Hawaii Senate Committee should follow science, not activists, on ornamental fishing

The Hawaii Senate Land and Water Committee will hear Senate Bill 2003. Supported by anti-science activists, SB 2003 risks the employment and safety of Hawaii’s divers — and could end the world’s fascination with Hawaii’s ornamental fish.

If SB 2003 becomes law, no new diving licenses will be issued to those who catch and sell ornamental fish. Under a Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) decision to invalidate all licenses until Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA) procedures are applied to aquarium fishing, this means SB 2003 could be the death knell of a trade that has a worldwide fan base.

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Indeed, it is from Hawaii that so many ornamental fish around the world come — and why so many of Hawaii’s tourists ensure they see our fish when they visit our great state. Banning all new licenses just as state regulators and industry are fulfilling their promise to conduct a new environmental survey will stop these educational and economic benefits in their tracks.

It will also put the safety of divers at risk. Without licensed diving partners, many fishers will have to choose between ending their livelihood, or diving alone. The latter risks both their lives and the safety standards of fishing diving.

National animal rights activists — few of whom live in Hawaii, and none of whom care about the livelihoods and safety of Hawaii’s fishing community — claim that ornamental fishing damages the environment. They supported Senate Bill 1240 last year, which Gov. David Ige thankfully vetoed. They now back SB 2003, despite its complete lack of scientific basis.

This science is exactly why fishers, scientists, and real animal welfare advocates are urging Senate Committee Chair Karl Rhoads and Vice-Chair Mike Gabbard to reject this bill. Study after study by DLNR and independent organizations have found that since 1999 the number of yellow tang and other fish has increased. Yellow tang alone, which are 84 percent of caught aquarium fish, have a current population that exceeds 3.6 million fish.

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Hawaii’s current management practices are the envy of the world. The state Senate should ensure the future of this amazing system that provides safe and sustainable employment and education for so many in Hawaii, around the country, and worldwide.

Ron Tubbs founded RT Distributors, a diver direct business in Waimanalo, Oahu. Ron’s educational background includes marine biology, ecology, microbiology, and biochemistry.