Protect reef fish•Commentary in support of SB505 by Damien Kenison

Letter to Editor by Damien Kenison appeared in the Hawaii Tribune Herald (February 1, 2023)
SB 505 is causing great dismay among local fishers

Link to article at Hawaii Tribune Herald here

KUA network member blogs are meant to uplift voices on many topics of network members interest concerning community-based natural resource management. Community network leader opinions and information expressed herein are solely that of the author and not necessarily the view of KUA or the broader networks it supports.

Protect reef fish

The aquarium fish trade has depleted the reef fish along the West Hawaii coastline to the point where the Department of Land and Natural Resources is now in the process of implementing rules limiting how much fish we can catch to feed our families. One pakuikui per person? Really? Nobody else cares, because the South Kona families are probably the only people who relish that fish for our tables.

At the height of collecting in ’80s and ’90s, several hundred thousand reef fish were taken from the West Hawaii coastline every year. Those are only the fish that survived and were counted. At one time, several hundred discarded reef fish were found and reported.

Clashes between the collectors and our coastal communities escalated to the point where, after more than a decade of conflict, a task force was organized by the DLNR bringing together all stakeholders for a number of meetings to try and resolve this issue. However, the collectors refused to participate, and although legislation was passed which allowed for 50% of the coastline to be protected, in good faith we settled for 30%. Ho‘okena settled for six miles instead of the 12 we originally requested.

Ten Fish Replenishment Areas, or FRAs, were established along the West Hawaii coastline prohibiting aquarium fish collecting.

Throughout the years, the collectors consistently violated the FRAs. The president of the aquarium collectors lobby was apprehended fishing in an FRA shortly after the FRAs were created, and his boat was confiscated along with his license. All he did was hire someone else to fish for him using the boat which was eventually returned to him.

The aquarium trade is very lucrative. It’s maybe too profitable for collectors to follow any rules that are set in place to restrict their harvest. It would be better to grow fish in aquaculture systems for sale to aquariums instead of depleting the fish from the narrow West Hawaii reef system. We all know how important our coral reefs are to our island infrastructure.

The fish are critical to its survival.

Finally, why must our lawai‘a and their ‘ohana suffer for the wrongs that the collectors have perpetrated upon our fishing grounds? One pakuikui to feed a family of four is a shame. I hope people of goodwill will support this bill [SB 505]. Lawmakers should stop this destructive practice before our mo‘opuna forget how to catch and eat reef fish.

Monday’s ruling by Judge Jeffrey Crabtree ending the injunction on aquarium fishing that was in place in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area is deeply disappointing. According to news reports, “this does not itself authorize any aquarium fishing. That question may now be taken up by the DLNR, which is the agency charged with managing the state’s aquatic resources.”

It will be interesting to see who our elected officials actually represent: the handful of collectors, or the majority of the taxpaying public who oppose this trade? Aquarium fishing supporters are pushing the fact that they provide the state with millions of dollars in tax revenue. In the same breath, they blame the tourists for resource degradation. This is hypocrisy.

More than ever, we need a strong DLNR with the ability and resources to enforce the rules to ensure our reef fish are protected from reckless plunder.

Damien Kenison
President, Kauhako ‘Ohana Association


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