Updated permitting process leads to Hawaii fishpond restoration growth

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Jul. 24—The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said fishpond restoration projects have grown since the launch of a new permitting process in 2015.

Twenty new fishpond restoration permits have been issued since the DLNR's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands launched the streamlined application for fishpond repair and restoration as part of the Ho ʻala Loko I ʻa program.

"We began issuing these new permits because we found that practitioners were caught up in an endless cycle that they couldn't extract themselves from, " OCCL administrator Michael Cain said in a statement. "There were 17 different federal, state, and county regulations they needed to comply with, and it was a nearly impossible system to navigate, which resulted in very few sought-after or approved permits over the course of several decades. The current permit system encompasses almost all the required State permits."

Fishponds support local food production and ecosystem services like flood mitigation and sediment retention.

One permitted fishpond is the largest on Kauai, the 40-acre Alakoko Fishpond, also known as the Menehune Fishpond. It's on the Huleia River and situated on private land owned and managed by the nonprofit Malama Huleia. The nonprofit was originally formed by a group of canoe paddlers who found that mangrove was taking over the fishpond and river.

"Alakoko had really been let go and overgrown for the last several decades and mangrove was over growing, " Sarah Bowen, the nonprofit's executive director, said in a statement. "We were able to work with the OCCL to get a permit. It was just in the early stages of the new permit process, developed to help fishpond practitioners navigate the bureaucratic hoops of a host of different state regulatory agencies. Ho ʻala Loko I ʻa gives practitioners the capability of submitting one permit and having each agency review that one permit. it is really a blessing for organizations like ours."

Gov. David Ige said that the program was strengthened when Act 230 was signed in 2015 to waive state Department of Health water quality certifications for fishponds permitted under the program.

"With these and other programs, we are better managing our water resources and the nearshore ocean waters that provide habitat for spectacular marine life and are a vital cultural link to the past for Native Hawaiians, " Governor Ige said in a statement.

Malama Huleia has removed 26 acres of mangroves at the fishpond so far.

"We were able to get onto the nearly half-mile-long rock wall, but we had to cut our way through because the mangrove was so thick. You couldn't tell how far away you were from the river or how far away you were away from the fishpond, it was so overgrown. It's very different now, " Bowen said in a statement.