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Sunday, October 29, 2017
Karma: Supreme Court Aquarium Ruling may apply to Dive Tour Operators
By Selected News Articles @ 3:27 PM :: 1126 Views :: Environment, Small Business

Aquarium Fishery Ruling Could Cripple Hawaii State Ocean Tourist Businesses

by Ron Tubbs  

On Friday October 27th Hawaii First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree handed down a ruling that implements the Supreme Court Ruling made in September regarding Hawaii’s Aquarium Fishery. The ruling will now actively apply HEPA, Hawaii environmental laws to the aquarium fishery.

Hospital Aquariums Calm the Sick Children Fish Exhibit -- photo by Ron Tubbs

Considered one of the most successfully managed and sustainable fisheries in the world, Hawaii aquarium fishers will now have their small mesh net permits removed. The fishery welcomes further ecological protections and welcome more studies and are confident they will show what we already know. It is sustainable. With all the studies already done the HEPA permit requirements will easily be met. This will mean little to a fishery shut down not based in fact or science but on legalisms.  Fishermen also now face daunting legal fees.

The small fishery reduction will have big impacts. Many jobs will be lost and the economy of Hawaii will suffer as a result of the ruling. Nearly half the cost of getting a fish to market is for air freight. One business alone spends $140,000 per year to Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines for interisland freight from Kona and Maui. 

The impacts to the business which are associated with the fishery will be far reaching. Hawaii's fish travel the world as our little ambassadors which raise awareness to Hawaii’s beauty increasing tourism. The fishery helps educate many on ecosystems and fish biology. 

People will soon have to resort to diving or snorkeling to see Hawaii’s fish, but most will not be able to.  Those who do, will line the pockets of the main instigators of the lawsuit- a few radical snorkeling and dive shop owners who have led this unsubstantiated, biased attack on Hawaii’s sustainable aquarium fishery.  Ignoring the scientific evidence with which to measure their ecological concerns, they are primarily concerned with their bottom line, not ecology, and have sold the majority of legislators and the public a bill of goods which will have negative impacts on tourism and our economy.

Hawaii’s small, but important aquarium fishery faces and unsure future.  For many years DLNR successfully managed the fishery; many new laws were implemented to regulate the fishery. FRA (Fish Management Areas) were created in Kona to separate the user groups and allow fish to repopulate. Over 6700 fish counts were done and fish populations are on the increase with millions more fish are on the reefs. 2014 and 2015 saw two sets of rules introduced by DLNR and the fishery to create further regulations despite already being sustainable; these are now laws. FRA, bag limits, gear restrictions, banned species, and many more laws ensure sustainability. How will other fisheries respond to working with governments to introduce laws if they still get shut down anyway?

The Supreme Court ruling reversed two previous lower court rulings in favor of DLNR (Department Of Land and Natural Resources). Rene Umber, Maui Dive shop owner Robert ‘Snorkel Bob’ Wintner, and EarthJustice filed the lawsuit against the state DLNR agency. 

Umberger and Winther have user conflict issues with the fishery. They prefer to keep fish out of aquariums and put fish viewing solely though their dive-tour businesses. The aquarium fishery no longer exists on Maui, and had only a handful of divers 8 years ago but is still blamed for supposed fish population declines on the island.  In the lawsuit anti aquarium activists claimed that the fishery has unlimited intake but many laws do restrict take. The fishery never has been unlimited in take!

The implementation of the law will now mean DLNR has to revoke small mesh aquarium permits immediately. The fisheries’ separate commercial fishing permits will not be affected.

The Supreme Court Ruling will have far reaching impacts on all ocean permits issued by DLNR. HEPA requirements may now apply to all permits. The permits were all thought to be exempt from HEPA and were compliant with DLNR HEPA exemption as was the aquarium fishery. That may no longer be the case. Tourist ocean operations, eating fisheries and all ocean permits will now be under review. Only one lawsuit away is their shut down too. 

The regularly issued aquarium permits were given out by the state for over 60 years. Data fish counts and catch reports show no major recent fish catch increases. Permit numbers are also the same. Just what a sustainable fishery should look like form the data.

