State Moves to Adopt New Rules For Taking of Precious Corals

posted in: September 1998 | 1

In response to pressure from the Na–tional Marine Fisheries Service and a commercial coral harvesting company, the state Department of Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources is proposing changes in the state’s rules regarding the taking of deep-water corals, specifically black, gold, and pink corals that grow at depths of 100 feet or more.

On July 24, 1998, the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved holding pub–lic hearings on the new draft rules. The proposed rules would bring state rules con–cerning the gathering of pink and gold corals more into line with the federal rules. Also, for the first time, the taking of black corals would be subject to state regulation.

Back in the 1970s, the state proposed regulating the taking of black corals (Antipathes dichotoma and A. grandis) by limiting divers to cutting mature “trees,” trees no smaller than 48 inches in height. However, as Frances Oishi of the Division of Aquatic Resources explained to Environment Hawai’i, that draft rule was never formally adopted, since the harvesting of black coral seemed to be sufficiently self-limiting so as to make it unnecessary to adopt any rules. “T’here wasn’t any indica–tion that there was over harvesting,” he said. And, he added, there were no new recruits to this industry. We were not look–ing at a burgeoning industry, with more and more divers over time getting into it. The risks to individual divers were substan–tial and, over time, many lost their lives or suffered permanent disability from decom–pression injuries.

Now, though, with new diving tech–niques allowing divers to stay at depths for longer periods and with less risk of injury, and with the development of more dexter–ous submersibles, there is concern that the pressure on black corals in Hawaiian waters could increase. A recent report prepared for the Fish and Wildlife Service by Richard W. Grigg, of the University of Hawai’i Department of Oceanography, provides much of the backdrop against which these concerns have risen.

As Grigg points out in his report, “Sta–tus of the Black Coral Fishery in Hawai’i, 1998,” since the 1970s, pressure on Hawai–ian black corals has diminished. In the 1980s, he writes, improvements in cutting and polishing techniques made the indus–try much more efficient. In addition, “the manufacture of large pieces of black coral items such as bowties and cufflinks was gradually phased our by Maui Divers,” the largest coral jewelry manufacturer in the state.

Then, too, there was the industry’s grow–ing use of imported processed black coral, most of which came from the Philippines by way of processors in Taiwan. “In the 1980s,” Grigg writes, “the number of pieces of black coral jewelry imported to the United States (primarily Hawai’i) ranged between 260,000 and 616,000 items of polished jewelry… During this period, the amount of raw material processed in Tai–wan was about 70 tons per year, most of which originated in the Philippine Islands. Average consumption of raw black coral by the industry in Hawai’i during the same period was less than 2,000 kilograms per year” (about two tons).

Most of the coral imported from Tai–wan is of a type -Cirrhiparhes anguina, or “whip” coral whose quality is consid–ered inferior to that of Antipathes because it is less dense. Still, Grigg reports, “about 90 percent of the black coral products” sold in Waikiki today use coral from Taiwan.

The proposed rules would prevent the use of dredges, explosives, or trawls to take the coral. They would also require that all coral be landed in Hawai’i, thus discourag–ing the exploitation of Hawaiian coral for foreign markets.

At the Land Board’s meeting of July 24, most public testimony on the rules was supportive. Representatives of both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council indicated their support of the rules, as did a representative from a company that has been seeking a state permit to take corals from the Makapu’u Bed off O’ahu.

Only one discouraging note was sounded, and that came from David Kimo Frankel, director of the Hawai’i chapter of the Sierra Club. “We oppose a change in the rules, for basically philosophical rea–sons,” Frankel testified. “We don’t think the harvest of these living organisms is appropriate. They are living organisms, just like the endangered sea turtles, just like us. They are living organisms which are being harvested, not for clothing, not for food, not for shelter not for any basic human need, but simply to produce a luxury item. So we’re killing living organisms to satisfy conspicuous consumption, not a basic human need. And we think these corals are like our rain forests. We’re cut–ting them down not to satisfy human needs, but to satisfy human consumption, and so we think it’s inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, the number of firms seek–ing to harvest precious pink and gold coral has doubled — to two. At the July meeting of the Western Pacific Fishery Manage–ment Council, held in Kailua-Kona, Al Katekaru of the Honolulu office of the National Marine Fisheries Service con–firmed that a second firm had applied for federal coral permit. Dave Jolley, a partner in the first firm to apply – American Deepwater Engineering – expressed his dissatisfaction to the council that the sec–ond, unnamed firm had not had to endure the difficulty his own firm has undergone in efforts to get both state and federal permits. Jolley asked that the council re–view the second permit application with the same thoroughness it gave to his own permit.

According to Katekaru, though, the is–suance of permits is administratively handled. So long as applicants comply with federal rules, set forth in the Precious Cor–als Fishery Management Plan of the WPFMC, the National Marine Fisheries Service cannot be prevented from process–ing the application or awarding the permit, he told the council. In August, Katekaru told Environment Hawai’i that no permit had been issued on the second application yet, since the application was incomplete.

(For more on the problem of discrepan–cies between federal and state coral regula–tions, see the article, “Precious Coral Min–ing Encounters Delay,” in the June 1998 issue of Environment Hawai’i, pages 7-8.)

