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Sunday, February 26, 2012
Ban Would Favor Clayton Hee's Irish Opihi Monopoly
By Andrew Walden @ 7:48 PM :: 8527 Views :: Energy, Environment

Clayton Hee’s opihi scam

by Andrew Walden July 7, 2006 (Republished in honor of SB 2923, SD1 introduced 2012 by Sen Clayton Hee.  SB 2923, SD1 has passed second reading and will be heard by JDL Tuesday 02-28-12 at 10:00AM in conference room 016.)

Sen. Clayton Hee (D-Kaneohe) a former Office of Hawaiian Affairs chair, pushed through the legislature a bill (SB2006) banning the sale of Hawaiian opihi. Governor Lingle has issued a June 26 ‘intent to veto’ notice on the bill.

Hee, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee supported the recent protests demanding that UH relinquish ownership of patents on the improvements in disease-resistant taro. Hee opposed the use of UH facilities to host a University-Allied Research Center (UARC). Hee has family connections to Sandwich Isles Communications a federally funded $500 million scheme to connect Hawaiian Homelands to high speed internet with costs estimated as high as $278,000 per connection. All of these schemes are based on Clayton Hee’s Al Sharpton-esque posturing about Hawaiian culture.

So why is Hee suddenly trying to put Hawaiian opihi pickers out of business?

The species of opihi which would be banned if legislative Democrats override Lingle’s expected veto are: Cellana exarata (blackfoot), Cellana sandwicencis (yellowfoot), Cellana talcosa (koele), and Cellana melanostoma. The bill is supported by OHA and the Nature Conservancy. Many pickers report difficulty finding legal-size opihi to harvest.

In the classifieds section of Ka Wai Ola OHA, the traditional Hawaiian delicacy was selling for $215 per gallon in February. Some prices run as high as $500 per gallon. The “Island Opihi Company” has begun importing opihi from Ireland where it is larger and easier to pick. The species harvested in Ireland is Patella vulgate, very similar in appearance to yellowfoot—but conveniently not subject to Hee’s ban.

If the ban goes into effect, the Irish company would suddenly have a near-monopoly on opihi sales in Hawai`i. Evidence that Hee is getting a cut of their profits has not yet been discovered although Hee, perhaps taking a page from the playbook of disgraced Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA), does admit to having a stash of the Irish opihi in his freezer.

Here’s the Governor’s veto message:

SB 2006, Prohibiting Sales of Opihi

Explanation: This bill establishes a permanent statewide ban on the sale of edible opihi without conducting an analysis to determine if such a ban is needed. The bill makes it difficult to enforce the ban since it allows one-half gallon per person per day for personal consumption, will encourage a black market in this delicacy, and would adversely hurt families who gather opihi for their livelihood, as they have done for centuries.

Hee claims to be interested in preserving opihi stocks. With no sense of irony Hee tells the Maui News his motivation is “putting the idea in the mind of the public that sustainability of natural resources is critical.

“If we do not take strong measures ... opihi will be unavailable. In the past, people put greed before sustainability. We must place sustainability above greed.”

Hawaiian opihi pickers are just too greedy? That’s quite a statement coming from Hee. Hee also believes he is fit to put his ‘ideas in our minds’ by act of the legislature.

It would be a simple matter to create opihi harvesting seasons, rotate opihi preserve areas or increase the minimum harvest size. Currently opihi must be 1.25” in diameter to be legally picked. Ni`ihau is granted an exception to the ban. The ban has no expiration date.

But the problem is that marine biologists indicate that opihi stocks will rebound quickly if the harvest is managed. These measures would reduce the pressure on opihi stocks but would not make for the kind of Irish windfall that Hee’s full ban would create.

After 1500 years of freely picking opihi, native Hawaiians find their harvest suddenly subject to the whim of self-interested politicians who claim to speak on their behalf.


Bill Calls For 5-Year Moratorium On Opihi Picking

KITV: Many agree Oahu is overfished. Opihi pickers closely guard their special spots. But talk to Guy Tamashiro, who operates a popular fish market in Kalihi. He says state data show that opihi is not in short supply, and certainly not on the Big Island where his suppliers are. Tamashiro thinks the harvest restrictions of just a quart of opihi are unrealistic.

“A quart is ridiculous. Who is going to risk their lives for a quart. That’s like two pounds. That's absolutely ridiculous," Tamashiro said.

Two pounds' worth of opihi fits into a small plastic bag. The delicacy sells for close to $13 a pound because the pickers take great risks to claim their prize.

"Not everyone can go out and pick their own. That's a lot of work," Tamashiro said.

He suggests a three-month closure during high spawning season, as opposed to a five-year ban.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs supported added restrictions but asks for a baseline study of existing stock.

The State Land and Natural Resources cautioned that enforcement could be a problem and suggests that there be different bag limits for recreational and commercial pickers. Lawmakers in the senate take up the opihi bill on Friday.

Read … Opihi Ban

* * * * *

SB 2923, SD1


Status & Testimony


Establishes a ban on taking or harvesting opihi statewide, subject to open and closed sessions and traditional gathering rights and practices. Prohibits the taking or harvesting of opihi for non-commercial purposes in an amount greater than one quart with shells attached or one half pint without shells per day. Requires the department of land and natural resources to submit an annual report regarding effectiveness and enforcement. Establishes until 06/30/17 a moratorium on the harvesting of opihi on Oahu. (SD1)


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