The first aquarium-related bill of the 2016 legislative session in Hawaii will be heard Wednesday in the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs (OMH). “HB 2025 – Relating to Marine Species” would establish a marine species task force to identify ten vital marine species vulnerable to extinction if take levels of those species increase. The task force would also be charged with recommending actions to ensure the sustainability of those species. While the Bill does not directly target the aquarium fishery, it’s certainly possible a reef fish targeted by the marine aquarium fishery could be added to the list.
If the Bill becomes law, the task force would be charged with identifying “the ten most vital marine species to Hawaii’s reef ecosystems that would be vulnerable to extinction if the take level of those species increases.” The task force would be made up of at least five people, including the Administrator of the Division of Aquatic Resources (or the Administrator’s designee); a representative from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; a representative from the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology of the University of Hawaii; a representative from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation; a representative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Islands Regional Office; and any other agency representative or designee deemed appropriate by the chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
The current language of the Bill appears to mandate that the task force select 10 marine species “within Hawaii’s reef ecosystems” that are currently harvested and which “would be vulnerable to extinction” if harvest levels increase. The Bill does not limit the list to species that are currently vulnerable to extinction at current harvest levels, and it does not appear to give the task force the ability to select less than 10 species. Presumably with DAR and NOAA on the task force, any decision of which species to list will be based on the best available science and commercial fisheries data, but because the task force is to submit its report to the Legislature, the situation could certainly become more political than data-centered.
A Redundant Effort?
Under the Hawaii State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), the Department of Land and Natural Resources, of which DAR is a division, already maintains a Species of Greatest Conservation Need list, which includes the following reef fishes:
- Bluestriped Butterflyfish (Chaetodon fremblii)
- Hawaiian Butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri)
- Orange-margin Butterflyfish (Prognathodes sp.)
- Banded Angelfish (Apolemichthys arcuatus)
- Orange Angelfish (Centropyge fisheri)
- Flame Angel (Centropyge loricula)
- Masked Angelfish (Genicanthus personatus)
- Chocolate-dip Chromis (Chromis hanui)
- Hawaiian Chromis (Chromis ovalis)
- Struhsaker’s Chromis (Chromis struhsakeri)
- Rock Damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon sindonis)
- Hawaiian Bigeye (Priacanthus meeki)
- Hawaiian Morwong (Cheilodactylus vittatus)
- Pyle’s Sand Lance (Ammodytoides pylei)
- Lepidammodytes macrophthalamus
- Shy Filefish (Cantherhines verecundus)
- Thamnaconus garretti
- Whitley’s Box (Ostracion whitleyi)
- Randall’s Puffer (Torquigener randalli)
According to the DLNR fact sheet, all except “Chaetodon tinkeri, Apolemichthys, Centropyge loricula, and Ostracion” are endemic, potentially increasing their vulnerability to extinction if harvest is significantly increased. The threats for these species, according to DLNR, include the aquarium trade. “These species are almost all prized by aquarists,” the report states. “Masked angelfish in particular command a very high price.”
Despite a number of marine aquarium fishes on the Species of Greatest Conservation Need list, State fisheries managers maintain that effective regulation is in place for the marine aquarium fishery and that the data show the fishery is sustainable. Serious concerns remain about other reef fisheries with less data and fewer regulations than the aquarium fishery.
In addition to DLNR’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need list, there is, of course, the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has a far more limited and rigorous definition of “endangered” and “threatened” than HB 2025. In addition, decisions made regarding the ESA are administrative decisions and not legislative ones. In addition to the ESA, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Pacific Islands Regional Office already tracks several Species of Concern (SOC) that are not currently listed under the ESA. These species include:
- Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
- Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum)
- Hawaiian Reef Coral (Montipora dilatata)
- Inarticulated Brachiopod (Lingula reevii)
Of these four species, only Montipora dilatata is found in Hawaiian waters, but no coral species is harvested in Hawaii, making it apparently ineligible for the task force’s list of ten vital marine species vulnerable to extinction if take levels of those species increase.
Given that two of the five members of the task force created under HB 2025 represent agencies already charged with identifying species vulnerable to extinction, and given that lists already exist for species of concern, some critics contend the task force created under HB 2025 would be redundant.
If the Bill becomes law, the task force will submit an initial report to the Legislature no later than 20 days prior to the convening of the 2017 regular session. A final report, as well as the task force’s recommendations, will be submitted to the Legislature at least 20 days before the 2018 session begins. According to the Bill, the task force would begin their work on 1 July 2016 and would be disbanded on 30 June 2018.
Interested parties may read the Bill in its entirety here. According to the hearing notice, the hearing is scheduled to take place in conference room 325 of the State Capital (415 South Beretania Street) at 9:00 am. Written testimony regarding the Bill must be submitted at least 24 hours prior to the hearing. It may be submitted on paper (four copies) to Room 425 in the State Capitol, via FAX (less than 5 pages in length) to 808-586-8404 (Oahu) or online.
For a run-down of all ten aquarium fishery/trade-related bills before the Hawaii Legislature this year, click here.