Fair Catch Campaign to Protect Hawaiian Fishes and Coral Reefs Acclaimed Magic Porthole Winner


Horizon International today announced the winners of its coral reef contest, the Magic Porthole’s First Environment Achievement Contest held in honor of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2008.

Horizon International today announced the winners of its coral reef contest, the Magic Porthole’s First Environment Achievement Contest held in honor of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2008

“Fair Catch,” a “Responsible fishing campaign to improve the health of Hawaii's coral reefs” is acclaimed for its efforts and wins first prize.  The following is the story of their success submitted to the contest by the campaign.

Fair Catch is a campaign to restore Hawaii’s nearshore ocean by encouraging responsible fishing practices and supporting actions that protect reefs and fishes from further decline.

SeaWeb, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, and Malama Hawaii launched the campaign in 2006 and claimed a first victory in 2007 with the passage of severe restrictions on indiscriminate and wasteful gill nets. During the 2008 International Year of the Reef, the campaign devoted its energies toward communications trainings for marine scientists and reef science workshops for statewide media to promote the need to protect coral reefs and to reduce fishing pressure.

 Over the past two years, Fair Catch has garnered more than 100 stories in statewide and national press with circulation totaling more than 6 million. The campaign recruited more than 50 community leaders, fishers and scientists as spokespeople, and supported an additional $2 million per year for better enforcement of natural resource regulations.


Hawaii is the most remote, inhabited land in the world. Because of the isolation of its 135 islands, reefs and shoals, Hawaii boasts one of the most unique coral reef ecosystems on the planet. Nearly 25% of its 7,000 marine species are found nowhere else in the world; more than 400,000 acres of coral reefs surround the main islands; and the Northwestern Hawaiian islands represent the world’s largest protected marine area.

But this state, often called the endangered species capital of the world, is not immune from the trend of destruction that threatens reefs globally. Pollution, development, overfishing and alien species are degrading Hawaii’s reefs. Scientists estimate that near shore fisheries in the main islands have plummeted by 75 percent in the past century.

As one old-time Hawaiian fisher wrote to the Honolulu Advertiser, “In my lifetime, I’ve seen the fish become fewer in number and smaller in size and the reefs become damaged and lose much of their vibrancy. Hawaiians of old, who depended on the sea for their major source of protein, would not have allowed this to happen.” 


Hawaii’s traditions, way of life and economy are intimately tied to the sea, but public awareness of actions that can help it recover is low. Restoring the health of Hawaii’s reefs is essential if the island state is to have a sustainable future.




Three non-profit organizations - SeaWeb, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and Malama Hawaii - developed a campaign to encourage more responsible fishing in this state where an impressive 30 percent of residents fish recreationally.


In a review of scientific reports, we found that one method of fishing had been identified as extremely indiscriminate and wasteful of fish populations. Monofilament gill nets - hung like invisible curtains for hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet along the reef - catch everything that swims by and are often left in the ocean unattended for several hours leading fishers to accidentally catch juvenile fish and endangered marine animals such as turtles and seals.



A threatened Hawaiian green sea turtle nearly becomes entangled in a lay gill net. Photo by John S. Johnson.


The nets can break coral, and if abandoned, can become “ghost nets” that needlessly entangle fish. In our research of fishing regulations, we learned that the state’s conservation agency had attempted to severely limit the use of these nets for a decade.


We held several focus groups with recreational fishers and discovered that most were supportive of restrictions on gill nets because the nets take too many fish at once and did not reflect ancient Hawaiian values like “If you take care of the ocean, the ocean will take care of you.”


We commissioned a 1,000-person statewide poll that found that 96% of residents believe it is “very important” to have an ocean that maintains plentiful fish and healthy reefs. At the same time, two-thirds believe the condition of Hawaii’s ocean is worsening.


The poll showed 76% of the public and 72% of recreational fishers supported gill net restrictions as one way to help the ocean recover.


Planning: Our research underscored the need for a campaign that would promote public awareness of what scientists call the chief threat to Hawaii’s ocean - overfishing. The foundation of the campaign was scientific data evidencing the steep decline of reef fish populations, targeted policy recommendations to better protect Hawaii’s ocean from overfishing, and the determination of responsible fishing methods as alternatives to unsustainable practices. 



