Public gets chance to chime in on fish collecting rules


Establishing a long-talked-about “white list,” creating a Kaohe Bay fish replenishment area and outlawing scuba spearfishing are just a few of the proposals West Hawaii residents can provide testimony on this week in Kona.

The 40 species “white list” would designate fish that aquarium collectors may remove in order to “protect (other) populations that are rare, potentially over fished and are not sustainable for home aquariums” within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, which spans 147 miles between Upolu and South points, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources’ proposal. Size and bag limits would also be instituted for yellow and Achilles tang and kole.

“This rule will reduce the threat of population decline of rare species,” according to the department.

DAR Aquatic Biologist Bill Walsh said many of the species have charismatic value.

“Dive operators make a big deal about some of these species because they are unusual, rare and just so beautiful. They will then take patrons over and look in a cave to see it,” he said. “If the fish is snagged, it’s a blow to the operation.”

Residents can provide input on the list, and other items, during a Dec. 5 public hearing at Kealakehe High School. The hearing had been slated for Thursday, however, because the department failed to publish public notice on time, it was delayed.

The list is just one of several new proposals that could be added to the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area rules.

Among the new proposals: the “white list,” establishing a 1,500-foot section of Kaohe Bay in South Kona as a fish replenishment area, prohibiting scuba spearfishing, prohibiting the take of nine shark and ray species and two invertebrates and establishing a West Hawaii Aquarium Permit. Among the amendments are restrictions to nighttime aquarium collecting, labeling requirements, and net and length clarifications.

The proposals follow a decade of research, committee meetings and community discussions facilitated by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council. The overall goal is to ensure continued resource sustainability, enhance near-shore resources and minimize user conflicts and confusion with the management area, established in 1998.

The department is interested in testimony on nine species being listed as no-take, among them eagle ray, sting ray, sharks and two shellfish. The reasoning, according to the department, many of the ray and shark species reach reproductive maturity later in life and the shellfish are two of the few predators of crown-of-thorns starfish.

“These animals play a very important role out on the reef,” Walsh said. “You need high-level predators out there — they are the ones that keep balance in the ecosystem.”

The proposed scuba spearfishing ban would make West Hawaii the lone area in the state to ban the practice. The fishing technique is already banned in areas like Australia.

“Coupled with its use at night … scuba spear makes it even more efficient, and … creates an opportunity for fishermen to take much more than necessary,” according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on the practice in Hawaii that included interviews with 100 local spearfishers.

The proposed Kaohe Bay ban on aquarium collection or recreational fish feeding would affect a 1,500-foot section commonly known as Pebble Beach. The department said the ban will resolve a longstanding conflict between collectors and the community.

The addition would also increase the management area’s coverage of West Hawaii’s shoreline from 35.2 percent to 35.4 percent.

Also proposed is the establishment of a West Hawaii Aquarium Permit that would be required for aquarium collectors in addition to the state’s current aquarium collection permit, Walsh said. The permit would be free and its intent is to provide collectors with information on rules for collecting in West Hawaii waters.

In the long term, Walsh said the permit could become a means for allowing only limited entry into the area.

The hearing will also take input on three other amendments to Hawaii Administrative Rules dealing with updating the Puako Bay fisheries management area map and clarifying prohibited net types; establishing no-net boundaries and updating a Keauhou Bay map and other technical amendments.

The proposed rule and amendments can be obtained by calling any DAR office. They are also available online at hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/announcements.html.

Anyone unable to attend the public hearing or wishing to present additional comments may submit written testimony by Dec. 19 to the Division of Aquatic Resources by writing to 74-381 Kealakehe Parkway, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740, emailing darkona@hawaiiantel.net, or fax to 327-6229.