A commentary from Larry O’Brien:
Recently, a video filmed at Honokohau Harbor has brought shame to our island. The video depicts some young people landing a large Tiger shark on the rocks at the harbor entrance. The tackle used is ropes tied to the land. This was neither fishing for food or sport-fishing where the animal is fought with a rod. It was simply disrespect.
The shark is an important part of the Hawaiian culture. For some, the shark is ‘aumakua. But for all, the shark was respected, not a plaything: “In old Hawai’i, catching the niuhi was the game of the chiefs, a dangerous sport for which special techniques were developed, according to historian Mary Kawena Pukui. Eating niuhi flesh was also taboo to women.”
Today, sharks are globally threatened by the finning industry, which wastes the life of the shark for a few pounds of fin. Meanwhile, live sharks are an economic benefit to the dive industry. Shark dives bring in at least $125,000,000 per year globally and any Big Island dive operator can attest to the enthusiasm that’s generated even by a small reef shark.
Further, the sharks at Honokohau are well known to the community. Everyone knows Laverne, the largest resident female, but the shark in the video is Tony. (Tony survived: He was filmed by some divers two weeks after the video was shot.) You can see photos of Tony and the other tiger sharks of Honokohau at http://milisenphotography.yolasite.com/tiger-shark-id.php.
When the young men in the video returned the shark to the water, they were putting a large injured predator back into an area where dozens of people swim every day. Alua Beach, a popular place for families to bring keiki, is only a few hundred yards from where the shark was landed. There are multiple dive sites within a quarter mile to either side of the boat channel.
As with most regular divers at Honokohau, I’ve watched the sharks and the sharks have watched me. I’ve never forgotten that these are apex predators and need to be treated with respect (and watched from a distance). The sharks are there because it’s their natural territory and, probably, because of scraps from fisherman. There’s never been a shark attack reported at Honokohau.
– Sharks are important and culturally respected by native Hawai’ians; and – Sharks are not targeted by shore-fisherman for either sport or food; and – The area is frequented by swimmers, SCUBA divers, and free divers:
I would ask that the County of Hawai’i and/or DNLR to declare the area near the entrance of Honokohau Harbor as a “niuhi conservation zone” and forbid the intentional targeting by fisherman of large sharks within that area. The ban should forbid the use of hooks larger than those used for commonly-targeted sports and food fish and the use of anchored ropes or chains for fishing.
Larry O’Brien, Kailua-Kona