Blind Ban’s Bluff
The proposed gill net regulations beg the question: Are there still a lot
of fish in the sea?
by Catharine Lo / 08-02-2006
The debate over the new gill net regulations proposed by the Department of Land and
Natural Resources (DLNR) has stirred up passionate testimony at recent public hearings
across the state. To generalize, environmentalists plead, “Save the turtles!” Fishermen
plead, “Don’t lock our icebox!” Fishery managers plead, “Catch what you need, not what
you can.” Gill nets, also known as lay nets and mo‘emo‘e nets, are typically set in inshore
waters like a curtain held open by floaters and weights, ensnaring marine life that swim
Supporters of greater restrictions (see sidebar), including a ban on gill nets in the waters
around Maui, and parts of O‘ahu, say gill nets deplete nearshore fish populations,
threaten endangered species and destroy coral reefs. Opponents say a ban would hurt
subsistence fishermen, choke tradition and won’t help restore diminishing fish
populations. They are all somewhat right, and they are all somewhat wrong. Ultimately,
the DLNR doesn’t know how much of an impact the nets are making because they don’t
know how many fish are in the sea. The only numbers they record are how many and
what kind of fish the nets catch—and those numbers include only what’s reported by
Is it better to be safe than sorry? Without knowing how many fish there are, it’s hard to
assess whether the gill net fishery is a threat. The proposed regulation relies on
speculation and opinion, and someone’s best guess is neither a sound nor permanent
foundation for effective resource management.
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish
Who’s counting? The Division of Aquatic Resources records the total number of
commercial fishermen who cite gill nets as their primary gear (46 in 2005) and their total
landings by species listed on commercial catch reports (a total of 193,298 pounds in
2005). No data is available for the number of recreational/subsistence fishermen or how
much they catch.
So we know the least number of fish being caught by gill net is around 194,000 pounds.
Subtract the total pound of akule caught (129,886)—akule fishermen use a surround net