Posted by: The ocean update | July 20, 2015

NOAA says governor will have final say over Maunalua Bay (Hawaii, USA)

Humpback-whale-hawaiian-sanctuaryJuly 20th, 2015. HONOLULU —A meeting of the Advisory Council for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Monday focused almost exclusively on new rules that could impact users of Maunalua Bay under an expanded federal reserve area.

Click here to watch Andrew Pereira’s report.

The proposed rules are spelled out at length in a draft document that’s 456 pages long. Under current regulations, the expanded whale sanctuary would prohibit discharge, the damaging or destroying of signs, the use of explosives, altering submerged lands, introducing non-native species and the taking or possessing of additional marine animals.

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says any activity not expressly prohibited by the state will still be allowed. For example, recreational or subsistence fishing.

“It makes no sense for my program to keep going down a pathway of where we’re proposing is something that the state is not going to accept,” said Allen Tom, regional director for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries program. “So, it would save us a lot of time and effort if the state were on board with us, and if the state were saying to us, ‘OK, we can live with this.’ Or, ‘No, this is not going to fly; just don’t even go down that route.'”

Still, many details remain unresolved and those who play or work on the bay are fearful the federal government may wade too far into an area that should remain under local control.

“We want NOAA to come in and help, that would be awesome, but we just don’t want them to take over control,” said Sam Montgomery, co-owner of Island Water Sports and Bob’s Hawaii Adventure, two businesses that operate tours on the bay.

Although the Department of Land and Natural Resources allows the operation of jet packs and Wave Runners under an Ocean Recreation Management Area controlled by the state, it remains to be seen if such activities will still be allowed under so-called eco-based management, which the expanded sanctuary calls for. NOAA says ultimately, the decision will be up to Gov. David Ige.

“At the end of the day, once we do a final environmental impact statement, that goes to the governor’s desk,” said Tom. “It obviously is a public document, but the governor then has 45 working days of Congress to determine, ‘Do I like all of this? Do I like some of it? Or, ‘Do I like none of it?’ So, it’s not over by a long shot.”

While there’s no single issue that has led to the ecological decline of Maunalua Bay, some of the prevailing problems continue to be sedimentation, runoff and overfishing. Walter Ritte, one of 31 members of a Management Plan Review working group that’s evaluating NOAA’s proposal for the bay, believes federal oversight could help restore a healthy balance between commercial, recreational and cultural uses.

“I see no reason why the feds can’t come in and help us protect our resources because we’re losing it,” he said. “I mean, I’m an old-timer here, and I know we’ve lost so much of our resources.”

However, those with commercial interests in the bay say they want a fair shot, and hope the governor doesn’t acquiesce all control of Maunalua to Uncle Sam.

“If you’re going to provide me a proposal, regardless if I’m in or out of business, it should be based on science, and not on what someone believes is happening,” said Jeff Krantz, owner of H20 Sports, which employs 36 people. “This plan is not taking into account just the human enjoyment of the bay. They want to encourage people to have fun, but the regulations say differently.”

Although NOAA’s comment period on expanding the whale sanctuary by 17 percent has ended, anyone can still express their concerns or recommendations to DLNR. NOAA anticipates the environmental impact statement sanctuary will take about a year to complete.

“Yes, the state is still listening,” said Tom.

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