There is a fleet of about a dozen outboard motorboats infamous in the local fishing community.
"It's known as the Yamaha fleet," Sen. Clynt Ridgell told The Guam Daily Post.
"My understanding from numerous discussions with various members of the local fishing community is that this is a commercial enterprise wherein a businessperson has purchased a fleet of small Yamaha outboard motorboats equipped with fishing and scuba gear. I don't know who the fleet owner is but the fleet owner hires Chuukese to crew the boats."
The boats and the effects they have on the fishing community were a topic of discussion during a public hearing on Bill 53-35 on Wednesday. The measure would ban scuba fishing on Guam. It was introduced by Sen. Sabina Perez, and sponsored by Ridgell and Speaker Tina Muña Barnes.
Ridgell: Fleet reportedly fishes round the clock
Ridgell said he's seen the boats numerous times over the last few years. Some fishermen testifying on Wednesday called attention to the boats and their destructive fishing practices.
"I've been told the Yamaha fleet fishes all day and all night in shifts. I'm also told that the fish is being caught to be sold in local fish marts. Many in the local fishing community have spotted this fleet fishing in marine preserves and scuba fishing at night. This is part of the reason why I want to ban scuba fishing," he said.
But according to Manny Duenas, from the local fisherman's cooperative, there are only a few within the fleet that scuba dive to fish, and they tend to stay in shallower waters.
The rest free dive, he said.
"Every three to six months they bring in a new crew. They rotate. They bring them in from Chuuk," Duenas added.
Law wouldn’t affect free divers
The first boat came in around 2005 and the fleet has been very active in the last decade. Crews of four to five man each boat and there are two groups in the fleet, according to Duenas.
One fishes tuna and the other fishes in the reef. And when there isn't much tuna, they turn to the reef with gill nets, "which is illegal but nobody is enforcing," Duenas said.
The men fish heavily, according to Duenas.
Even if the Legislature were to ban scuba fishing, it wouldn't hurt the free divers, he said. Scuba fishing isn't the issue, Duenas said, it's the Yamaha fleet.
"Nobody in the scuba community wants to end their livelihood but they're willing to accept regulation," Duenas added.
Duenas: Require that catches are reported
He proposed an alternative to the ban – a measure allowing 20 permits for scuba fishing with eligibility based on U.S. citizenship and other criteria. Noncitizens may also obtain a permit but pay a higher fee, Duenas said. His proposal also includes catch reporting requirements.
Duenas had support from scuba fishermen at Wednesday's hearing, although many attending were in favor of the proposed ban.
While Ridgell said he believed the Yamaha fleet is part of the problem, he also considers it a red herring used by those opposed to the ban, in an attempt to distract the public.
Perez: Scuba fishing isn’t sustainable
"I was told that one of the local fish store owners who testified (Wednesday) night laying blame on Chuukese fishermen also buys fish from these same Chuukese fishermen," Ridgell said. “The quantity of the average catch is getting smaller and the size of the average fish that is caught is getting smaller. Something must be done to reverse this trend. Regardless of race, we must create and enforce sustainable fishing policies and practices. Banning scuba fishing is the first step.”
Perez agreed with her colleague.
"There are many issues we need to address, including properly funding enforcement and education. But a ban on scuba fishing, which is widely recognized as harmful, is a strong first step," she said. "Scuba fishing is banned in 63 countries and territories, including the CNMI and nearly all Pacific islands. Scuba fishing is not cultural, not historical, not safe, and not sustainable."
Testimony: Nighttime scuba divers take too many fish
In impassioned testimony, Ronald Laguana, a farmer and fisherman, said scuba spearfishing at night specifically was the problem, because the fish are asleep and easier to catch.
Like his fellow fishermen, Laguana referred to the Yamaha fleet, which he said fishes at night from 7 p.m. to midnight in the shallows. He said about 40 fishermen using scuba equipment "wipe out" the waters nightly.
A scuba spearfisherman on Wednesday said the Yamaha crews were free diving at night, not scuba diving.
All agree: Fish stocks are depleting
While there was disagreement among those who testified on Wednesday, a constant point among attendees – in addition to calls for better enforcement – is that the fish stocks around Guam are depleting.
"Our generation needs this ban. We need to take a step in the right direction," 22-year-old spearfisherman William Naden said Wednesday night.
"We're against a frame of mind that has seen things differently. They have seen those reefs back when they were plentiful. ... I think today is a day that this subject should be contemplated a lot more thoroughly,” Naden said. “I think this should be looked at as an opportunity to set a tone for my generation, for the younger generations, long after everybody in this room has passed, to be able to go out and see a lot healthier version of Guam."