Respect, learn from indigenous knowledge•Op-ed opposing SB92 by Mac Poepoe

Op-ed by Kelson “Mac” Poepoe appeared in the Hawaii Star-Advertiser (February 8, 2023)

Link to article at Hawaii Star-Advertiser here

KUA network member blogs are meant to uplift voices on many topics of network members interest concerning community-based natural resource management. Community network leader opinions and information expressed herein are solely that of the author and not necessarily the view of KUA or the broader networks it supports.



Column: Respect, learn from indigenous knowledge

I am a lawai‘a (fisher) from Moloka‘i. I fish the way my kupuna taught me. Families like mine feel a sense of responsibility to steward what the ocean gives us. Our actions are based on kilo — careful observation. I am happy to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. But for that sharing of knowledge to take place, there first has to be respect for indigenous knowledge.

These days there is often a failure to recognize the difference between fishing to feed ourselves and fishing to make money. Officials rely too much on satisfying a special-interest group rather than protecting our natural resources for the long term.

Too often those who make the rules ask for “scientific’ proof of the value of our traditional practices. Too often people who arrived yesterday talk about our time-tested cultural practices as if they are less reliable than the “scientific” methods familiar to academics. Many universities have not caught up with what indigenous wisdom has to offer.

Hawaiian communities in remote areas have been able to feed their families and survive through periods of great pain, through epidemics and exploitation, because their traditional practices allowed them to keep their “ice-box” — the ocean — stocked with plentiful fish generation after generation. Our survival is proof of our traditional practices. It is no less “scientific” than tests conducted in a laboratory.

I hear a lot of fancy language bandied about by those who want to do good but really don’t know what they are talking about. I hear talk about creating new “habitats” to raise fish so that we will have enough to feed Hawaii’s growing population. I am not opposed to places with artificial habitats but most of these places are not within reach of the people without boats. Natural habitats are still functioning and can continue to produce as long as we learn how to manage and mālama these natural areas (ko‘a).

Today as fisherman, I feel that we need to be educated in how to mālama rather than extract too much. Our reefs are far from par where most people fish. This is where more attention should be given to ensure our shorelines are kept healthy.

If we stopped taking the natural habitats of fish for granted, if we stopped taking too much, more than we need, the ocean will continue to feed us as it has done for as long as I can remember.

Today I can see where some have fished our waters irresponsibly. Taking undersized fish and fishing out of season have disrupted the natural spawning cycles of so many species. I have seen fish populations drop.

Communities like mine in Mo‘omomi, Hā‘ena on Kaua‘i, Miloli‘i on Hawai‘i island, and Kīpahulu on Maui are all committed to rules developed by members of lineal lawai‘a families to ensure long-term abundance. We did not wait for the state to tell us what to do. The state has had to catch up with us. Sometimes it has taken it too long to do so. It took 17 years for Miloli‘i to see its rules adopted officially last year. Seventeen years. Why so slow?

Our communities demonstrated leadership in encouraging lawai‘a pono (responsible fishing) by creating community-based subsistence fishing areas (CBSFAs). Will the state Department of Land and Natural Resources leverage community-based ʻike to ensure meaningful fishery governance and management strategies that will sustain us the way our traditional practices have so far?

Will we — the community, and those who govern — have the wisdom to embrace stewardship practices that have served us for generations?

I am shocked to see that Senate Bill 92 has been introduced this session to put an expiration date on traditional practices of the kind reflected in our CBSFAs. For the sake of those who will come after us, I trust it is the bill that will expire quickly.

Kelson “Mac” Poepoe is the founder of Hui Malama o Moʻomomi on Molokaʻi.


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