Is This the End to the Hawaii Aquarium Fishery?
by Ron Tubbs
Imagine, tourists coming to Hawaii and visiting our public aquariums, but there are no Hawaiian fish to be seen there. This will happen if SB1240 is made into law, and the state places a moratorium on the issuance of any new aquarium fish permits.
Waikiki Aquarium Hawaii Fish Exhibit photo by Ron Tubbs
For years special interest groups have used the guise of “ecology,” to attack the Hawaii Aquarium Fishery by promoting the fallacy that there is a lack of Hawaii tropical fish and aquarium fishermen have no restrictions. They use these untruths because17 years of scientific studies conducted by the state’s ocean researchers show fish population increases, which do not back up their claim. Laws affecting ecological concerns must be based in science, or they will undermine the meaning and importance of real ecological issues.
In early May, 2017, Hawaii’s legislature passed SB 1240. After its passage nearly all of Hawaii’s leading marine scientists have come out in opposition to the bill. The bill was then forwarded on May 4th to Governor David Ige, who then reviewed it for six weeks. Governor Ige, a staunch ecological supporter and champion of sustainability, clearly spent many hours listening to both sides in meetings with Hawaii’s leading marine scientists and many others to decide the merits of SB 1240. Governor Ige’s work in ecology is well known. He along with then President Obama extended the North West Hawaii Island preserve. The governor is well respected by ecologists, as is his head of the DLNR, Suzanne Case, former head of the Nature Conservancy.
After full review of all the facts and the scientific studies, Governor David Ige announced on June 23rd 2017, his intent to Veto SB 1240. He is to be commended for doing the right thing- basing ecological decisions in science, and not the emotional hyperbole of a few special interest groups.
The Hawaii Aquarium fishery was proven sustainable by a 17 year study of the fishery.
According to the state regulatory agency DLNR’s 17 year study of the fishery, fish counts for the major species collected were up by millions. The Kona studies, were headed by DLNR marine biologist, Bill Walsh, Ph.D., who worked with his team of marine biologists to count fish and review years of fish reports and studies. These studies showed that Hawaii’s small aquarium fishery was sustainable, and had a low impact on Hawaii’s oceans. DLNR has opposed SB 1240 and its moratorium on aquarium fish permits.
The already sustainable aquarium fishery became even more regulated and sustainable when, the Hawaii Tropical Fish Association met with DLNR scientists to create new laws to ensure the sustainability of the Hawaii’s aquarium fishery. These additional laws took the form of the Oahu and Kona aquarium collecting rules packages and went into effect in 2014 and 2015. These new rules created enhanced restrictions on diver’s gear, species restrictions, size limitations, and quantities (bag limits) of fish that could be collected. To further prevent ocean user conflict, numerous areas statewide remain open to tourists but closed to aquarium fishermen.
DLNR employees have stated that if they fail to manage the fishery effectively then they have not done their jobs. Clearly the results of the 17 years study and the incredible fish population increases have shown DLNR has done its job! Many news laws have been enacted, and constant monitoring of fishery state wide has been done. It has been very effective at management. Many fishermen believe too many laws have been enacted. To claim that DLNR is in collusion with any fishery is ludicrous. Hawaii’s aquarium fishery management has been touted worldwide as an exemplar.
This year Senate Bill 1240 has gone further than any prior legislation to close the aquarium fishery. Without new permits eventually the aquarium fishery will die. If SB 1240 becomes law, it sends a message to other fisheries; even if you are sustainable and work with researchers to do the right thing for the good of the ocean, then you can still be unjustifiably shut down. Last minute changes to the bill were rushed, not thought out properly and left the bill without proper constitutional review. It was not a compromise, nor did it even address the studies it first asked for. It was a last minute, scientifically unfounded effort, born out of ocean user conflict, not ecology, which deceived legislators, the tourist industry, snorkelers, and divers and made aquarium fishermen the “bad guys” and aimed to eliminate them.
Upon legal review, SB 1240 seems to violate not only the law of the United Nations in which oceans are deemed the common heritage of all men, and that no individual group should lay claim to own, but it also violates the United States Constitution, and the Hawaii State Constitution, both of which state that oceans belong to the public. Governing agencies are there to manage the oceans not to eliminate user groups. To eliminate any user group is unconstitutional. To restrict access to, or eliminate any user group over another without the science to back-up the decision, particularly one in which many Hawaiians work, is clearly a violation to the State of Hawaii Constitution, and puts the state at legal risk.
Hawaii’s beautiful fish seen in aquariums around the world, allow education about sustainable ecosystems to occur, and encourage tourists to come to Hawaii. With the passage of SB 1240, the majority of children and tourists will no longer be able to learn about Hawaii’s tropical fish in aquariums. Now that, will be a big loss to tourism.
People will soon have to resort to diving or snorkeling to see Hawaii’s fish, but most will not be able to. Those who do, will line the pockets of the main proponents of SB 1240- a few radical snorkeling and dive shop owners who have led this unsubstantiated, biased attack on Hawaii’s sustainable aquarium fishery. Ignoring the scientific evidence with which to measure their ecological concerns, they are primarily concerned with their bottom line, not ecology, and have sold the majority of legislators and the public a bill of goods which will have negative impacts on tourism and our economy.
Hawaii’s small, but important aquarium fishery faces and unsure future. We can only hope those who are involved educate themselves about the issue and make the right decision, like Honorable Governor David Ige did.