promoting better management for many years now. But it was a slow process. … We need strict regulations and severe penalties. It’s the only thing that will change things. »
Tanaka fishes all over the island but generally heads for the northern shore. He saw many illegal nets and catches of undersized fish, as well as people posting illegal catches on social media.
“Courts, they don’t usually give big fines for small infractions and that’s understandable,” Tanaka said. “No one should go to jail for a tako that’s too small. But why not just banish them from the ocean? That in itself will teach people a lesson more than any small fine ever will.
Brian Yoshikawa, manager of Maui Sporting Goods in Wailuku, has been fishing and diving in Hawaii for over 50 years. He said some of the most common violations he sees are people catching lobsters that are too small, out of season or the wrong sex. The rules are there for a reason, Yoshikawa said, pointing out that the closed season for lobsters gives them a chance to breed.
“Taking them when they spawn kind of cuts off the next crop for seven years, which is what it takes to get a harvestable legal size lobster,” he said.
He pointed out that early Hawaiians also carefully regulated collection protocols, basing their rules on spawning seasons and the abundance of certain resources.
“Ancient Hawaiians knew that without protocols in place to ensure enough fish to eat, they would starve,” he said. “They didn’t have Foodland or Costco to go buy their fish. They had to go and harvest it or cultivate it, and if they didn’t do it in a sustainable way, they would starve. The old Hawaiian regulations were probably much stricter than what we have now.
Yoshikawa said preventing people from accessing the water for breaking the rules is nothing new, recalling a case a few years ago when a judge banned a fisherman from the ocean for two years. for catching lobster out of season. The man, who was selling the lobsters to buy drugs, took the time to clean up and turn his life around, Yoshikawa said.
Asked about the bill undermining people’s rights to access the ocean and coastline, Sakoda said the courts “have discretion and due process” decide the consequences.
“I think when defendants are convicted of crimes, their liberty rights are taken away from them,” Sakoda said. “It’s exactly the same. If an accused is charged, receives due process and is convicted, certain freedoms may be taken away. Maybe not a prison sentence, but a restriction of certain activities. This is the consequence of breaking the law.
As to who would be responsible for enforcement, Jason Redulla, chief of DLNR’s Conservation and Resource Enforcement Division, pointed out that in Hawaii, any law enforcement officer can enforce the laws and the rules. Although natural resource violations primarily fall under DOCARE, that does not preclude the Maui Police Department or others from taking action if they find violations.
MPD spokeswoman Alana Pico delivered her comments to the state, saying that “this falls within the remit of the DLNR.”
“However, MPD would help if DLNR asked for our help,” Pico said in an email Thursday.
To view the full text of the bill and the fines per violation, visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2022/bills/HB1653_SD2_.htm.
For more information on state fishing regulations, visit dlnr.hawaii.gov/dar/fishing/fishing-regulations/.
*Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]