The Board of Land and Natural Resources’ October 2014 approval of aquarium fishing rules for O`ahu came with a request that the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources begin a discussion among stakeholders on what sustainability means with regard to Hawai`i’s fisheries. The division was supposed to have reported back to the board in April, but wound up doing so in late July.
“We are still not ready to provide the board with a full detailed explanation” of what sustainability means, said DAR acting administrator Alton Miyasaka.
Even so, he said he brought the matter to the Land Board at its July 24 meeting because he wanted to acknowledge the board’s initial request.
Testimony by Inga Gibson of the Hawaii Humane Society suggested that the lack of progress was due, in part, to the inclusion of aquarium collectors in the stakeholder meetings.
As background, she told the Land Board that 98 percent of the testimony received back in October opposed the aquarium fishing rules for O`ahu. She argued that they were not based on science or broad stakeholder input.
“The collectors approached the department that this was something they wanted to see,”she said.
Gibson said the stakeholder meetings were an opportunity for opponents like her to let their voices be heard.
“We did not feel we were part of the process,”she said.
But at the first meeting after the board vote last year, “we came into that meeting with the most optimism to move it forward [but] nothing was accomplished. We were not aware the collectors were going to be there,”she said.
She asked that the Land Board allow DAR to continue the meetings to help the division clearly define what sustainable means and what its management objectives are for aquarium species.
“We’re talking about more than 200 species collected for the aquarium trade,”she said.
Citing testimony from Chaminade University professor Gail Grabowski, Gibson added that the industry has never been subject to any kind of environmental review, but should be.
“In seeking out what is sustainable …it’s gonna require an environmental review,”she said.
She concluded that, sustainable or not, aquarium fish collecting is wasteful and disrespectful.
“Up to 40 percent of these animals die before they reach a tank in Maryland or wherever,”she said.
Land Board chair and DLNR director Suzanne Case, however, seemed to want to stick to the topic of sustainability and cited research that suggests that the fishery could be sustainable. She recalled that more than five years of catch data from West Hawai`i —where about a third of the coastline is protected from aquarium fish collecting —show that the protected areas keep populations of aquarium fish going.
Given that, she asked Gibson, “What’s your baseline for what’s sustainable? There are various statistics of what’s happened over the last 100 years. … Fisheries have gone down a huge amount over the last 100 years. … Are you trying to keep it at this level or restore it?”
Case said she hoped those were questions that could be addressed during future stakeholder meetings.
— Teresa Dawson
Volume 25, Number 3 September 2015