Posted: March 27, 2014, 3:35 p.m. EDT
By John Dawes
"Act 306” might not mean much to most people, but for the West Hawaii marine ornamental fishery, it is a cornerstone of the laws controlling the sustainable harvesting of the state’s ornamental marine resources.
This act, which came into force on July 13, 1998, mandated the establishment of the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA). It stipulated, among other things, that a minimum of 30 percent of West Hawaii’s coastal waters be designated as Fish Replenishment Areas (FRA) in which the collection of aquarium fish would be prohibited.
Since then, and even before Act 306 came into force, debate has raged regarding West Hawaii’s marine ornamental fishery, with numerous proposals and counterproposals that I’ve reported on—some aimed at banning all collection in Hawaiian waters—being put before the islands’ legislature.
The latest and perhaps the most significant of these is a law signed on Dec. 14, 2013, by Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, which will protect West Hawaii’s marine fish resources while at the same time allowing sustainable harvesting to continue. To no one’s surprise, this move has met with the general approval of the ornamental marine sector, although the new law is not perfect.
The Moorish idol (Zanclus cornutus) does not appear on the White List and cannot be collected or exported from West Hawaii. John Dawes
Among other things, the latest regulations:
• Prohibit the take (capture) of nine species of inshore sharks, rays and two species that prey on the crown-of-thorns starfish;
• Establish a White List consisting of 40 species that can be taken legally for aquarium purposes;
• Establish bag limits (quotas) and sizes for three species of fish: Kole tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus), Achilles tang (Acanthurus achilles) and yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens); and
• Establish a 1,500-foot stretch of Kaohe Bay as an FRA in which the collection of aquarium fish and recreational fish feeding are prohibited.
According to the Department of Land and Aquatic Resources, the new measures "will help protect populations of species that are rare, potentially overfished and/or are not suitable for home aquariums.”
Violations can lead to significant fines, beginning with a penalty of no less than $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second and no less than $500 for a third and subsequent violations. To these sums must be added administrative costs of no more than $1,000, $2,000 and $5,000, respectively.
Significantly, penalties can be imposed for each specimen taken in violation of the new rules.
The White List that has been approved is exactly the same as the one proposed in September 2010 and is applicable only within the WHRFMA, the largest source of Hawaiian aquarium species. Oahu and other areas are therefore not affected.
There is no indication that these same rules will be applied to Oahu, but this possibility is one that concerns Oahu fishers, and it’s not because they fear sustainable harvesting policies. Rather, it’s a question of fundamental differences existing between the Oahu and West Hawaii (Big Island) aquarium fisheries. Whereas the Big Island concentrates on relatively few species but in large numbers, Oahu focuses on numerous species but in smaller quantities; hence, the same rules would seem not to apply.
Another factor that makes the new rules less than perfect is that they are the result of what could be called a "chicken-and-egg” situation.
The fish that appear on the White List are included because there are sufficient data available to allow for science-based decisions to be made. The data are only available because these species historically have been collected in sufficient numbers to yield such data. Therefore, the exclusion of particular species is not necessarily because they cannot be harvested sustainably, but, quite simply, because there aren’t sufficient data available. But there can’t be sufficient data available if the species are not collected.
It’s a difficult circular situation that must be addressed at some point. Also on a future agenda should be the ever-easier maintenance of difficult species as a direct result of advances in technology and husbandry techniques. But if no species that fall outside the White List can be made available legally, how are we to learn whether the difficulty barrier has been, or can be, overcome? Such a prohibition could result in placing insurmountable hurdles in the way of that most natural of human characteristics: the ceaseless, unstoppable and insatiable search for knowledge and advancement.
We could witness constructive developments as the new rules are tested. One undeniable fact is that they represent a major, positive step forward for the West Hawaiian marine ornamental sector. Only time will tell where it leads.
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