(BIVN) – Governor David Ige vetoed a bill that would have stopped new permits for aquarium fish colecting on Hawaii’s reefs, ending weeks of last-minute lobbying on the issue.
Senate Bill 1240, passed by both chambers of the State Legislature, would have required the Department of Land and Natural Resources to establish a policy for sustainable aquarium fish collection practices through take limits. It also would have phased out the practice by prohibiting the DLNR from issuing new aquarium fish permits to use fine meshed traps or fine meshed nets, while also prohibiting the transfer of permits after five years.
The aquarium fishery is a polarizing topic. However, those opposed to the collection and sale of Hawaii’s fish for the aquarium trade thought they finally had the law they needed to protect the island’s aquatic life. Until the governor announced he planned to veto the bill.
In his rationale behind the decision, Ige wrote:
Since the release of the Intent to Veto List on June 26, this issue has been highlighted across numerous local and national media outlets. The Office of the Governor has received thousands of phone calls and emails from constituents expressing their support for and opposition to this bill. The one thing everyone can agree on is that one of Hawai‘i’s most valuable resources, the coral reef, must be protected. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and Gov. Ige agree that sustainable policies and practices are needed. The governor has no objection to the first part of the bill that requires the DLNR to define “sustainable” and establish policies for sustainable collection.
The DLNR is committed to working with all stakeholders to come up with a better solution. Discussions have begun on “limited entry” aquarium fisheries, expanding Fishery Replenishment Areas (FRAs) to O‘ahu, capping permit numbers, addressing catch limits, and establishing permit fees. Gov. Ige is committed to introducing legislation and/or administrative rules that will properly address all concerns, and create policy that will establish Hawai‘i as the best managed sustainable nearshore fishery in the world.
Regarding this measure, the governor has concerns that the science does not support the claims made in this bill. In West Hawai‘i, where approximately 80 percent of Hawai‘i’s aquarium catch comes from, FRAs were established to reverse the decline in fish populations. The Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and the DLNR have collected data over 17 years and completed more than 6,700 surveys in this area, and have found that aquarium fish populations are generally stable or increasing. Unfortunately, there is no similar data for O‘ahu, which is the other location where aquarium fish are caught. Based on the extensive scientific data from West Hawai‘i, it would be premature to phase out aquarium collecting permits.
Furthermore, it must be understood that this bill does not prohibit fish collecting. It simply prohibits the issuance of new permits to use small meshed nets and traps. The meshed nets and traps are an important tool for aquarium fish collectors. There is hope that this will eventually phase out the industry. This would take decades as currently proposed. The worldwide demand for aquarium species could lead to new and more destructive ways of collection.
The governor’s rationale does not sit well with Robert Wintner, also known as Snorkel Bob, one of the many advocates for Hawaii’s reef life. Wintner worked to drum up support for the bill before the veto deadline.
“David Ige deferred to his higher power: Suzanne Case, DLNR Director and former TNC Director, who puts The Nature Conservancy above Hawaii,” Wintner wrote in a public Facebook post. “David Ige fails to override his mistake at DLNR. While everyone is sad, angry and disappointed that such an exhaustive, honest and tough campaign could come to such a pathetic end, we will not give up.”
Wintner said “we will seek to override the veto in the legislature,” however the legislature has already spoken on the matter.
On July 10, Senate President Ronald Kouchi and State House Speaker Scott Saiki announced that they will not convene a special session to override any bills on Governor David Ige’s Intent to Veto list.