Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ready for this? Harvesting honu again

Forget the bald eagle and

consider the Hawaiian
green sea turtle as a
conservation success.
The most prominent turtle
researcher in the Islands,
whose work has chronicled
the severely depleted
population since the days in the
1970s when it was uncommon to find turtles
in nearshore waters, now says the population may be
recovered sufficiently to consider hunting them again.
This will be heresy to a generation of Hawai'i residents
raised to revere the turtle, who have accepted it as a
personal symbol, who have tattooed its image on ankle and
But Hawaiian turtle meat was once served in Hawai'i
restaurants. Enough residents—this writer included—are
old enough to have seen turtles caught and slaughtered on
the beaches. And to know that green sea turtle fat is green
in color, ostensibly dyed by the limu they eat.
During the last century, they have been hauled out of the
waters around the main Hawaiian islands, they've been
hauled off their nesting beaches—where they had no chance
of escape—and their eggs have even been harvested, dug up
out of the sand.
Turtles have not been legally harvested in more than 30
years, but they're now common again. They're seen gliding
through nearshore waters, grazing on beds of weed, their
big dark shells humping up on the ocean's surface, their
beaked heads poking up for air.
And far more turtles than are in nearshore waters are
still young and in a phase of their lives in which they
live out on the open sea.
George Balazs has spent a career monitoring the recovery
and the various difficulties of the turtles, and he has
taken the massive step of writing a paper that considers
the once-unthinkable possibility of allowing harvesting of
turtles once more.
With Australia ecological monitoring expert Milani Chaloupka,
Balazs in the journal Ecological Modelling, has written
“Using Bayesian state-space modelling to assess the recovery
and harvest potential of the Hawaiian green sea turtle stock.”
They studied the results of commercial fishing take of
turtles from 1944 to 1973, when fishing was halted. And
they looked at how many turtles showed up to nest from 1973
to 2004 at the turtles' primary nesting ground,the sandbars
of French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The 1944 start date is important, because it was in that
decade that turtle take converted from subsistence to
Using statistical techniques, they worked out that the
turtle stock in 1974, when hunting was stopped, was about
20 percent of its level before hunting started. And after
30 years of protection, they figure it's now up to about
83 percent.
Although a successful one, it's a slow recovery, in part
because turtles are such long-lived and slow-to-mature
“So, this once-seriously depleted green turtle stock is
well on the way to recovery and a limited harvest might
now be demographically feasible,” the authors write.
Balazs and Chaloupka do not suggest all-out hunting can
be resumed. They suggest public discussion of “sustainable
harvest potential” and a public debate on “the restoration
of indigenous hunting rights in the Archipelago.”
Most of the turtles found in the main Hawaiian Islands are
still too small for harvest. And there's an issue that was
not apparently a problem in the harvesting days: many suffer
from grotesque external and internal tumors called
fibropapilloma. The cause of this disease, which affects
turtles worldwide, is not yet known. Does it make sense to
harvest for human consumption a diseased stock?
The Balazs-Chaloupka paper doesn't discuss that. It just
says that from a pure numbers standpoint, with a low enough
harvest quota, the population could be sustained.
The ensuing conversations will undoubtedly be animated.

© 2007 Jan W. TenBruggencate

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No it doesn't make sense to harvest a diseased stock for food consumption; however, it does make sense to harvest for the retention of cultural practices and scientific gathering to fully determine the health and viability of the stocks and habitat by kanaka maoli while removing unhealthy individuals from the greater population. I too have been raised during a time when honu was harvested. There are those in my ohana that actively ate honu and utilized various parts of the honu, and those that didn't. My grandfather, a master net maker, and lifetime fisherman from Moloka'i did not eat honu, but he did foresee the challenges with the ban and condemned it if it did not include a means for native hawaiians to continue gathering. He cited the affects of over-grazing and the declination of our fisheries as a result of reduced limu. To determine that honu harvesting is not an part of the traditions of kanaka maoli due to modernization of our people is a means of cultural genocide and forced assimilation through attempts to marginalize an aspect of the culture and not fully look at the bigger picture that ensures each part of our environment is in balance. Examples of this in other aspects of the culture is seen when the DLNR would prefer to see kauila burn in wild fires instead of allow cultural practitioners to gather and save the wood, or when a whale's body is placed into a grave and the resources that could be harvested are not allowed to be gathered by kanaka maoli to be used in traditional crafts, or when limu colonies are depleted and disappearing from areas known to be abundant as a result of honu over grazing and varieties are reduced to a point of no return and kanaka maoli stand by and watch. The indigenous ecological knowledge obtained through generations of observation is disregarded and attempts to expire the retention of such knowledge is evident.