Should new commercial aquarium fishing permits be banned?

A controversial measure regarding the fishing industry hangs in the balance.

The proposal would ban new permits for commercial aquarium fishing and it’s sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his decision.

If Governor Ige doesn’t veto the bill, it will become law.

Both sides of the debate are anxiously keeping watch.

The goal of the proposal is to establish sustainable practices for this popular industry.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is against it, and the governor has announced his intent to veto the bill saying there’s not enough scientific evidence to back it.

Still, supporters are hopeful there’s time left to change his mind.

Supporters of the bill argue commercial aquarium fishing is leading to a scarcity in certain aquarium fish populations in Hawaiian waters.

“This is about the commercial industry where they’re exporting our wildlife. Think about if we were to do that for our birds, they would never allow that,” Jessica Wooley of Aina Aloha Consulting said.

However opponents say that’s not the case and argue the ban on new fishing permits would put people out of work.

“Aquarium fish collection fishery is one of the best managed, if not the best managed, in the state of Hawaii,” Phil Hernandez, President of Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation & Tradition, said.

Just about everyone agrees – sustaining the ocean’s sea life population is a top priority, but how exactly to do that is a point of debate.

Aquarium fish caught in Kona make up 80% of Hawaii’s catch in the aquarium industry. After declining numbers were recorded, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources put protections in place.

After a 17-year study, DLNR reported yellow tang and kole fish populations in Kona actually increased in both protected and unprotected areas.

According to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, 93% of yellow tang in the aquarium industry come from Hawaii.

“The science shows that they are very sustainable and that the numbers of aquarium fish are stable or growing,” Hernandez said.

But supporters of the bill say not so fast.

“They’ve got their science wrong,” Wooley said. “We need to do everything we can. We know from our global scientific data, we know from our local data, we need to do more. They shouldn’t be relying on DLNR to determine if they’re going to veto or not.

DLNR has proposed “limited entry aquarium fishing” in the past which could put a cap on the number of permits and establish significant permit fees.

The program has been successful at keeping fish populations at sustainable levels in Florida.

If the measure is in fact vetoed, supporters say the issue will likely be reintroduced in the next legislative session.

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