Hawaiian Governor Vetoes Anti-Aquarium Industry Bill
Populations of Hawaii’s yellow tang are actually on the rise, indicating that the species is being sustainably managed.
First introduced in the Hawaiian State Senate in January, Bill SB1240: “Requires DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources of Hawaii) to submit proposed legislation…by the 2019 session, including a definition of ‘sustainable,’ a policy of sustainable collection practices of near shore aquatic life, a process for determining limits on collection practices… 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.”
This, in summary, is what the latest bill presented to the Hawaii legislature by anti-trade campaigners demanded—and none of it backed by any solid scientific data. Not surprisingly, there was an immediate and widespread reaction from individuals and sectors of the international ornamental aquatic industry community when the news broke, with everyone urging the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, to veto the Bill. There were online petitions, individual letters by leading reef specialists like Richard Pyle, John Randall, Bruch Carlson, Randall Kozaki and Leighton Taylor, several call outs to members from top trade associations like the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and Ornamental Fish International (OFI), and even an editorial in Hawaii’s own popular and influential newspaper, the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
In sharp contrast to the proposal, the DLNR has conducted approximately 7,000 surveys over the past 17 years, amassing data that show that numbers of the most sought after species in the marine hobby and Hawaii trade are actually rising, thus demonstrating that the current levels of harvesting are sustainable.
The majority of these studies have been carried out off the coast of West Hawaii where most of the state’s “aquarium” collecting takes place. Further, DLNR division of aquatic resources administrator, Dr. Bruce Anderson, believes that these results could be replicated in Oahu waters where the majority of the remaining fish bound for home aquaria are collected.
He refers to the claims and statements made by the proposers of SB1240 as showing “a lack of understanding or an unwillingness to accept what has been done.” This does not, however, mean that the DLNR is complacent about the current state of the sector. Indeed, it is keen to improve matters further, for example, by considering a limited-entry program for the industry, raising the cost of permits to dissuade casual collectors, limiting the number of permits issued annually and/or limiting the number of permits that could be active at any one time, introducing mandatory reporting requirements, and applying more stringent limits on the species and numbers of specimens collected.
This must not be taken as a sign that the DLNR is in any way in favor of Bill SB1240, though. Nothing of the sort. It is merely yet another sign of how thorough the regulation of the Hawaii industry—the most intensely studied fishery in the world—actually is, and of the desire to continue improving it for the welfare of all parties, including the reefs themselves, of course.
It is abundantly clear that if SB1240 had been approved and implemented, it would have resulted in the gradual phasing out of the entire Hawaii marine aquarium collecting sector, something that is, quite simply, not justifiable if decisions are to be taken on sound science and relevant, accurate data.
In a world where laws that have dramatic consequences for the aquarium industry are passed with alarming and disappointing regularity, and without appropriate consultation with all stakeholders, it is reassuring that, sometimes, commonsense and good science appear to be given due consideration. And this, to give Governor Ige due credit, is what has happened on this occasion.
Some weeks before I wrote these lines, the governor had issued a notice of intent to veto the bill, something that resulted in the following statement from PIJAC vice president of government relations, Robert Likins: “Those who care about pets, fishermen safety, and Hawaii’s beautiful coral reefs thank Governor Ige for proposing to support sound science and veto Senate Bill 1240. The governor took substantial time to understand all sides of this issue, especially the lack of scientific support for SB1240 and the risk to his constituents’ jobs. We agree with the governor that available scientific information does not support SB1240, and that additional studies are needed to appropriately refine regulations for this fishery…We urge the legislature to carefully consider the governor’s excellent decision-making process, and to uphold the expected veto.”
Encouragingly, on July 11, Governor Ige, proceeded with his veto, thus closing the latest chapter in this year’s anti-trade campaign. However, he is committed to introducing legislation that will address the above-mentioned issues, probably during the next legislative session in 2018. This could result in policies that would make Hawaii’s near-shore aquarium fishery even more regulated than it already is, thus making it the best managed in the world. We therefore await the next episode in this perennially running story to unfold over the coming months.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to PIJAC for keeping me up to date with developments relating to this important matter.
John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the new trade show scheduled for June 2017 in Singapore.