State Snags Shipment Of Live Rock, Corals

Acting on a tip, the state Division of Con–servation and Resources Enforcement in July intercepted an illegal shipment of about 2,000 pounds of live rock and live coral. No arrests have been made or charges filed in the case, which DOCARE is con–tinuing to investigate along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Gary Moniz, acting DOCARE adminis–trator, told Environment Hawai’i “that the shipment was discovered in a cargo area of a state airport. The live rock (rock with living reef organisms on it, such as algae or coral) and coral were apparently boxed in cartons that were labeled to indicate they contained food products. The boxes, Moniz said, “appeared to have been intentionally mislabeled.”

“We’re in the process of investigating, tying up both what’s going on here in Honolulu, in terms of the collector and the shipper, as well as what’s happening on the mainland, in terms of the receiver or seller” of the product, Moniz said.

“It’s just speculation now as to whether this has gone on for awhile,” he went on to say. “But anybody who would ship out that much rock and coral, I doubt that this would be a first-time deal.”

The source of the live rock and coral is also uncertain, although Moniz said inves–tigators believe it came from waters around O’ahu.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is in–volved, Moniz said, because of the provisions of the Lacey Act. That federal law says, among other things, that, if it is illegal to possess a type of animal or organism in one state, you cannot ship it to another.

Hawai’i Longline Fleet Heads South

In the first quarter of 1998, the Hawai’i based longline fleet was fishing more than ever before in waters around Palmyra is–land. According to a report prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service, based on logbook reports from the fishers them–selves, the number of hooks set by the Hawai’i based fleet fishing in waters of U.S. possessions – that is to say, Palmyra “rose to an all-time high of 0.95 million hooks” in the first three months of the year.

This number is higher than the number of hooks set in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by longliners (0.89 million) and the Main Hawaiian Islands (again, 0.89 mil–lion – the lowest number on record for a first quarter). The Palmyra effort was ex–ceeded only by the number of hooks (1.6 million) set in international waters by the Hawai’i fleet.

The fishing fleet for this quarter con–sisted of 105 boats, which had completed a total of 330 trips by March 31, 1998. The number of sets for the quarter – i.e., the number of times longline hooks were put in the water – came to 3,206, or about 10 per trip. The actual number of hooks set was 4,287,693.

According to Sean Martin of Pacific Ocean Producers, fishing in waters around Palmyra has been pretty good, with lots of bigeye and yellowfin tuna and little bycatch. Fishing there is limited to the dozen or so boats in the Honolulu fleet that have the range to fish in grounds more than a thou–sand miles distant, Martin told Environ–ment Hawai’i.

Palmyra Purchase?

At the council’s April meeting, the late Brooks Harper, representing the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, mentioned that the FWS was attempting to get congressional funds to allow it to purchase the island as a seabird refuge. In this connection, he said, the Nature Conservancy had initiated ne–gotiations with the private owners. Nego–tiations were reported to be ongoing at that time.

According to a spokeswoman for Mon–roe & Friedlander, one of the agents trying to find a buyer for the island, TNC’s offer fell short of what the servers were asking; since then, TNC has been trying to find a deep-pocket donor willing to make up the difference.

Rex Johnson, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, told Envi–ronment Hawaii that purchase of Palmyra remained the “Number One priority for the Fish and Wildlife Service.” While the U.S. Senate had included $2.5 million in its budget bills for acquisition of the island, there was no money in the corresponding House budget, Johnson said.

The Nature Conservancy is involved, as it is in many of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s land acquisitions, as an interme–diary that, on occasion, also helps find money to acquire lands. In the case of Palmyra, Johnson said, “we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Among the fishing community, there is some concern that the rich water around Palmyra might be closed to fishing if the Fish and Wildlife Service takes over the island. Over the last couple of years, there had been some discussion of using the island as a transshipment point, flying fish out of Palmyra to markets abroad, includ–ing Japan. However, Sean Martin said, nothing has come of this.

Asian Economy Causes Fin Market to Fall

Shark catches continued to be high: at least 23,186 sharks were caught in the first quar–ter; 12,429-just under 54 percent-were finned. For each 1,000 hooks the fleet put out, the number of sharks caught was 5.41. The only fish for which the catch rate was higher was bigeye tuna (7.57 animals caught per 1,000 hooks). Ninety-two percent of the sharks caught were blue sharks; the remainder were mako, thresher, and other species.

According to Western Pacific Fishery Management Council member Tom Webster, who is himself a longline fisher-man, “the bottom has dropped out of the fin market.” At the council’s meeting in July, Webster went on to say that fin prices had halved in the last month. “There’s only one buyer [of fins] on shore in Honolulu now,” he said, attributing the changed market conditions to economic problems in Asia.

Council to Sponsor Albatross Workshop

In an effort to develop sound information on which to base a fishery policy, the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council will be holding a workshop on seabird mortality. The workshop, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, will be held October 8-10 in Ho–nolulu, at the council office conference room.

Prompting the workshop are increasing concerns that the interaction of the Hawai’i-based longline fleet with albatross – particularly Black-footed albatross -could occur with such frequency that the species’ reproductive health could be harmed. Further information on the workshop may be obtained from Paul Dalzell of the council staff: telephone 808 522-6042 in Honolulu.

Volume 9, Number 3 September 1998

One Response

  1. Thomas Eimer

    Aloha,
    Maui Divers Jewelers claim they are the only ones permitted to harvest black coral in Hawaii, and that they are permitted to use a submarine?
    Is any of this true??
    regards
    Capt. Tom Eimer

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