Attempt to ban drone fishing questioned by some Maui, Neighbor Isle fishers
A bill that would ban drone fishing in Hawaiʻi is moving ahead, but some local fishers said more regulation won’t net the desired outcome.
“No, it’s not gonna achieve anything but more regulations,” longtime Maui fisherman Brian Yoshikawa said Wednesday. “So my whole take on this is just promote responsible fishing.”
Albert Nakaji in testimony said that he has fished his entire life in Hawaiʻi. Now age 70, he can’t use the same methods as before, especially after a shoulder injury, so he uses drone fishing.
“I do not fish for sport. I fish to eat what I catch in order to supplement our groceries,” he said. “Please do not take away one of the few ways for me to catch fish now.”
SB 2065 would prohibit the possession or use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in Hawaiʻi waters for fishing, unless permitted by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Anyone in violation would be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to a year, or both.
State legislature conference committee recommended Tuesday that the measure be passed with amendments. Now, SB 2065 will head back to both chambers for a final floor vote before the legislative session ends next week.
Drone fishing, which uses unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out line much farther than traditional methods, has become more popular in recent years.
Supporters say that it’s a safe, precise way to deploy baited hooks, similar to floating out hooks with trash bags inflated by wind power or using a kayak to paddle them out.
Opponents, though, say lengthly drone fishing line interferes with humans and animals offshore, and creates more marine debris when the line breaks.
State DLNR, which supports the ban, said drones lead to a “vastly expanded footprint of fishing-related tackle becoming ocean debris.”
The department said swimmers and boaters have reported becoming caught in lines in places shore casting cannot reach. Also, protected species such as monk seals and turtles are caught up in drone lines, it said.
However, the State of Hawaii Office of the Public Defender opposed the measure, saying that it’s “unjust, harsh and would fail to achieve” objectives in the state law that would be changed to add the ban.
Yoshikawa, who owns Maui Sporting Goods in Wailuku and conducts beach cleanups regularly, said he has seen an increase in line debris over recent years that could be tied to drone fishing.
Still, educating people about responsible fishing should be priority, he echoed.
“That’s why I don’t endorse specific regulations for specific methods, because if they say they going ban the drones, OK, the next day the guy going get a kite and fly his line out. Same thing,” he said. “So responsibility is a better thing to teach versus specific method, because regulating method not going take away the problem.
“The problem is all the line on the reef and the boaters running over the leftover gear,” Yoshikawa added. “Education, responsibility, a sense of mālama would be better.”