Yellow Tang off the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.  NOAA Fisheries image.

Yellow Tang off the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. NOAA Fisheries image.

By Ret Talbot
Special Report to CORAL Magazine

Five of the 2015 Hawaii aquarium-fishery related bills were scheduled yesterday for public hearing before the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs. The public hearing will begin at 8:30 am on Wednesday 11 February at the State Capital.

The bills scheduled for hearing represent all of the House bills related to the aquarium fishery and include: HB 483, HB 511, HB 606, HB 873 and HB 883. In addition, HB 1478, which establishes the Hawaiian Islands humpback whale national marine sanctuary program and establishes a sanctuary co-manager position, is on the agenda for Wednesday. With the hearing now scheduled, members of the public are able to submit testimony expressing support, opposition, or comments regarding the bills on the agenda.

A public hearing is a formal session of a legislative committee whereby interested members of the public are invited to present testimony. For a bill to become a law, it must move through each committee to which it was referred. During this process, a bill may be amended by the committee before being passed out of committee, or it may “die” in committee. Through the public hearing process, committee members, who are elected representatives, have an opportunity to formulate their own opinion on a bill based on a better understanding of the facts and public opinion.

HB 873 and HB 606: “Ban Bills” Inconsistent with Fishery Data

Of the two bills that would close the aquarium fishery, only HB 873 offers a justification for why the Bill’s authors believe the fishery should be closed. A thorough analysis of the data show that the justification offered is inconsistent with the available science.

The West Hawaii aquarium fishery, which represents nearly three-quarters of the State’s aquarium fishery in terms of landings, is considered one of the best-studied aquarium fisheries in the world, and the data consistently support the State’s own conclusion that the fishery is being fished sustainably.

For this fishery to be closed by legislative action ignoring the data would be a blow to the fishery itself, Hawaii’s own fisheries management in general and the legislative process, which established the West Hawaii Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA) in 1998.

HB 883:  Out of Step with Best Practices

HB 883 seeks to mandate collection, shipping and holding practices by prohibiting the sale of fishes subjected to “substantial injury” or “cruel treatment.”

The Bill’s definitions of “substantial injury” and “cruel treatment” are, however, inconsistent with currently established best practices in the industry. Critics of the bill contend that passage of HB 883 would make it “impossible to care for fish in a humane manner.” Specifically the Bill claims that “[R]eef species captured and sold as pet animals are subject to cruel and unethical treatment, including mutilation, puncturing, and confinement, which are common practices by individuals capturing and selling these species.” HB 883 goes on to define “cruel treatment” as “behavior that may result in substantial injury to the aquarium fish or aquatic life, including but not limited to:
Surfacing at a rate resulting in physical damage to the body tissue;
Piercing or deflating the swim bladder;
Cutting the fin or spine;
Withholding food for more than twenty-four hours; or
Holding fish or aquatic life in less than one gallon of water, per each specimen, within any container.

If all of these practices were categorically made illegal, some aquarium trade experts argue it would have a significant effect on the State’s aquarium fishery and trade. They point out that some of the current practices are widely accepted as best practices and supported by the best available science. Many of these practices are, according to the scientific literature, in the best interest of the animal’s health and wellbeing.

For example, the practice of not feeding fish prior to shipping is so that ammonia doesn’t build up in the shipping water. Many organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, recommend withholding food long enough to void the stomach and intestine as a best practice.

HB 511 and HB 483: Prohibiting Harassment & Authorizing Inspections

HB 511 would prohibit the harassment of fishers fishing in a marine environment, and HB 483 would authorize administrative inspections in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area. Under HB 511, no person shall intentionally prevent or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish in marine waters within the State’s jurisdiction. A similar law is already on the books for freshwater fishing in Hawaii.

HB 483 would make “consent to administrative inspection by a duly authorized agent of the department while within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management” a condition of any commercial license, permit or registration. Proponents of the Bill argue that, in Hawaii, a duly authorized agent of the Department of Land and Natural Resources does currently not have the authority to inspect commercial catch without probable cause, making enforcement of regulations difficult. The Bill would allow inspections of vessels and catch of permitted fishers within the waters of West Hawaii. It would also allow inspection of the premises of any wholesale outlet selling aquatic resources.

Submitting Testimony

Persons wishing to offer comments should submit testimony by 8:30 am HAST (GMT -10 hours) Tuesday 10 February to insure all testimony submitted is incorporated into the hearing. Testimony submitted before the close of business (5 pm HAST) on Tuesday will still likely make be included in the hearing. Testimony submitted late or improperly identified or directed, may be distributed to the Committee after the hearing.

Testimony may be submitted on paper (15 copies) and delivered to Room 425 in the State Capital. Testimony less than five pages may be submitted by fax to 808-586-8404. In addition, testimony may be submitted via the web by visiting:

Testimony submitted via the web must be less than 10 MB in size. Before submitting testimony electronically, one must register an account using the following link:

All testimony submitted will be placed on the legislative website. This public posting of testimony on the website should be considered when including personal information in one’s testimony.

Regardless of how it’s submitted, testimony must include:

Testifier’s name with position/title and organization
The Committee(s) to which the comments are directed
The date and time of the hearing
The number of the Bill

The House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs is chaired by Representatives Kaniela Ing and Nicole E. Lowen. Representative Lowen, who is vice-chair, co-introduced four of the five aquarium fishery-related bills that will be heard Wednesday (HB 511, HB 606, HB 883 and HB 483). Representatives Ty Cullen, Calvin Say, Cindy Evans, Ryan Yamane, Chris Lee, Feki Pouha, Scott Y. Nishimoto, and Cynthia Thielen are committee members. The Committee webpage includes the Committee’s scope, committee members’ contact information and all bills currently scheduled for hearings. For more on the legislative process and when the public can engage, read this blog entry. For an example of committee testimony, the Hawaii State Legislature has prepared both a “Written Testimony Outline” and a “Sample Written Testimony.”

Author Contact

Ret Talbot

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