Protecting the environment is a good thing but with EIS studies and legal fees reaching $100,000 or more it will create major impacts on ocean users and fishermen. Years of litigation are a head for the state and the fishery.

Imagine, tourists coming to Hawaii and visiting our public aquariums, but there are no Hawaiian fish to be seen there.

Public Aquariums Educate Visitors on Ecosystems and Provide Protective Ark for Many Fish Species Waikiki Aquarium Exhibit -- photo by Ron Tubbs

For years special interest groups have used the guise of “ecology,” to attack the Hawaii Aquarium Fishery by promoting the fallacy that there is a lack of Hawaii tropical fish and aquarium fishermen have no restrictions.  They use these untruths because 17 years of scientific studies conducted by the state’s ocean researchers show fish population increases, which do not back up their claim.  Laws affecting ecological concerns must be based in science, or they will undermine the meaning and importance of real ecological issues.

Last year the leading marine scientists came out in Support of the fishery. 

The Hawaii Aquarium fishery was proven sustainable by a 17 year study of the fishery.

According to the state regulatory agency DLNR’s 17 year study of the fishery, fish counts for the major species collected were up by millions.  The Kona studies, were headed by DLNR marine biologist, Bill Walsh, Ph.D., who worked with his team to count fish and review years of fish reports and studies. These studies showed that Hawaii’s small aquarium fishery was sustainable, and had a low impact on Hawaii’s oceans.  DLNR has opposed many more restriction the fishery basing their decision on years of catch report data and fish counts.

The already sustainable aquarium fishery became even more regulated  and sustainable when, the Hawaii Tropical Fish Association met with DLNR scientists to create new laws to ensure the sustainability of the Hawaii’s aquarium fishery.  These additional laws took the form of the Oahu and Kona aquarium collecting rules packages and went into effect in 2014 and 2015.  These new rules created enhanced restrictions on diver’s gear, species restrictions, size limitations, and quantities (bag limits) of fish that could be collected.  To further prevent ocean user conflict, numerous areas statewide remain open to tourists but closed to aquarium fishermen. 

DLNR employees have stated that if they fail to manage the fishery effectively then they have not done their jobs. Clearly the results of the 17 years study and the incredible fish population increases have shown DLNR has done its job! Many news laws have been enacted, and constant monitoring of fishery state wide has been done. It has been very effective at management. Many fishermen believe too many laws have been enacted. To claim that DLNR is in collusion with any fishery is ludicrous.  Hawaii’s aquarium fishery management has been touted worldwide as an exemplar.

Upon legal review, the court ruling seems to violate not only the law of the United Nations in which oceans are deemed the common heritage of all men, and that no individual group should lay claim to own, but it also violates the United States Constitution, and the Hawaii State Constitution, both of which state that oceans belong to the public.  Governing agencies are there to manage the oceans not to eliminate user groups. To eliminate any user group is unconstitutional.  To restrict access to, or eliminate any user group over another without the science to back-up the decision, particularly one in which many Hawaiians work, is clearly a violation to the State of Hawaii Constitution, and puts the state at legal risk.

Hawaii’s beautiful fish seen in aquariums around the world, allow education about sustainable ecosystems to occur, and encourage tourists to come to Hawaii.

People will soon have to resort to diving or snorkeling to see Hawaii’s fish, but most will not be able to.  Those who do, will line the pockets of the main instigators of the lawsuit- a few radical snorkeling and dive shop owners who have led this unsubstantiated, biased attack on Hawaii’s sustainable aquarium fishery.  Ignoring the scientific evidence with which to measure their ecological concerns, they are primarily concerned with their bottom line, not ecology, and have sold the majority of legislators and the public a bill of goods which will have negative impacts on tourism and our economy.

Hawaii’s small, but important aquarium fishery faces and unsure future.  We can only hope those who are making very important life changing decisions educate themselves about the issue and make the right decision, as Honorable Governor David Ige did by vetoing anti-aquarium SB1240 after thorough review.

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