Small steps are not so small


It has been more than eight years that we at the Friends of Pebble Beach have worked to add Kaohe Bay to the Fish Replenishment Areas in West Hawaii. Along the way, our “user conflict” (ocean users vs. collectors) resolution has been added to a Department of Land and Natural Resources rule amendment package coming to a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Kealakehe High School.

While this package is not a perfect solution, each part is a step in the right direction. Including Pebble Beach/Kaohe Bay as an FRA is extremely important. Kaohe Bay is very easily accessible and is used by both kamaaina from all over the island and by visitors for many different activities. It is such a good shore dive that shops in Kona offer underwater maps of the bay.

I’d also like to add many commercial aquarium collectors have agreed (at County Council meetings and other venues) the bay should have been in the original FRAs that were created in Act 306 in 1999.

Do we agree with the other parts of this package? Mostly, yes: a ban on spearfishing with scuba (while leaving traditional spearfishing alone); clarification of FRA borders; and an ingenious white list that limits collection to 40 species of tropical fish, thereby protecting hundreds of others — all are steps in the right direction.

In fact, our biggest disagreement is that some charismatic fish have made it onto the white list. Some very vocal critics from Maui have condemned the whole package for this reason. Despite claims they have exhausted all means of controlling collection through DLNR, those Maui critics (like Robert Wintner and Rene Umberger) have never sat down and worked out a realistic plan for keeping the tropical fish catch in control.

It is to the credit of Bill Walsh (of Division of Aqautic Resources) and the West Hawaii Fisheries Council they have ground out a solution that maintains current income levels for collectors but provides better regulations. Deep compromises have been made — too deep for many of us. But the collectors feel the same way.

Mutual frustration is often a result of successful compromises. I hope everybody realizes that if this rule passes, everything that is not on the white list will be protected. Everything. Sure, it is hard to read the white list, but all of those fish will still be protected in FRAs. And all other fish will be protected everywhere.

Think of it: bandit and flame angelfish, turkeyfish, Moorish idols, Whitley’s boxfish, bicolor anthias, Picasso triggerfish, teardrop butterflyfish — the list goes on and on — of fish that will never be taken again to languish in a fish tank somewhere. They will continue to reproduce here and build healthier populations along our entire coastline, not just in FRAs.

Please notice the protection for rays, sharks, triton trumpets (finally) and horned helmets, too. These are positive steps.

While these proposals are not a perfect solution, they are steps that will help to protect the reef ecosystem on the Big Island. For those who don’t live on our island or haven’t been here long, you might think that these steps aren’t worth taking. We disagree.

As you know from last year’s failed attempt at banning the aquarium trade spearheaded by “Snorkel” Bob Wintner, the Legislature twisted that bill, suggesting the establishment of a Maui advisory council very similar to the one he loves to criticize, namely the WHFC.

As for the legal efforts to throw an environmental impact statement in the way of aquarium collection, it is clear by the reaction of the Attorney General’s office this week the state is not intimidated. The truth is banning any established business in Hawaii is very tricky business. There are plenty of legal and cultural barriers to doing any such thing.

Remember, if these proposed rule amendments don’t pass, West Hawaii will not increase its protection for the reefs at all. It will be business as usual with aquarium collectors operating with a carte blanche — no restrictions, no size or bag limits outside the FRAs.

Since banning aquarium collecting is not an option, passing more regulation of the aquarium trade, and more protection for the reef critters, is good. This proposed package does deliver on that. And many collectors are willing to cooperate. They recognize it is not in their interest to generate so much public hostility. Let’s seize on this cooperative mood and establish reasonable regulation of their trade.

In no way does this rule proposal prevent anybody from continuing with further island or statewide restrictions. However, after eight years of compromises, we are hoping for 1,500 feet of protection of Kaohe Bay, reduced from our original two-mile request. To others hoping for a statewide ban of the aquarium trade, I say, good luck. Just don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

I hope that you will support the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area rule proposals. At this point, they cannot be changed or altered. They will pass or fail.

It would be a terrible thing for this package to fail. It is our kuleana to protect the reef. Small steps are much better than none at all.

To support the Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area amendment, please email darkona@hawaiiantel.net

Sue Kellam represents Friends of Pebble Beach in Kaohe Bay.