(BIVN) – A bill that would phase out aquarium fish collecting in Hawaii is headed towards a veto from the governor.
Gov. David Ige announced on June 23 that he intends to veto Senate Bill 1240 because “there is concern that the science does not support the claims made by the bill. It will be premature to ban aquarium collection before doing the necessary studies.”
Ige also says the DLNR “is committed to working with all stakeholders to come up with a better solution.”
According to the description of the final draft of SB 1240:
Requires DLNR to submit proposed legislation to the legislature by the 2019 regular session including a definition of “sustainable”, a policy for sustainable collection practices of near shore aquatic life, a process for determining limits on collection practices of near shore aquatic life, and any additional resources required by the department. Prohibits issuance of new aquarium permits. Prohibits transfer of current permits subject to certain provisions. Prohibits renewal of permits that have not been renewed for five or more years. (CD1)
The Department of Land and Natural Resources wrote in its testimony that it “appreciates the intent of the measure and supports sustainability, but opposes this measure, with respect to setting sustainable rates of collection, as we could not possibly establish catch limits for all reef species by 2019, and likely not for all aquarium fish species by 2019 and there is no biological basis to prohibit the issuance of new aquarium permits. ”
DLNR testimony also spoke specifically to West Hawaii fishery.
The Department has extensive baseline data for aquarium fish on West Hawaiʻi. The Department has collected extensive underwater visual survey data on the status of reef fishes along the Kona Coast of West Hawai‘i Island for over fifteen years. A report of these surveys was submitted to the 2015 Legislature in compliance with Section 188F-5, HRS. The data indicates that the West Hawaiʻi aquarium fishery is currently operating at a level that does not indicate significant population declines or major shifts in species diversity in areas where collecting is occurring.
The West Hawai′i Aquarium Project (WHAP) has been monitoring West Hawai′i reefs since 1999 and a number of long-term studies extend over multiple decades. Over 16 years of monitoring, a total of 70 survey divers have conducted over 6,700 transects for the WHAP project in addition to hundreds of other surveys for related projects. Fifteen years after closure, the population of Yellow Tang has increased 64.5% in the closed areas while its abundance in the open areas has not declined significantly. Overall, Yellow Tang abundance in the 30’-60’ depth range over the entire West Hawai′i coast has increased 58% (over 1.3 million fish) from 1999/2000 to 2012-2013 to a current population of 3.6 million fish.
The Big Island Association of Tropical Fishermen produced a compelling video in support of their industry late last year.
However, there is a large group putting pressure on Governor Ige, demanding the governor allow SB 1240 to become law.
Kealoha Pisciotta of Kai Palaoa calls SB 1240 a compromise bill, “meaning both sides want to see it passed and that it has received nearly unanimous support in the Legislature.”
Pisciotta takes aim at DLNR in writing:
So what’s the problem? The problem is not the message, its not with the Collectors of the ATT industry it is actually with the agency, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) which is the only State agency constitutionally mandated to PROTECT the public’s interest and the resources of Hawai’i.
This is specifically important that our resources are protected in the interest of the greater public good. BLNR is made up of Governor appointees, who by law MUST regulate in favor of protection and protecting the public’s interest and rights to enjoy our ocean and all the life its supports.
BLNR in this instant case, has taken on an advocacy role, but not on behalf of the people, the Reef or the life it supports but rather in support of continuing the unregulated ATT industry. Are you confused yet? (Sound familiar-like Mauna Kea)
BLNR has interjected its opposition to the bill claiming the ATT industry doesn’t need to be regulated because is it sustainable. But the State doesn’t even have a definition for “sustainability.” How odd considering we live on islands that have very limited resources to begin with?
In a letter to the governor, Puna’s State Senator Russell Ruderman said he is urging Ige to consider the political climate in Washington D.C.
Our ocean neighborhood faces the loss of its recent protection as one of the rollbacks of the federal administration. Just as you boldly stepped forward to do our part with the climate agreement bill, committing our state to do our part in the face of federal rollbacks, so we must do our part to protect our oceans with or without federal leadership.
SB 1240 is, almost literally, the least we can do to address the situation. But it is an essential first step. While harming not one single collector it begins a phaseout of permits by not issuing new ones. If it is found that we acting too boldly, we can simply modify this in 5 or 10 years. If we fail to act and it proves needed, we will bear quite a burden of responsibility. Erring on the side of caution is the right thing to do when protecting Hawaii’s fragile reefs and the economy which depends upon them.
For the sake of your well-earned reputation as a fighter for our environment, and for doing what is the right thing to do, please allow this bill to become law.
Sherry Bracken had a chance to put Ige on the spot about his plan to veto the bill. The full interview can be found on the Island Issues website.