(BIVN) – Kealoha Pisciotta of the Kai Palaoa group is adding her voice to the chorus urging Governor David Ige to sign Senate Bill 1240, a bill that would phase out aquarium fish collecting in Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige announced on June 23 that he intends to veto the bill 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.”
Pisciotta, a cultural practitioner with Mauna Kea Anaina Hou and Kai Palaoa, disagrees. She equates the aquarium with wildlife trafficking.
“Aquarium fish are actually our wildlife,” Pisciotta says. “Imagine if we just went out and we collected our wildlife birds – including the endangered birds – and we’re allowed to just cage them up and ship them off to somewhere on the mainland for someone’s entertainment.”
Ironically, a different law targeting the illegal wildlife trade – said to be the most comprehensive law of its kind in the U.S. – recently took effect. “The bill prohibits the sale, offer for sale, purchase, trade, possession with intent to sell, or barter for any part or product of any species of elephant, mammoth, rhinoceros, tiger, great ape, shark and ray, sea turtle, walrus, narwhal, whale, hippopotamus, monk seal, lion, pangolin, cheetah, jaguar, and leopard, all identified as threatened with extinction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Endangered Species Act,” the state says. “This law does not prohibit the mere possession of such items.” It does not include Hawaii’s reef fish.
“The reef fish that are commonly caught are very important to the whole ecosystem,” Pisciotta said. “So they’re the herbivores and they eat the limu. Then they grow big and fat, and it feeds the pelagic fish that we also eat.”
In addition to the interview conducted at the July 4th Democratic Party “Malama ‘Aina For The Keiki” gathering at Maka’eo Pavilion, Pisciotta wrote this op-ed:
A very important bill is before Gov. David Ige — the only serious environmental bill that made it through the Legislature this year. We wish to encourage the governor to side with wildlife, the people of Hawaii and Malama Honua by signing Senate Bill 1240.
SB 1240 is a compromise bill that will protect reef wildlife from aquarium collection in the future. Both sides want to see it passed and it got nearly unanimous support in the Legislature.
The aquarium trade takes our reef ohua — fish, baby sharks, eels, octopuses, hermit crabs and other collectibles (not turtles, rays, coral and rock) — and ships them across the world for someone’s entertainment.
Hawaii’s reef life is a public trust. It is important for Native Hawaiian cultural practices and use. Many of the animals collected are ‘aumakua belonging to different families and that is not appropriate as it upsets the balance of our spiritual harmony as well as that of the reef and the ecosystem.
The reef supports the economy of Hawaii and is the foundation of the ecosystem that feeds us and that will feed children in the future.
On the other “side” are aquarium collectors who make their living by selling Hawai’i wildlife to the aquarium trade. Why do they support this bill? Because many recognize that the aquarium trade is not sustainable and will lead to the collapse of our reef ecosystem. They support this bill because they will be allowed to continue until they quit, but no new permits will be given out for more extraction.
Hawaii can show leadership in protecting its reef and ocean life. The ocean is our life and must be protected if we, too, are to survive. Our brave brothers and sisters of the Hokule‘a and Hikianalia just spent three years risking their lives to carry this sacred message around the world. Malama Honua begins here at home.
The problem begins with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the very state agency constitutionally mandated to protect the public trust and the resources of Hawaii. Members on the Board of Land & Natural Resources are appointed by the governor and must protect the public’s interest and rights to enjoy our ocean and all the life its supports. DLNR and BLNR, in this instance, have taken on an advocacy role — but not on behalf of the people or the reef but rather, in support of continuing unregulated commercial aquarium extraction.
In addition to never defining “sustainable” or setting limits on the number of permittees, or amount of wildlife that can be captured daily, the DLNR also never began the studies it was required to do 40 years ago. What will it take for DLNR to agree to evaluate effects or impose limits? Full scale collapse? Massive extinctions? We are getting close for quite a few species.
Anyone who frequents our nearshore can see the reefs are suffering. There are many threats that can frustrate the reefs’ recovery but this is one threat that can we can change.
It is on BLNR to take action on behalf of the people and their interest in having a productive and thriving ocean.That is both its job and constitutional mandate to do so.
This bill has a huge base of supporters, including lawmakers. The solution is supported by Hawaii law and invocation of the “precautionary principle” — in the absence of conclusive evidence to the contrary, the state must err on the side of caution to protect the resources. We must side with the aloha aina and the public trust.
The reef is the foundation of life. We all win when we chose life.