The campaign title, “Fair Catch,” and its tagline, “Take What You Need, Not What You Can,” reiterated words we heard several times from fishers and underscored the need for a return to traditional Hawaiian values.



Throughout the campaign, we communicated positive messages about the role the public and state officials could play in saving Hawaii’s ocean, rather than blame any one group. Through media relations, our Web site and public meetings, we have educated the public about responsible fishing by pole and line, breath-hold spearing, traditional throw net, and hand line. We have urged state officials to create better fishing regulations and to provide adequate resources to enforce them.


Implementation Status:


We launched Fair Catch in July 2006, on the first day of public hearings on gill net restrictions. We released poll results showing the public’s interest in protecting the ocean from overfishing and the publication of a report emphasizing scientists’ support for gill net restrictions. “The Case Against Lay Gill Nets,” authored by four respected local scientists, stated that overfishing was the primary factor in the precipitous decline in reef fishes and called gill nets the worst offenders.


Our policy goal was achieved when the governor signed gill net restrictions into law in March 2007, after a year-long series of public hearings. These destructive nets are now banned in Maui and along major stretches of the south and east coasts of the most populated island of Oahu. Severe restrictions, including a ban on using the nets at night, are in place statewide.


 Scientists have said these restrictions will have a positive impact on the health of Hawaii’s reefs.


Major strides were made in public awareness and activism, and the problem of overfishing is on the radar screen.

News coverage was balanced and quoted fishers in support of restrictions.

Editorials were overwhelmingly in support of gill net restrictions and better enforcement.

Media, ranging from local outlets to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, are showing a new interest in covering Hawaii’s ocean. Many fishers, community leaders and marine scientists have contributed statements for the campaign’s use, served as media sources and/or become politically active. The state is better equipped to enforce gill net and other fishing regulations, with legislators approving an additional $2 million/year for natural resources enforcement beginning in 2007 (a 22% increase). 

Follow-up Strategy:

Submitters were asked: Is the project a onetime effort or will it continue?  Is it a project that can be implemented elsewhere? Is it being replicated?



Scientists have determined that parrotfish are being rapidly depleted and unfairly targeted by commercial fishers using SCUBA. Parrotfish are vital to the health of the reef ecosystem by keeping algae growth under control and by creating sand, so Fair Catch is interested in supporting protections for this important species.


We will continue to encourage fishers and local communities to play a bigger role in managing Hawaii’s unique ocean resources.


We are also using the campaign as a model that The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s biggest conservation organizations, could use in other regions around the globe. 


An update from the perspective of Malama Hawaii:


The Fair Catch campaign gave us the tools and credibility to pursue other social marketing projects in Hawaii. We are currently engaged in a project protecting a unique coastline on the northwestern tip of the island of O'ahu (Ka'ena Point) via a first-of-its-kind (for Hawai'i) predator-proof fence. We are also pursuing two new statewide campaigns related to an endangered wetland bird (Koloa maoli) and issues of sustainability that connects conservation to Hawaiian culture.





The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i is a private, nonprofit conservation organization that has been working with partners and local communities since 1980 to protect Hawaii’s native forests and reefs. Our mission is to preserve the plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.


Mâlama Hawai‘i is a hui of more than 70 organizations and hundreds of individuals committed to the vision that Hawai‘i, our special island home, be a place where the people, land, and sea are cared for, and communities are healthy and safe. Our mission is to inspire the people of Hawai‘i to mâlama (care for) our island home, through a partnership that integrates the environment, health, education, justice, culture, and the economy.


SeaWeb is a communications-based nonprofit organization that uses social marketing techniques to advance ocean conservation. By raising public awareness, advancing science-based solutions, and mobilizing decision-makers around ocean conservation, we are leading voices for a healthy ocean.

Contact us at 808-587-6250 or



Shannon Crownover

The Nature Conservancy

923 Nuuanu Avenue

Honolulu, Hawaii 96817

tel: 808-587-6250

fax: 808-545-2019


Visit the Magic Porthole Web site at

Latest articles


Air Pollution



Endangered Species




Global Climate Change

Global Health


Natural Disaster Relief

News and Special Reports

Oceans, Coral Reefs



Public Health



Toxic Chemicals


Waste Management


Water and Sanitation

Yale Himalaya Initiative