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Sustainable Reefs and Aquarium Fish

Flickr / NOAA Photo Library
Flickr / NOAA Photo Library

A bill awaiting Governor Ige's signature would end the commercial collecting of Hawaii reef wildlife for the aquarium trade. The legislature passed SB 1240, requiring the Department of Land and Natural Resources to develop a plan that factors in sustainability when it comes to Hawai'i reef fish and the aquarium trade. It's a bill strongly backed by Robert Wintner—president of Snorkel Bob's Hawai'i, who contributed this commentary to Hawai'i Public Radio.

The views expressed in commentaries are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Hawai‘i Public Radio. If you have a proposal for a commentary, you can email it to news director Bill Dorman at bdorman@hawaiipublicradio.org.

The new DLNR “reef management plan” makes me twitch. It calls for parrotfish protection for coral bleaching events years ago. Why now? Are parrotfish the new red herring in Hawaii?  Senate Bill 1240 will end State-issued aquarium-collector permits. Current collectors are grandfathered with limited transfer. SB 1240 is ready for the Governor to sign. SB 1240 passed six hearings and Conference Committee. It was like bumper cars with heads instead of cars, DLNR banging away to protect the aquarium trade.

Hawaii has a bad history on aquarium collecting. DLNR’s aquarium plan manager was an aquarium collector. The last DLNR Director was an aquarium collector. Governor Lingle’s Chief Policy Advisor was an aquarium trade distributor. Now our DLNR director and DAR Chief have decades with The Nature Conservancy. TNC and DLNR promote a sustainable aquarium trade, but DLNR Director Case and DAR Chief Anderson failed to define sustainable at TNC or at DLNR. SB 1240 mandates that definition.

In 2008 commercial speargunners devastated parrotfish on Maui reefs at night, while the parrots slept. Parrotfish showed up on ice at Costco—each parrot with the same entry wound. Costco stopped, respecting reef community standards. The carnage continued as DLNR said NO regulation on surface-supplied-air or scuba speargunners or night spearfishing. Now we get paltry protection for parrotfish, as reefs decline.

SB 1240 IS Hawaii reef recovery. But DLNR and TNC tout a plan of no plan—a red herring distraction 3 years late. The red herring is “herbivore protection” with NO MENTION of aquarium extraction or yellow tangs or any herbivores leaving Hawaii by the millions for aquarium hobbyists.

I met Senator David Ige in 2010, campaigning to ban aquarium collecting in Hawaii. He listened with glazed detachment. Then he asked. “How can we make this work?” We couldn’t make a ban work, but David Ige led from the heart. I went all in for Ige and hope he can lead from the heart again. SB 1240 is a solid compromise. Nobody gets hurt. Current collectors can stay, and DLNR will issue no new aquarium permits. We campaigned hard and won fair. Red herring are an invasive species in pono governance. Please give Governor Ige the aloha and encouragement he needs to sign SB 1240 into law. 

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