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Monk Seal Recovery Plan stirs controversy at OHA meeting

By Staff | Aug 25, 2011

Before an audience of more than 85 people, Malia Davidson (standing at right) told the OHA Board of Trustees that the Liko A‘e program provided 1,523 Native Hawaiian students with higher education scholarships. Photo by Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez.

LAHAINA — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing a recovery action plan for the Hawaiian monk seal that is not sitting well with a group of Hawaiian activists and fishermen.

The controversy has the potential to create a rift between the environmental community and Hawaiians who have often worked together in the past.

Speaking at the annual Maui meeting of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) Board of Trustees held on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at Waiola Church in Lahaina, activist and former Maui County Council candidate for the West Maui seat Ke’eaumoku Kapu voiced his strong objections to the way in which NOAA has gone forward with the development of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Program.

Public scoping conducted in October and November 2010 was designed to provide the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with insight about community perspectives on Hawaiian monk seals and the proposed action. The information shared during scoping was to help shape the alternatives considered in the PEIS as well as issues that were analyzed.

According to Kapu, “No Native Hawaiian organizations were consulted in the development of this PEIS.”

NOAA published the draft PEIS on Aug. 19, which began a 60-day comment period. It included the selection of what was described on the agency’s website as the selection of an “Enhanced Implementation Alternative” for addressing the decline in the monk seal population that includes the range of actions considered most promising to prevent the extinction of the species.

That option chosen would include the temporary relocation of weaned pups from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) to the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI), including Maui. At age three, surviving seals that had been moved to the MHI would be returned to the NWHI.

Research would be undertaken to develop techniques for modifying undesirable Hawaiian monk seal behavior (referred to as behavior modification) related to interactions with humans and fishing gear in the MHI. If proven effective by research, these techniques would be implemented.

Central to the concerns of the ten Hawaiian fishing and cultural groups that have joined with Kapu in protesting what they view as an inadequate effort to reach out to the Native Hawaiian community is the finding in the PEIS of no adverse effect of the proposed preservation option being proposed by NOAA. The groups call this finding “troubling.”

“They are talking about establishing areas within the three-mile limit in state waters and up to high water mark. The area will be under federal jurisdiction,” Kapu testified before the board.

“This is a horrendous change we are going to be facing that isn’t taking into effect the negative effects on Native Hawaiians and the general population,” he added.

Joining Kapu in voicing concern over the proposed NOAA action was Les Kuloloio.

“Be careful of this monk seal. We need to protect our koas (fishing areas). I will never share it with a scientist or someone who wants a doctorate degree. Because, this is sacred,” Kuloloio said.

“These animals, when they have a habitat, they can destroy it. This seal could eat all of the octopus.”

A public hearing on the monk seal preservation plan will be held in Kihei on Thursday, Sept. 15, at Kihei Community Center, 303 East Lipoa Road. There will be an open house from 6 to 6:30 p.m., and the public hearing is scheduled from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

After analyzing public comments received on the draft document, NMFS will make revisions and prepare the Final PEIS. The Final PEIS will incorporate necessary changes and present responses to the substantive comments received.

The Draft PEIS can be found on the project website at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/hawaiianmonkseal.htm.

Those unable to attend the public hearing can e-mail comments to monkseal@noaa.gov or mail testimony to National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources, Pacific Islands Regional Office, 1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Ste. 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814.

The OHA staff reported to the board that they are reviewing the issues and will be working with OHA’s chief executive officer to determine how to proceed and what recommendation to make.

In addition to public comments, the board heard a report by Malia Davidson, statewide director of the Liko A’e educational funding and support program that helps enable Native Hawaiian students to pursue post-secondary education goals.

The successful Liko A’e program has funded nearly 2.5 times as many scholarship as originally projected, providing a total of 1,523 Native Hawaiian students with higher education scholarships across all four degree levels from associate to doctorate.

The OHA meeting also had a special quality of aloha, as speakers and board members said goodbye to Trustee Boyd Mossman, who will be leaving the board shortly to pursue a religious vocation with the Mormon Church on the Big Island.

In her remarks to the board, Pastor Tasha Kama spoke for many when she said, “Thank you to my Trustee Boyd Mossman for his support and for his loyalty to our island of Maui.” Adding that she understood his decision, she said, “Wherever God takes us, so shall we go.”