LIHUE — Responsible use of Hawaii’s marine life and responsible pet trade nationwide were both promoted last week as the Hawaii Senate Water and Land Committee heard a bill outlining tougher restrictions on aquarium fishing in the state.
Those two goals were part of Hawaii’s first intra-industry Memorandum of Understanding dedicated to fishing issues in the state, signed by the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition (HFACT) and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).
The MOU was signed Thursday.
“The state has a responsibility to ensure its natural resources are managed in a scientifically credible way for the benefit of all its citizens,” said HFACT President Phil Fernandez.
HFACT’s other current initiatives include disestablishing the Bottomfishing Restricted Fishing Areas, as well as an effort to increase awareness at the Legislature of the marginalization of Hawaii’s fishermen.
The organization added its weight to delisting the North Pacific humpback whale from the endangered species list and advocated for “status quo” in regards to proposed expansions of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
“The aquarium fish industry is of significant educational and economic importance to Hawaii, and is environmentally safe,” said Fernandez. “This memorandum will give fishers a more influential voice to protect all who engage in the practice.”
PIJAC is a national lobbying group that represents the interests of the pet trade, as well as focusing on responsible pet ownership education and awareness building.
Members of PIJAC include “many of Hawaii’s aquarium fishing hobbyists and professionals,” according to a news release announcing the MOU signing.
“The aquarium fish industry is an important industry in Hawaii for what it brings to locals through jobs, the state through tourism, and the world through ornamental fish,” said Robert Likins, vice president for governmental affairs for PIJAC.
He continued: “PIJAC looks forward to working with HFACT to help all who benefit from ornamental fishing work with state lawmakers and regulators to ensure the most scientifically credible way forward is found for ornamental fishing and environmental health.”
Under the MOU, HFACT will lead efforts to protect the aquarium fishing industry in Hawaii, and PIJAC will add its national and international expertise in legislative and environmental issues.
Hawaii’s ornamental fishing industry has been stalled by a September decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court mandating HEPA compliance in the aquarium trade industry in relation to HRS 188-31 — the state rule applying to aquarium fishing with fine-meshed nets and traps.
That ended the issuance of any new permits under HRS188-31, as well as declared any issued void pending environmental review of the industry’s impacts on Hawaii waters.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources complied with the decision and stopped issuing permits under HRS 188-31, but aquarium fishermen can still pull ornamental fish from the ocean under different permits and with different net sizes.
SB2003, which was before the Senate Water and Land Committee Friday, focuses on fishing licenses, combined with an existing Department of Land & Natural Resources decision to invalidate all licenses until Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA) procedures are applied to aquarium fishing, would result in an effective ban on aquarium fishing in Hawaii.
The measure states: “By prohibiting the issuance of new aquarium fish permits, this act will protect existing commercial aquarium fish collecting businesses by allowing individuals holding aquarium fish permits that have been issued or renewed within the past five years to continue using those permits, provided they also have a commercial marine license.”
PIJAC opposes the bill, according to Likins, and it is opposed by most Hawaii fishers according to PIJAC, because it will effictively end ornametal and aquatic fishing.
This article has been edited to reflect correct information regarding SB2003.