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Enlarged Papahanaumokuakea Benefits Hawaii’s Traditional Fishing Community

A growing number of small boat fishermen in Hawaii consider themselves to be, or are working hard to become, pono fishermen, recognizing that their predecessors in these islands understood that kapu, or protected areas, were necessary to assure productive fisheries, to assure that there would be fish for the future. Last month’s historic expansion of...

A growing number of small boat fishermen in Hawaii consider themselves to be, or are working hard to become, pono fishermen, recognizing that their predecessors in these islands understood that kapu, or protected areas, were necessary to assure productive fisheries, to assure that there would be fish for the future.

Last month’s historic expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will, amongst many other things, assure that Hawaii’s small-boat commercial, subsistence, recreational, sport and charter boat fishermen will continue to be able to catch the tunas, billfish, bottomfish, and other species so important in our local communities.

Yellowfin tuna. Credit: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
Yellowfin tuna. Credit: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
Yellowfin tuna diving. Credit: NOAA
Yellowfin tuna diving. Credit: NOAA

The much larger Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument does not prevent our small boat fishermen from landing ahi or any other species, and in time it will mean our fishermen will have access to more ahi, bottom-fish and other species.

In stark contrast to pono fishing are the types of fishing that have been very damaging to the world’s ocean. Over the course of my life and professional career, I have observed the emergence and growth of a new level of commercial longline fishing in Hawaii. This industrial-scale fishery is focused on profit today, rather than planning for the future. It is the antithesis of the pono fishing practiced in these waters before the arrival of Captain Cook. Miles of mainline with tens-to-hundreds of thousands of hooks that catch the targeted fish, and “by-catch” which includes other fish, turtles, scores of marine mammals, hundreds of seabirds, and thousands of sharks. This somewhat indiscriminate fishery has not only jeopardized the sustainability of our fisheries, but the livelihoods of small boat fishermen and the local fish markets they depended on, here in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

The Hawaii longline fleet will be affected by the recent expansion, however data shows that they hook only a very small percentage of their annual catch in the area that was just protected, and because they fish under a quota system they can move to other productive areas and catch just as many fish.

Only 2 percent of the world’s oceans are currently protected, but many marine scientists agree that we need to protect at least 30 percent of our oceans to assure the worlds fisheries don’t continue to collapse. Fishing depletes the supply of fish. Conservation areas give fish the chance to repopulate. Moreover, female fish that are given adequate refuge, allowing them to grow older and larger, produce geometrically more eggs, and more viable eggs. Science has confirmed that fish populations in protected areas spill-over into adjacent waters, increasing the quantity of fish available to, in this case, the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Rick GaffneyRick Gaffney was born and raised in Hawaii and has fished recreationally, for sport, as a charter captain and commercially, in the Main Hawaiian Islands, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and around the Pacific, for 60 years.  He has served on numerous local, state, national and international fishery advisory bodies including WESPAC, the Marine Protected Areas Federally Advisory Commission, the West Hawaii Fishery Council, the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission, and several others, so he is aware of a broad range of fishery issues and understands the science behind the management marine fisheries and marine protected areas, across the Pacific and here at home.

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Meet the Author

Rick Gaffney
Rick Gaffney was born and raised in Hawaii and has fished recreationally, for sport, as a charter captain and commercially, in the Main Hawaiian Islands, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and around the Pacific, for 60 years. He has served on numerous local, state, national and international fishery advisory bodies including WESPAC, the Marine Protected Areas Federally Advisory Commission, the West Hawaii Fishery Council, the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission, and several others, so he is aware of a broad range of fishery issues and understands the science behind the management marine fisheries and marine protected areas, across the Pacific and here at home.