People of Niihau ask lawmakers to save fisheries, culture

By Paula Akana
Published On: Nov 27 2013 06:54:22 PM HST
Updated On: Nov 27 2013 07:24:59 PM HST

An unprecedented call for help from the Forbidden island: the Niihau people ask the state to save their fisheries-- and their culture.

HONOLULU -

"It has to stop.  If we don't do something about it, we won't exist," said Leiana Robinson.

It's a first plea from a group who has never come to state lawmakers for help who hail from a place few of us will ever see -- Niihau.

Several dozen traveled to the State Capitol Wednesday with a mission -- to stop the fisherman, opihi pickers and even tours they say are threatening not only their well-being, but their culture.

Privately owned by the Robinson family since 1860, the forbidden island is not as isolated as it once was.  Fishermen can go as far as the high water mark, and, apparently, they do so in larger numbers than ever before.

The people of Niihau depend on the ocean for food.  On Wednesday, the Robinsons say the near-shore fisheries are depleted and the catch is down seriously.

"We are not here to say what they are doing is illegal, but I am here unequivocally to say what they're doing is wrong," said Sen. Clayton Hee.

Hee says they will introduce legislation this session to create a no-take zone that circles Niihau.  The exception -- the Niihau people who not only turn to the sea for food.

"It's a place where the people go for healing, fulfillment, for spiritual well-being where they recharge," said Bruce Robinson.  "It's a place critical to their well-being.  And the pressure that's being put on them from the outside world is a destructive pressure and it cannot continue to survive."

"We don't come out like this and we're here for a reason.  We're here to ask for help in protecting our people and our resources and that's why we're here to ask for all the help we can get," said Leiana Robinson.

One resident said a group of fishermen took 75 gallon Zip-Loc bags of opihi on one visit!

Department of Land & Natural Resources Chair William Aila says they are drafting administrative rules that will include area and equipment closures and bag limits.

That's all welcome news for the 130 or so residents that call Niihau home.

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