My Turn: The difference between science and political science

Among the PhD signatories to the recent claim of “science” and “data,” (“We Expect Better” published June 25) most have been front-line aquarium trade defenders for decades, some generating many thousands in grant and taxpayer dollars to “mitigate the damage of this destructive extraction.” At least one is a licensed aquarium collector. Another, Ivor Williams, presented a status report on Maui some years ago. He took three minutes to dismiss the case for banning the aquarium trade, calling that approach “emotional.” He took two hours to describe all “the work” being done on “data management” of the trade. DLNR sponsored the visit. Mitigation funding exceeds reported gross revenue of trafficking in reef wildlife.

In a 2006 “Sea Talk” in Kona, several of these doctors coined a euphemism for reef species in steep decline or vanished: “Species of concern.” DLNR describes teardrop butterfly fish at Puako as “experiencing a 100% decline.” Isn’t that the same as gone? Or does “data” preclude unpleasant conclusion?

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Utter hokum has prevailed, and the collectors are still out there, poaching with the blessing and protection of DLNR. Chairwoman Suzanne Case has never wavered in defending aquarium extraction and pulled the rug on the Hawaii Supreme Court when it ruled for injunctive relief — to stop issuing aquarium permits, pending this environmental review. Case eliminated the need for aquarium collector permits, allowing collectors to continue without permits, defying the spirit and intent of the court. “It’s been litigated,” she said, after the Circuit Court decision and the Intermediate Court of Appeals decision. Yet she scoffed at the Supreme Court ruling.

Why did she vote against the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s environmental assessment? She retained PIJAC. She’d seen the review. She understood its basis in supporting a mainland pet trade. Ah! She got caught out, politically speaking. Kudos to Board of Land and Natural Resource members for feeling the will of the people of Hawaii, as this board was originally mandated to do.

The late, great Ruth Gates PhD, most often described as “Hawaii’s foremost expert on coral reef health,” said, “DLNR has a built-in bias on the aquarium issue and will not grant our permits that we need to do our work, if we speak out against them.”

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The overwhelming testimony against the pet trade environmental review reflects the precise will of Hawaii people — the Big Island and all of Hawaii: No aquarium trade in Hawaii! Note the exclamation points! They are emotional! The people of Hawaii embrace science, not “science,” not political mush meant to propagate more of the same bad stuff to make a few bucks for a few people. Big tobacco had “data.” Big pharma has “data.” Hawaii is a reef community, above and below sea level. We embrace our reef ohana and will strive to protect them and their habitat from commercial extraction.

Robert Wintner is a resident of Kihei, Maui, and owner of Snorkel Bob’s locations in Kailua-Kona and South Kohala.