Use of Monk Seal Bait Sparks Debate
Over Permit to Cull Sharks in NWHI
“There’s a big difference between taking an action to kill versus using the flesh of an animal already dead,” said at-large Board of Land and Natural Resources member Sam Gon of the “warped argument” that some have made to board chair William Aila.
In discussing a proposal last month to use the meat of salvaged monk seal carcasses as bait to catch the 20 or so Galapagos sharks that have learned to prey on pups at French Frigate Shoals (FFS), Aila said, “The question asked of me is, ‘You’re going to put me in jail for killing a seal, but you’re going to cut up and feed [the seals] to sharks?’”
Resentment by the fishing community against the seals has peaked in recent years following National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposals to temporarily relocate seals from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the Main Hawaiian Islands and to expand critical habitat for the animals. Although the relocation proposal has been withdrawn, it was not before a number of seals on Kaua`i, Moloka`i, and O`ahu had been intentionally killed or injured.
In the case of the recent permit application by NOAA’s Frank Parrish and Alecia Van Atta to kill up to 18 sharks at FFS using salvaged seal meat (among other things) as bait, the seals are already dead, NOAA monk seal recovery coordinator Jeff Walters pointed out.
“We’re trying to use their bodies in a respectful way, to keep their brothers and sisters alive,” Walters said. He later added, “We’re not talking about chumming. … [T]here is going to be one piece of bait, no opportunity to train or habituate an animal to seal bait.”
Aila, however, was concerned that NOAA had not discussed the issue enough with native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, especially those who have been taking a lot of heat for defending seal protection efforts.
For years, the Land Board has begrudgingly issued permits to NOAA to cull the sharks, which some native Hawaiians consider sacred. In recent years, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument cultural advisory group have refused to support any of the shark culling permits. This year was no exception.
But to NOAA monk seal expert Charles Littnan, the predatory sharks at French Frigate Shoals need to be eradicated now more than ever. Juvenile survival in the NWHI has improved in recent years, and now shark predation is the main source of mortality in the NWHI. Making matters worse, fewer pups are being born.
“In the past, we had leeway. There used to be hundreds of pups at French Frigate Shoals. Last year there were 34,” Littnan said.
Ever since the state established a reserve in the NWHI, NOAA has been using frozen tuna heads as bait, with little success. NOAA scientists have managed to catch just two sharks since the agency started getting permits from the Land Board for the work. Before the reserve was established, NOAA caught 12 sharks between 1999 and the early 2000s.
Back then, there were about twice as many sharks and they weren’t as wary of humans as they are now, Littnan said. What’s more, the scientists were able to use salvaged seal flesh as bait. Seal bait was used 15 times, with a total of three sharks captured as a result, Littnan said.
Even so, Aila seemed to want more discussion with cultural practitioners. He asked Littnan what would happen if the board required NOAA to take a year to do more community outreach. Littnan replied by saying he estimated 17 percent of the pups born this year at FFS could be lost. Sharks had already killed two pups at the time of the board meeting.
In the end, although some members were worried about backlash in the Main Hawaiian Islands, the board approved the permit on the condition that NOAA have more discussion with cultural practitioners about the use of seal meat.
“The seal meat is a resource for them to use to move through this issue,” Big Island Land Board member Rob Pacheco said.
The permit covers activities from June 1 to May 31, 2014.
A New Tradewinds
Gets Timber License
Don Bryan’s dream to build a timber mill on the island of Hawai`i has been given new life. On May 10, the Land Board approved the transfer of the timber license held by Hawaiian Island Hardwoods (HIH) to Bryan’s Tradewinds Hawaiian Woods, LLC. The transfer provides him with about 1,000 acres of feedstock for a commercial-scale sawmill he plans to start building next summer.
More than a decade ago, the Land Board issued to Bryan’s Tradewinds Forest Products, LLC, a timber license for 9,000 acres in the state’s Waiakea Timber Management Area on Hawai`i island, near Hilo. The company’s plans to log the area and build a veneer mill on the Hamakua coast sparked controversy, with many residents concerned about potential harm to native forest species and a host of other environmental impacts. But waylaid by years of permitting and financing troubles, the mill and logging operation never materialized. In the meantime, the company racked up more than $1 million in license fees and penalties. Finally, in July 2011, the Land Board approved Bryan’s request to terminate the license.
Like Tradewinds, HIH also struggled to meet the construction and payment deadlines of its Department of Land and Natural Resources license, issued in 2007, for 1,095 acres in Waiakea. HIH was never able to build a commercial-scale mill, although it managed to harvest and mill some timber early on.
Rather than continue to accumulate fees and fall behind on its deadlines, HIH chose to sell its mill equipment to Tradewinds Hawaiian Woods, which Bryan formed in 2010. The sale, according to a March letter from HIH to the DLNR, would be contingent on the Land Board approving a transfer of the HIH license to Tradewinds.
At the Land Board’s May 10 meeting, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife administrator Roger Imoto recommended approval. The move would help the department meet its objective to promote the local forest industry and would provide a steady stream of revenue as well, he said.
The board received written testimony in opposition from Big Island resident Cory Harden, who pointed out that Bryan’s earlier company had failed to comply with terms of its license, was fined for various violations, and sparked community opposition, among other things.
When at-large board member David Goode asked what the difference was between Tradewinds Hawaiian Hardwoods and Tradewinds Forest Products, Imoto responded, “The main part is financial backing. One could make it happen. One could not,” Imoto said.
Former Kamehameha Schools land manager Peter Simmons testified on behalf of the Hawai`i Forest Industry Association in support of the transfer.
“I just want to encourage you to do this. It’s a milestone event,” he said.
Simmons’ testimony seemed to carry some weight with board member Sam Gon.
