State seeks help as chronic net violations threaten endangered marine life

Local News

The discovery of two dead turtles and other sea creatures caught in illegal gill nets in Waimanalo brings to light a bigger problem.

Officials say the violations are happening all too often and they’re depleting our natural resources.

Swimmers found the illegal nets Tuesday morning near the Makai Research Pier.

State enforcement officers hauled in three nets tied together, and they say the nets had been there for days.

How bad is the problem and what can be done about it?

KHON2 met up with Ken Lesperance, an officer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE). He deals with the problem on a regular basis, and admits he can use some help.

Lesperance can always count on beachgoers to help move heavy debris off the beach, but, he says, stopping poachers from laying out illegal gill nets takes more effort from the whole community.

“When I moved home from the mainland, and I saw the marine resources were depleted, I took this job. Then when I got in this job, I found out a lot of it is illegal gill nets,” he said.

The nets hauled in Tuesday were collected as evidence, and the collection keeps growing. The worst was a repeat offender who laid out a net more than 1,500 feet.

“When I got that guy with a 1,500-foot net, the third time I caught him, I had been going out 5, 6 o’clock in the morning a couple of weeks. I felt like I won the Super Bowl,” Lesperance said.

To give you an idea of how bad things can get, just on windward Oahu, Lesperance says in a six-month period, he collected more than 4,300 feet of gill nets and handed out 15 citations.

He says part of the problem is that poachers can get decent money from one good haul, and one haul can kill a number of endangered or threatened species.

“They’re not caring that much about (preserving species). They just want instant fish gratification or to be able to trade fish for drugs. We also have lost quite a few monk seals, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, from illegal nets and it’s a terrible thing to see one in the net,” Lesperance said.

Lesperance said poachers also know there are only so many officers out there. He gets help from Honolulu police and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when he needs it, but he says he needs more eyes and ears to let officers know about this practice that’s indiscriminately killing sea creatures.

“The impact is huge, because a lay net catches everything. It catches protected species. It catches species that have a size limit. They’ll be undersized. It catches everything,” he said.

Anyone with information about the net found Tuesday can call the hotline 643-DLNR. You can also call that number if you see a net that might be illegal.

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