The ocean provides resources for both ourselves and the native wildlife that live within it. The DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) have concerns about a recent increase in harmful interactions between fishers and Hawaiian monk seals. For example, thus far this year, 24 monk seal hookings have been reported on O’ahu – a substantial increase compared to recent years.
Harmful interactions with seals can be decreased by following the Fishing Around Seals and Turtles (FAST) guidelines (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pacific-islands/resources-fishing/fishing-around-seals-and-turtles). These include always keeping your eyes on your gear, avoiding casting to areas where monk seals are observed, and using barbless circle hooks. These steps will help decrease the instances of hooking seals which can injure the animals, destroy fishing gear, and possibly lead to harm to the fisher.
Another serious issue observed recently is the intentional “provisioning” or feeding of seals. On O’ahu’s Leeward Coast, where large nearshore schools of halalu (juvenile akule) have attracted numerous fishermen and monk seals, we have seen fishermen feeding halalu to nearby seals. While the fishermen’s intentions may be good, this is dangerous to both humans and the seals. In almost all cases, the seals will learn to associate people with food and increasingly poach off fishers, leading to even more interactions, possible seal injuries, and fishermen losing their catch. Feeding or attempting to feed a monk seal is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Seals that are fed adversely effects their ability to survive as wild animals and continuing to feed wild seals may eventually impact a very large number of fishers and resource users.
If you observe any ocean user intentionally feeding monk seals, please call The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Hotline at 1-888-256-9840. Never attempt to enter the water with a monk seal, even to “free it” from gear it may have ingested. Instead, call the Hotline, and DAR or NOAA employees will respond as soon as possible.