‘Ama‘ama, or mullet. Photo courtesy of UH

‘Ama‘ama, or mullet. From now on, those convicted of catching mullet out of season have to work at fishponds as a sentence rather than paying a fine. Photo courtesy of UH

Gov. David Ige Senate signed Bill 2453 on June 16 authorizing alternative sentencing for aquatic violations. The new law provides clear legal authority to judges, allowing them to more effectively tailor sentences when aquatics statutes are violated, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The bill covers most regulations under the jurisdiction of the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources, including most fisheries violations. Judges will still be able to impose jail time or fine defendants. Now they’ll also be able to sentence offenders to an educational course or resource-specific community service work, the DLNR states.

Alternative sentencing authority was one of the key priorities of the Hawai‘i State Judiciary’s Environmental Court Working Group, which made recommendations prior to the establishment of Hawai‘i’s Environmental Court in 2015. The Court is the first of its type in the nation. It provides a dedicated forum for resource violations, with presiding judges who are specially trained in the nuances of resource law and the cumulative effect of seemingly innocuous resource violations.

“From the DLNR perspective, we’re thrilled that Governor Ige signed this bill into law,” DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said in a press release. “It provides us with an opportunity to educate and rehabilitate resource law violators, and in doing so, encourage pono approaches to extractive use of Hawai‘i’s natural resources.”

Under the state’s regulatory scheme, boaters and hunters must take an educational course before obtaining licenses. Because Hawai‘i doesn’t require a recreational fishing license, there is no such requirement for fishers.

“Senate Bill 2453 gives judges the opportunity to reduce recidivism among resource offenders,” said Judge Barbara Richardson, one of the bill’s key supporters. “When we fine someone, we teach them that their individual act was prohibited by law. By requiring them to complete an educational course, that person has the opportunity to learn why their conduct was illegal, in addition to learning about other resource laws of which they should be aware, as well as the sustainable management principles that are a common thread between Hawaiian traditions and the resource laws we have today.”

The bill also creates an opportunity for violators to restore the resources they’ve harmed, as it provides for resource-specific community service opportunities when cases are heard in Hawaii’s Environmental Court.

“It’s very simple,” Case said. “If a person is convicted for poaching ‘ama‘ama (mullet) out of season, we want them to work restoring a fish pond, cleaning the beaches, or engaging in some other activity that gives back to the resource. DLNR’s educational course will be an adapted version of its Makai Watch curriculum, which is currently used to train community groups on aquatic resource laws and how to identify violations.”

The educational curriculum is already available online, and contains cultural references that illustrate the importance of marine resources in pre-contact Hawai‘i.