KOLOA — Kauai’s first voluntary marine protected area is now at Koloa Landing, meaning that divers and fishermen have agreed not to remove aquarium fish and eels from the reef.
And while some are hailing it as the first step toward preservation of the area, others say it’s unnecessary.
“The commitment is voluntary and there is no government enforcement,” said Scott Bacon, one of the organizers of the effort, in a news release to TGI.
He continued: “It is for the protection of the reef and the continued education of Kauai’s visitors.”
Now, below a sign dubbing the landing a voluntary marine protected area, is another sign reading:
“The ocean users of Koloa Landing have agreed to not take aquarium fish and eels from this area. We hope you respect this area and leave the aquarium fish, small coral reef fish and eels to swim freely for us to watch.”
The designation comes in the shadow of the state moratorium on commercial aquarium fishing permits. Recreational aquarium fishing doesn’t require a permit, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.
That’s one of the reasons the designation is useless in the opinion of divers like Ron Tubbs, owner of the Hawaii saltwater aquarium fish company RT Distributors.
“Seems protected areas — from aquarium fishermen — do not matter at this point anyway, as all mesh nets are gone,” Tubbs said.
The Koloa Landing Voluntary Marine Protected Area was sparked in March 2016, when Tubbs allegedly took three dragon moray eels, two angelfish, two Achilles tangs, a leaf scorpionfish, a spotted coral blenny and two hermit crabs from Koloa Landing for commercial sale.
“These eels were a rare treat for divers to observe, and it sparked a call to a community meeting to discuss the issue of aquarium taking,” Bacon said in the release.
That meeting was held in the summer of 2017, and members of the fishing and diving community decided to post a sign declaring their agreement that there will be no taking of aquarium fish from the dive site.
That sign was posted earlier this month.
Preserving eels at Koloa Landing is another goal that Tubbs says he thinks is unnecessary, because he says the market isn’t there for the species anymore.
He has fished for moray eels before, and has been named as one of the aquarium fishermen who frequent Koloa Landing, but said the last two eels that he had took months to sell.
“Dragon (moray) eel prices have dropped and the demand is not even there,” Tubbs said. “Dozens of other locations have dragon eels — I know where some are on Oahu now and I won’t even go up and get them,” he said. “If I had one I could not sell it.”
In spite of the arguments against creating a voluntary marine protected area, a variety of fishermen, divers and conservationists jumped on board with the creation of Koloa Landing’s VMPA.
Surfrider Foundation’s Kauai Chapter was involved in the beginning, for instance, when divers and fishermen drummed up the idea to post a sign.
“Ecosystem health is based on all components being present,” said Carl Berg, senior science adviser for Surfrider Foundation’s Kauai Chapter. “You can’t take out one type of fish or eel without shifting the whole dynamic.”