“I appreciate that you’re present. Given some of the testimony that we’ve received speaking of historical disappointments … your saying, ‘yes, give this a chance,’ is important,” Gon said.
Bryan testified that his mill will initially provide 36 jobs and over the course of three years provide as many as 64.
“We now have an appropriately zoned, well-suited site for the operation,” he said. Dan Fuller of Fuller Smith Capital Management added that his company is prepared to fund the project through an “equity capital structure” without any contingencies.
Special Subzone Proposed
For Kaua`i Ahupua`a
On May 10, the Land Board added an eighth special subzone to the Conservation District at the request of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). The Lawa`i Kai subzone encompasses what’s known as the Allerton Garden, a long narrow strip of about 110 acres in south Kaua`i fronting Lawa`i Bay. It also includes submerged lands.
The fast land is owned by the Allerton Garden Trust and managed by the NTBG as a center for public education and botanical research. The new subzone allows the NTBG to manage the garden without having to acquire a Conservation District Use Permit from the Land Board for every activity. Instead, the DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands and other agencies would review any proposed activities to ensure they comply with the recently drafted Lawa`i Kai Management Plan and Master Plan.
The plan seeks to establish the South Shore Kaua`i Ocean Recreation Management Area for all of Lawa`i Bay and unencumbered state lands as well. According to an OCCL staff report, to fully implement the portion of the plan dealing with Lawa`i Bay, NTBG may also need to seek amendments to rules relating to the DLNR’s Land Division, its Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR), and its Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR).
“This is the first time someone has ever proposed creating a special subzone involving not only their own private land, but including adjacent submerged land. They’re looking at an ahupua`a perspective,” said OCCL administrator Sam Lemmo. “Everybody in the community seems to be on board with the actions,” he added. Public hearings on the proposed rule change were held in May 2012.
NTBG director and CEO Chipper Wichman explained that the goal of the subzone is to try to reconnect the management of the ocean with management of the land.
“We’re trying to create a holistic vision. … Our community needs to step up and take responsibility for this,” he said, noting that the property contains ancient burials and other cultural sites. The garden also contains more than 860 species and varieties of flowering plants.
Wichman said the establishment of the subzone is the first step in implementing the master plan. “[We’ll be] working with DOBOR and DAR on what are the kapu we place in this area. That’s what has taken seven years. If we were just trying to create an MLCD [Marine Life Conservation District], that would have been a different process,” Wichman said.
Fish Cage Project
The Land Board has chosen to ignore its previous recommendation that no further extensions of construction deadlines be given to Hawai`i Ocean Technology, Inc. (HOTI), which years ago proposed constructing floating open-ocean fish cages off the Kohala coast to grow tuna.
HOTI received a Conservation District Use Permit from the Land Board in October 2009. It was supposed to have deployed its first cage a year later. Permitting delays, however, led HOTI to ask the Land Board for an extension of its initiation and completion deadlines, which it received in March 2012 on the condition that no further extensions be granted.
At the Land Board’s April 26 meeting, OCCL administrator Sam Lemmo said that aside from a major letter-writing campaign in opposition to the project, he could find no reason in the record why the Land Board voted in March 2012 to deny further extensions beyond the one granted then.
“The ‘no more extension’ language has been reserved for entities where it’s clear they’re speculating or not pursuing the project,” Lemmo said “I don’t see that evidence in this case.”
For years, HOTI has been waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a permit. Opponents say the delay has been self-induced because the company’s project keeps changing.
HOTI CEO Bill Spencer testified that the project may, indeed, not be the same as initially proposed. He had originally proposed building 12 cages, but the Army Corps said it will only permit one.
What’s more, he added, “There’s been new inventions, new technologies to allow this project to be more effective and safer for the environment.”
“I think it would be unwise to allow this application to become null and void at this time,” Lemmo told the board. Last April, HOTI received its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the state Department of Health. And its lease for the site was finalized in February.
“The Army Corps, they’ve been telling us ‘two weeks’ since May of 2010,” Spencer said.
Although members of the North Kohala community submitted a petition with 1,700 signatures against open-ocean aquaculture, Big Island Land Board member Rob Pacheco said, “It’s not my place as a board member to bring in opinions about what I think is right and wrong when I have legislation, food sovereignty mandates. … We’re here to make sure we’re working through the process correctly.”
Pacheco asked Lemmo whether HOTI was responsible for the delay.
“I can’t say that I personally am cognizant,” Lemmo said. “He may have done something that caused the delay with the Army Corps. … I’m not going to make any speculation until I see what the Army produces.”
In the end, the board chose to grant the extension.
Ship Grounding Funds
To Help Control Seaweed
As much as $600,000 of the $8.5 million received for reef damages caused by the U.S. Navy’s USS Port Royal’s 2009 grounding off the Honolulu International Airport may be used to continue invasive seaweed control in Kane`ohe Bay. Specifically, the University of Hawai`i plans to use “super sucker” vacuums to clean Kappaphycus and Eucheuma algae from coral heads and put in place more native sea urchins to prevent further infestation.
The Land Board approved the expenditure at its April 26 meeting.
The work has been going on for about a decade with a hodgepodge of funding sources, but recently ran out of money. The Port Royalfunds will provide the project some continuity until another source of funds is found, DLNR water deputy William Tam told the Land Board.
“Hopefully, we’ll not use this whole amount,” Tam said, adding that the department may, at some point, seek to fund the project with the $38,000 settlement from the Cape Flattery grounding in 2005.
Two New Board Members,
One Still-Vacant Seat
The Land Board’s Kaua`i seat will remain empty come July. No one was nominated to fill the vacancy left by Ron Agor in 2012.
Ulupalakua Ranch’s James Gomes will replace outgoing Maui member Jerry Edlao. Contractor Reed Kishinami will take O`ahu member John Morgan’s seat.