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2012 Aquarium Debate Season Gets Underway in Hawaii

Posted: April 26, 2012, 10:30 a.m., EDT

By John Dawes

Hawaii has been the focus of intense attention regarding its marine ornamental aquatic industry for several years now, with numerous proposals—either to restrict collection for aquarium purposes or ban it altogether—being discussed.

Some of the proposed bills, resolutions and measures the legislature had not decided upon last year were brought forward into the 2012 session, with several new proposals also open for discussion. In total, there are a staggering 18 proposals, of which seven seek to prohibit all collection, thus closing down the Hawaiian marine ornamental aquatic industry completely.

Hawaiian Ornamentals Bills
Hawaii’s latest bill may hold better hope for the aquarium trade than most of its predecessors.
John Dawes

Two companion bills (HB 1780 and S 2042), for example, would make it “unlawful for any person at any time to knowingly or intentionally sell or offer to sell, for aquarium purposes, aquatic life taken from any of the waters within the jurisdiction of the State.”

“Aquatic life” is taken to be “any type or species of mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, mollusk, crustacean, arthropod, invertebrate, coral or other animal that inhabits the freshwater or marine environment and includes any part, product, egg or offspring thereof, or freshwater or marine plants, including seeds, roots, products, and other parts thereof.”

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), whose responsibilities include management of the state’s fisheries, has stated, on more than one occasion, that rather than being devastated by collection (as the anti-trade campaigners claim), indications are there is a trend toward sustainability of Hawaii’s marine resources. There is also a wide-held belief on the part of the DLNR and independent researchers that there is no credible evidence (in the form of scientific data) indicating that total bans are warranted.

The web was particularly “hot” regarding these issues during January and February 2012, and not everything was quite as extreme as the above total ban proposals. One of the latest bills (HB 2129), for instance, takes a more balanced approach by stating, in its opening sentence, that “the aquarium fishing industry in West Hawaii is one of the most well-regulated fisheries within the State.”

This bill, introduced in January 2012 by big island representative Cindy Evans, aims to authorize the DLNR “to impose temporary management measures within the West Hawaii fisheries’ management area.”

These measures, however, would be based on factors such as changes in the status of individual fish species populations. Consequently, the DLNR could impose a temporary moratorium on collecting individual species if the available evidence were to show that “overharvesting or other factors” have jeopardized overall populations.

The establishment of bag limits, a limited-entry program, daily catch reports and closed seasons are also included in the proposals. Input regarding such decisions would come not just from the DLNR, but from the community as well.

A significant departure from other proposed legislation is that HB 2129, “understands that living resources, such as tropical fish, have a variety of factors that determine the health and vibrancy of any individual population.” Further, it states that, “commercial exploitation may or may not always be involved in the natural fluctuations in a population.”

As always with such matters, opinions vary among interested parties. Most of the anti-trade campaigners feel that the bill doesn’t go far enough. But not all. One leading voice, Tina Owen, believes that the bill is a good one and that we are not dealing with an “I win, you lose” situation.

Everyone can win, according to Owen, who is quoted by CORAL magazine as saying, “There has been a great deal of cooperation between the aquarium fishers and the resource managers, and I do believe that we have all reached adulthood about this issue.”

Within the Hawaiian trade, there are those who believe that HB 2129 is a good bill that will help regulate the industry responsibly. Others, though, object to the imposition of a “limited entry program” restricting the number of collectors allowed to operate on Hawaii’s reefs from January 1, 2014 onward. The need to provide daily catch reports, as well as the lack of clear criteria for determining bag limits, or deciding on seasonal closures or moratoriums, are also causing concern.

At the time of writing, news of the outcome of the discussions within Hawaii’s legislature was not yet available. So, as the oft-repeated saying goes, watch this space. <HOME>

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2012 Aquarium Debate Season Gets Underway in Hawaii

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