Hawaii's State Capitol, Honolulu.  Image: Wikipedia. http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/

Hawaii’s State Capitol, Honolulu. Image: Wikipedia. http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/

Hearings for two Hawaii aquarium fishery-related bills are scheduled for Friday, February 26th, in the House Committee on the Judiciary.

The two bills are House Bill 483 (HB 483), which authorizes administrative inspections within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA), and the revised House Bill 873 (HB 873 HD1), which establishes an “aquatic life conservation program” to “implement conservation measures to regulate the collection of fish and other aquatic life for aquarium purposes.” Both bills passed out of the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs on 12 February, and Friday’s public hearing will represent the final hearings in the House for both bills. The public hearing will take place at 3 pm Friday at the State Capital in Honolulu. Public testimony is due by 3 pm on Thursday 26 February.

HB 873 – More Controversial Than Ever

HB 873 is the more controversial and further reaching of the two bills. While many support HB 483 because they believe it will give fisheries managers more authority to regulate the State’s largest aquarium fishery (West Hawaii), HB 873 was originally written to close Hawaii’s aquarium fishery statewide. After hearing testimony on 11 February from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and others regarding fisheries management and data that show fishery sustainability, the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs amended the Bill so that it “better manages” the aquarium fishery rather than close it. The amended Bill, nonetheless, remains contentious, with people on both sides of the aquarium fishery debate expressing concern. Both aquarium fishery advocates and those opposed to Hawaii’s aquarium fishery maintain that, in order to be passed out of Committee, the Bill again requires significant revision, and some oppose the bill outright.

During the public hearing process earlier this month, the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs found that “the aquarium fish trade is an important source of income for many Hawaii residents, including for those who collect fish and other aquatic species, and those who sell aquatic life and aquarium supplies.” While the Committee acknowledged the potential risks of the aquarium fishery, they also affirmed DLNR’s statement that the best available data show fishery sustainability. As a result, the Committee made several changes to the Bill with the goal of insuring future fishery sustainability.

“[W]hile most aquarium collectors do follow sound resource management and ocean stewardship practices, including maintaining a one percent catch fatality rate, the Division of Aquatic Resources [of DLNR] has too few resources for meaningful enforcement against those few who do not,” wrote Committee Chair Kaniela Ing in the committee report. “Those who violate laws and eschew sound practices contribute to not only environmental degradation but also ocean user conflicts, which endangers the safety of all ocean users and prevents Hawaii residents and visitors from enjoying the State’s unique and irreplaceable natural resources.”

Ing is clear that his committee’s intention behind revising the Bill was not to “deprive fishers and those in the aquarium trade of their livelihood,” but rather “to prevent environmental harm caused by overfishing, wasted catch, and damaged reefs and to stop user conflicts that threaten the safety of Hawaii’s true greatest natural resource, it’s people.” To achieve this intent, the Committee amended HB 873 with several changes, including:

·      Deletion of the ban on the sale of aquarium fishes

·      Establishment of “an aquarium fish conservation program in the Division of Aquatic Resources [DAR] of the Department of Land and Natural Resources”

·      Charging of DAR with adoption of certain rules, including designating “limited-entry areas, implementing certification and monitoring requirements for aquarium fish permits, limiting the number of permits available annually, imposing bag and catch limits, and enhancing enforcement actions and penalties for violations”

Too Vague to Support without Revisions?

While removing the language that would ban the aquarium fishery from HB 873 is undoubtedly a step toward data-based decision-making, concern remains that the Bill’s current language is far too vague to truly support data-based fisheries management moving forward. In its current form, critics argue, HB 873 appears too ambiguous to be effectively implemented, and it is expected that DLNR will speak to this at Friday’s public hearing. Fisheries experts worry that, given the lack of specificity and other uncertainties, it’s difficult to see how DLNR would be able to effectively apply what is required of them in the Bill. Further, critics contend, DLNR already has the authority to “ensure the continued sustainability of the State’s fisheries,” making HB 873 at best redundant.

In addition to being too vague and potentially redundant, some fishery advocates argue HB 873, in its current form, needs to be opposed outright because it would put in place permitting requirements that could be impossible with which to comply. For example, HB 873 says that aquarium fishery permits shall be issued only to fishers who are “certified by a national or international certification agency or organization…that maintains standards for safe and ecologically sound aquarium collection practices, including requiring a fatality rate of one per cent or less for all fish and other aquatic life collected.” While some aquarium fishers and fishery advocates say they are open to the idea of a third-party certification scheme akin to the seafood industry’s Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), they fear the requirement for certification mandated by the Bill could put fishers at risk for losing their permits due to factors beyond their control. While an attempt to create an effective third-party certification scheme for the global marine aquarium trade was previously undertaken, there is currently no such certification scheme.
Support or Oppose?

Several fishers, as well as some others who generally support Hawaii’s aquarium fishery, say they appreciate the intent of the revised HB 873 but that they ultimately feel compelled to oppose it given the poorly drafted language. “It’s not that we’re against regulation,” one aquarium fisher told CORAL on condition of anonymity. “We just want fisheries management decisions to be made by fisheries managers whose job it is to understand and manage the fishery.” While many aquarium fishers and aquarium fishery advocates will categorically oppose the Bill on these grounds, some believe it is still worth the effort to support the Bill with amendments that would make it less vague and easier to implement based on data and current best practices. The trouble, of course, is that the legislative process is constrained by deadlines that can interfere with systematic, data-based decision-making. For this reason, administrative rulemaking is generally favored above legislation when it comes to fisheries management.

For their part, many anti-aquarium fishery activists and activist organizations say they will also support the Bill with additional amendments that would even more stringently regulate the fishery. Reef Rescue Alliance, for example, calls the revised HB 873 a “more management” bill, saying, “Let’s keep it alive and strengthen it!” The anti-aquarium fishery activist organization For the Fishes writes, “[HB 873] survived, but not in its original form. Your testimony is needed to help strengthen and pass the amended version.”

Submitting Testimony

Persons wishing to offer comments should submit testimony by 3:00 pm HAST (GMT -10 hours) Thursday 25 February to insure all testimony submitted is incorporated into 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 (3 copies) and delivered to Room 305 in the State Capital. Testimony less than five pages may be submitted by fax to 808-586-6531 (Oahu) or 1-800-535-3859 (other islands and the mainland). In addition, testimony may be submitted via the Internet 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

Ret Talbot

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