Aquarium Fishery Closure Bill is Aggressive and Unnecessary
By Ron Tubbs
In January, Senate Bill 931 which proposes total closure of the aquarium fishery was introduced in the Hawaiian legislature. This is an attack on both the aquarium fishery and on our Hawaiian culture from special interest groups promoting false claims that there is a lack of tropical fish in Hawaii and that aquarium fishermen have no restrictions.
Yet overwhelming evidence shows that not only is the aquarium fishery an integral part of the Hawaiian culture and economy, it is highly regulated, sustainable and does not damage our fish population.
The fishery operates under state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) control and has been proven to be sustainable with fish counts for many years. Fish replenishment areas (FRA), bag limits, gear restrictions, banned species, and many more DLNR regulations ensure viability of the stock.
A 2014 state DLNR report that reviewed the aquarium fishery for a 17-year period with 6,700 fish counts showed fish increases by the millions for the major species collected. The state has issued aquarium permits for over 60 years, and fish counts and catch reports show no major increase in permits or recent fish catch numbers.
After a September 2017 State Supreme Court ruling, Hawaii Environmental Protection Act (HEPA) laws also apply to the fishery. Complying with the ruling, the fishery is nearly finished with a 2018 environmental review, and will also conduct an environmental cultural review in 2019. A team headed by DLNR marine biologist Bill Walsh, Ph.D., also counted fish and reviewed years of fish reports with the Kona studies. They found that Hawaii’s small aquarium fishery was sustainable, and had minimal impact on Hawaii’s oceans.
Introduction of the aquarium fishery closure bill is the tourist groups’ attempt to preempt the HEPA environmental review completion. Knowing the HEPA will favor the fishermen they now push for complete closure in the Hawaii State Legislature.
Chair of the Water and Land Committee Sen. Kahele had the right vision when he said that he could not justify the complete shutdown of the fishery based on Hawaiian culture at the first bill hearing on February 13. However, at the next hearings, Chair of the Judiciary Committee Sen. Rhoads and Ways and Means Committee Chair Sen. Dela Cruz gutted the bill, changing it to a complete shutdown of the fishery without compromises.
Eliminating small fisheries will have far-reaching, devastating impacts. Hundreds of jobs will be lost and the Hawaiian economy will suffer.
Just one of the 10 to 20 fish wholesalers shipping in Hawaii spends $140,000 per year to Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines for interisland freight from Kona and other locations. This is just a small portion as most imports and exports involve every major airline—airlines which rely on our freight to help cover costs of business. Without fish freight we could see a reduction of flights to and from Hawaii, which will impact tourism.
Hawaii's fish travel the world as our ambassadors, raising awareness of Hawaii’s beauty, increasing tourism, and educating the public on ecosystems and fish biology. Pet stores across the world will suffer, as will manufacturers of aquarium accessory products such as tanks, food, pumps and more.
Local dive shops who supply the divers, boat repair and boat dealers, box manufacturers, and inspection agencies will also lose income without the fishery. And without those small local businesses, the tourists who do come to see our fish—because they can’t see them in aquariums around the world anymore—won’t even be able to dive or snorkel, as those businesses will have also been harmed by the fishery shutdown.
Hawaii’s aquarium fishery may seem small, but it is critical to our culture and economic infrastructure. I urge lawmakers to fully educate themselves on this bill that will have a negative impact on thousands of native Hawaiians and make the right decision—do not support SB 931.
SB931: Text, Status