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Cliffs Notes to the 2012 Hawai‘i Legislative Session

By Ret Talbot - Posted Feb 01, 2012 01:55 PM
With 18 aquarium-related measures before the Hawai‘i State Legislature, it is essential for all interested parties to understand the bills and resolutions that could impact the State's marine aquarium fishery.
Cliffs Notes to the 2012 Hawai‘i Legislative Session

Hawaii State House

As most aquarists are well aware, the State of Hawai‘i’s twenty-sixth legislative session is underway. With a total of 18 aquarium-related measures in the hopper, it can be hard to know where to begin when trying to understand what this means for the trade. In an effort to provide a little clarity, here is your Advanced Aquarist Cliffs Notes version of the new aquarium-related bills and resolutions.

Seven New Bills

Seven new bills and four new resolutions have been introduced. Of the seven new bills, two seek to shut down Hawai‘i’s marine aquarium fishery outright—they are SB2042 and HB1780. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call them the “Ban Bills.” The remaining five bills—SB2002, SB2408, HB2129, HB2125, and HB2067—all aim to further regulate the State’s marine aquarium fishery, although some fishers believe the passage of a couple of these regulatory bills, especially SB2002 and SB2408, is tantamount to closing the fishery. We’ll call these two later bills the “Regulate to Ban Bills,” and we’ll call the remaining three the “Regulatory Bills.”

Four New Resolutions - SR2, SCR1, HR6, & HCR8

All four new resolutions—SR2, SCR1, HR6, and HCR8—urge the State to shut down the marine aquarium fishery statewide. These four resolutions reached the State Legislature as a direct result of a November vote at the County Council level on Kaua‘i. I wrote about some of the serious concerns about that vote in a Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) blog post recently. Given the serious issues with the Kaua‘i vote I outline there, I am hopeful the legislators in Honolulu will allow these resolutions to die without further action being taken.

The same holds true for both SB2042 and HB1780—the so-called “Ban Bills” named above—as they both originated with the same Kaua‘i vote.

The “Regulate to Ban” Bills - SB2002 & SB2408

Two of the new bills—SB2002 and SB2408—would not close the fishery outright, but some individuals close to the industry in Hawai‘i believe both bills, if passed, would eventually result in a closure. SB2002 would transfer regulation of coastal marine aquarium fisheries from the state to the county level, while SB2408 would require DLNR to establish new marine life conservation districts in each county, introduce quarterly closures of the marine aquarium fishery (January, April, July, and October), establish violations as a misdemeanor, and increase the aquarium permit fee to $500.

In the cases of both these “Regulate to Ban” bills, there are real concerns the science is being sidelined. When it comes to SB2002, in 2011, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Counties both established track records of voting about data-centered fishery management issues without 1) seeking or consulting the most current data (Kaua‘i County) or 2) directly ignoring the data presented (Hawai‘i County). While ignorance of the current data was cited on behalf of at least one Kaua‘i County councilmember I interviewed, one Hawai‘i County councilmember who voted for the Resolution told me he was doing so not because he thought the aquarium fishery was devastating the reefs as the Resolution claimed. Rather, he said, he was using his vote to “send a message” to Honolulu regarding enforcement.

Science-based, adaptive fisheries management requires a real-time commitment to the data and to using the appropriate management tools at the appropriate time. It requires decision-makers (if those decision makers are not the already existing state fisheries managers themselves) to have faith in the recommendations of those most familiar with the data and the management tools. The Counties have shown no will to manage the aquarium fishery, and transferring aquarium fisheries management decisions to them would certainly be a step in the wrong direction when it comes to sustainability and resource management.

Further, if SB2002 passed, the County would be forced to create a carbon copy of the fisheries management infrastructure that already exists at the state level. Finally, county control of the aquarium fishery would mean that regulation would be based on use—a fish harvested for the recreational or commercial food fishery would be managed by the State, while a fish harvested for the marine aquarium trade would be managed by the County. Certainly this would not be in the interest of the resource, which benefits most from a comprehensive management plan.

Real Concerns the Science is Only an Afterthought

In the case of SB2408, there are again real concerns the science is only an afterthought. One of the central provisions of this bill is to mandate a quarterly closure of the marine aquarium fishery. There is, however, no credible scientific study supporting this approach to fisheries management, and it shows a lack of understanding of both the animals’ biology and the ecosystem. As one fisheries manager said to me, “I wouldn’t want to be a politician. I’m not sure why some of these politicians suddenly want to become fisheries managers.”

Both the “Regulate to Ban” bills—SB2002 and SB2408—are problematic because they ignore, minimize or sideline science, and they would both result in taking management decisions out of the hands of the people best suited to make those decisions—fisheries managers. Nonetheless, observers of the Legislature believe one of these bills may have the best chance out of the “Ban Bills” and “Regulate to Ban Bills” of progressing.

The Three Remaining Regulatory Bills - HB2129, HB2125 & HB2067

Some fishers and fishery managers argue the remaining newly introduced regulatory bills would be good for the fishery. I wrote extensively about HB2129 in an article for CORAL Magazine last week. Fisheries managers and some fishers believe this is a good bill, as it gives fisheries managers the ability to manage the fishery in real time. Other fishers, however, criticize the bill as it is currently written. In most cases, critics are against HB2129 because they believe it is too broad and that provisions are already in place for emergency regulation. In some cases, individual fishers are also against a provision in the bill, which would institute limited entry to the fishery beginning in 2014. For more information on this bill, see my CORAL Magazine article.

HB2067 is a bill that would grant enforcement the ability to check a cooler, livewell or other potential fish holding device without due cause. In Hawaii, under current law, an enforcement officer may not inspect a fisher’s closed container unless the enforcement officer has due cause. Fisheries managers say HB2067 is crucial to making some of the management tools they are employing enforceable. They cite, in particular, the West Hawaii “white list” and other species-specific rules. Most fishers have no problem with this bill and generally support it as long as inspection policy does not jeopardize animal health. In terms of the Bill becoming law, some serious constitutional issues that have killed similar bills in the past remain.

Finally, HB2125 is a bill that would increase the fines for fishing violations commensurate to the number of fishes caught illegally. In general, fishers have no problems with this bill.

Stay Informed

The situation in Hawai‘i is very fluid right now, and it's important for anyone interested in the situation to stay informed. In most cases, hearings may be announced only two days before the hearing date, so individuals wishing to testify should make sure they understand the measures and are prepared to respond.

Author: Ret Talbot
Location: USA

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer and photographer who frequently reports on fisheries issues. He is a senior editor at CORAL Magazine, where he has been researching a multi-year story on sustainability and the marine aquarium trade. He frequently blogs about fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability at his own blog:


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