- Numerous aquarium fishing and marine life bills will be decided today by the Hawaii House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources, & Hawaiian Affairs after long hearing on Wednesday and nearly 4,000 pieces of testimony.
- HB511, prohibiting the harassment of persons marine fishing and aquarium fishing, was passionately debated in testimony for and against. Recent incidents in Hawaiian waters has brought national attention to the conflict between reef fish harvesters and conservationists. Rene Umberger, who filmed a dangerous altercation between herself and a fish collector last year off Kona, joined others testifying in opposition to the bill saying it would criminalize the whistleblowers. Jim Lovell, a Kona fish collector, countered saying that organizations like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society terrorize fishermen with their tactics out on the water. He joined many in support of the bill, which was introduced by Hawaii Island Rep. Cindy Evans. HB511 specifically includes the enforcement of harassment as a duty of a conservation and resources enforcement officer.
- Three bills regulating or banning the sale of aquatic life for aquarium purposes, also drew lengthy testimony. The three proposed laws are HB873 which prohibits the sale of aquatic life for aquarium purposes, HB883 which prohibits the selling or offering for sale any fish or aquatic life taken under an aquarium fish permit subjected to substantial injury or cruel treatment, and HB606 establishing a 10 year moratorium on the taking of aquarium fish. HB606 also provides assistance, training, and related employment services to workers dislocated by the moratorium. Fishermen insisted that the fishery is sustainable and that the laws would put many of them out of business. William Aila, the former chair of the DLNR, testified in opposition to the proposed laws. On the other side of the fence, conservationists like Robert Wintner, aka Snorkel Bob, testified in support.
- A bill giving DOCAR officers the right to search coolers on boats is also up for a vote. HB483 authorizes administrative inspections within the West Hawaii regional fishery management area.
The lawmakers know they have a hard decision ahead. “Everyone in Hawaii wants to ensure that our reefs and marine life are sustainable,” Representative Kaniela Ing, chair of the committee, said in a media release. “One thing was very evident and that’s the passion that each testifier felt, as well as their deep concern for the ocean environment that sustains all marine life in our waters. While we heard decidedly differing views and concerns on the issues, and while it may be uncomfortable, we need to strike a balance, find common ground and make the best decision we can. I believe that today’s discussion was a positive step forward to reach that goal.”
“We are taking the time to carefully review all the available information so that we can make the best decision going forward,” added Kona representative and committee vice chair Nicole Lowen. “The latest report from the Department of Land and Natural Resources does show an overall increase in fish populations in West Hawaii in recent years, but it also cautions that allowing the aquarium industry to expand could eventually harm the resource. Right now, we have the task of looking at ways to make sure we are protecting our important marine resources without eliminating a $2.3 million industry overnight.”