New Proposed Regulations on O‘ahu’s Marine Aquarium Fishery Will Benefit Trade and Resource

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Oahu, Hawaii (Photo by Ret Talbot)A suite of new regulations for O‘ahu’s Marine Aquarium Fishery will be discussed at a public meeting in Honolulu on Thursday, 17 November, according to a Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) press release. DLNR is the state entity charged with managing most of the State’s fisheries. The proposal, initiated by fishers and others involved in the marine aquarium trade on O‘ahu, calls for further gear restrictions, bag limits, slot limits, and no-take species. Despite being clear on the fact DLNR believes “the fishery is currently being fished sustainably,” state officials expressed appreciation for “experienced, commercial aquarium fishers who wanted to proactively propose reasonable and conservation-oriented regulations to ensure the long-term viability of this important fishery.” The proposed regulations would be specific to O‘ahu and not affect any other fisheries, including Big Island’s contentious marine aquarium fishery. 

The proposed regulations are the result of many months of discussions between DLNR officials and trade members operating on O‘ahu and represent what some are calling a promising model showcasing collaboration between resource users and resource managers. While there is little doubt the regulations will have a short-term negative impact on many of O‘ahu’s fishers, the trade members behind the proposal believe being proactive now will be in the best interest of the resource and the trade over time.
The regulations would impact the taking of several species, including the yellow tang, the kole tang, the Potter’s angelfish, the naso tang, the Moorish idol, the Achilles tang, and the banded angel. The ornate butterflyfih, the oval butterflyfish and the reticulated butterflyfish, all known coralivores (fishes that eat coral and generally do not survive in aquaria), would be off limits altogether. Similar to the rules package soon to be enacted on Big Island, yellow tang collection would be subject to both a bag and slot limit, whereby no more 100 fish per day between the sizes of one and one-half and five inches could be taken. Maximum size limits would also be put in place for kole tang (five inches) and banded angelfish (five and one-half inches).
In addition to the regulations on specific species, new gear regulations would also be put into place. Specifically, nets would be limited to 60 feet long and six feet high, and no net would be allowed within 60 feet of another net.
Anti-trade activists have come out against the proposed regulations, owing largely to the fact many do not believe the marine aquarium fishery is a fishery, so no regulations short of a complete ban will suffice. Some fishers and others from within the trade have also expressed concerns that the regulations are unnecessary and are the beginning of a slippery slope that will only end in extreme measures or even a complete ban. Supporters of the proposed regulations counter that the largely unstudied O‘ahu marine aquarium fishery is most likely sustainable more because it is a small fishery with responsible fishers. As one O‘ahu fisher involved with crafting the proposed regulations said, “There is no guarantee that [the O‘ahu fishery] will remain sustainable forever, which is why we are trying to be proactive now. It is better to take care of problems before they occur than wait until it’s too late.”