The fate of a controversial and long-worked-on fishery rules package now lies in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s hands.
A state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman said Tuesday the rules package — on which West Hawaii residents, fishermen and state officials labored for the better part of a decade — was hand delivered to Abercrombie on Monday. The package went to the governor just weeks after two San Diego State University researchers submitted a paper for publication in a marine journal noting the success of West Hawaii’s fish replenishment areas and other marine protections.
“There were no substantive changes (to the package),” Deborah Ward said, adding the rules did undergo some minor grammatical corrections before being handed off to the governor.
A spokeswoman for Abercrombie’s office did not immediately respond to a message left Tuesday afternoon.
The rules codify prohibitions on scuba spearfishing in certain West Hawaii waters, as well as the “white list” of fish aquarium fish collectors may remove within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, which spans 147 miles from Upolu to South Point. The package also introduces size and bag limits for yellow tang, Achilles tang and kole.
DLNR Chairman William Aila attempted to remove the scuba spearfishing ban, after receiving the rules package from the West Hawaii Fisheries Council. The Board of Land and Natural Resources, upon hearing testimony from people who supported the ban, added it back into the package.
At least a segment of the state’s experts on fish populations here told researchers last year they supported some of the measures already in place in West Hawaii to protect reef fish, according to a paper recently published in the journal Marine Policy.
Arielle Levine, a geography professor at San Diego State University, and Jamie Speed Rossiter, a student there, used West Hawaii’s fish replenishment areas as a case study of such marine protections. The two interviewed about three dozen fishermen, researchers, nonprofit group representatives and government officials on Oahu and Hawaii Island last year, finding a general support for fish replenishment areas as a way of protecting the state’s fish populations.
“The interviews were conducted as a part of a larger project examining marine management in Hawaii, and therefore not all questions focused on (fish replenishment areas),” the paper said. “It is of note, however, that all interviewees expressed dissatisfaction with the level and effectiveness of conservation in the islands, yet all those who specifically mentioned the (fish replenishment areas) described them as a success story.”
Community engagement is one of the first things the two researchers noted as an important factor in marine protected areas, the paper said. The West Hawaii Fisheries Council, for example, included both tropical fish collectors and a shop owner, as well as conservation group members and dive company operators who opposed tropical fish collecting.
People interviewed for the research project called the fisheries council “one of the great successes” of the fish replenishment area process, the paper said.
Interviewees were less positive about enforcement of marine management rules statewide than they were about the way the fish replenishment areas were managed. The West Hawaii management areas work, the paper said, primarily because of social pressure. Tropical fish collectors must register with DLNR and must “prominently display signs and flags indicating that they are aquarium collectors,” the paper said.
That makes the collectors “highly visible” to the public.
“Given the fact that aquarium fishing is generally an unpopular profession in Hawaii, and that aquarium fishermen could potentially lose their license if caught illegally fishing, the risk of being caught and reported outweighs the potential gain of catching fish within the (fish replenishment area), contributing to very high levels of compliance with (area) boundaries. In the case of the aquarium industry, community-based enforcement (backed by state regulations) has been adequate to ensure compliance with (fish replenishment area) regulations.”
The fish replenishment areas haven’t been all bad news for collectors, though, the paper said.
“In spite of the dissatisfaction with many of the (fish replenishment area) rules and regulations among aquarium fishermen, they did not suffer any loss in their livelihoods as a result of the establishment of the (areas),” the paper said.
Some studies call for offering alternative income sources to fishermen displaced by the marine protected areas, but that didn’t turn out to be necessary in Hawaii, the paper said.
“From an economic standpoint, the aquarium fishers are doing just as well, if not better, than they were before (area) establishment,” the paper said. “This may not be the result of (marine protected area) planning as much as it is an outcome of economic good fortune; the price of aquarium ﬁsh went up dramatically on the international market after the (areas) were established.”