Sunday | June 25, 2017
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New fishing rules set to take effect

Stiff new penalties and prohibitions against scuba spearfishing and the taking of various species in West Hawaii waters are hallmarks of a package of new rules that go into effect Thursday.

The rules, signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie earlier this month, codify prohibitions on scuba spearfishing in certain West Hawaii waters, as well as the “white list” of fish that aquarium fish collectors may remove within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, which spans 147 miles from Upolu to South Point.

Penalties of not less than $100 for the first violation, not less than $200 for the second and not less than $500 for the third and subsequent violations, coupled with administrative costs of not more than $1,000, $2,000 and $5,000 respectively, can add up fast because the penalties can be levied against each specimen taken in violation of the new rules.

“The penalties could escalate dramatically,” William Walsh, aquatic specialist at the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources in Kona, said Monday. “The hope is that will facilitate enforcement. … The intent is to get people who are flagrantly violating the rules.”

The rules also create a specific West Hawaii aquarium permit that must be obtained in addition to the state aquarium permit. The permits should be available early next year.

The rules prohibit the taking, killing, possession or sale of nine species of inshore sharks and rays and two invertebrate crown-of-thorns predators.

In addition, it is prohibited for anyone to take more than five yellow tang larger than 4.5 inches in total length or more than five yellow tang smaller than 2 inches in total length per day or possess more than this amount at any time

Aquarium collectors, both commercial and noncommercial, may take or possess only 40 “White List” fish species, including various species of tang, surgeonfish, unicornfish, wrasse, angelfish, butterflyfish, coris, hawkfish, triggerfish, toby, boxfish, dascyllus, anthias, snapper, grouper and durgon.

All underwater nets and containers to hold aquatic life for aquarium purposes must be labeled with the commercial marine license of the person owning or using the equipment. All aquarium collecting vessels must be registered every year with the DAR Kona office and must permanently affix the capital letters “AQ” to both sides of the vessel.

A Fish Replenishment Area is established along a 1,500-foot section of Kaohe Bay (Pebble Beach), South Kona, where no aquarium collecting or recreational fish feeding is allowed.

An individual can set only one laynet, for 4 hours, within a 24 hour period.

It is prohibited to engage in or attempt to engage in scuba spearfishing and/or possess both scuba gear and a spear or speared aquatic life.

The spearfishng limitation drew a lot of opposition at hearings on the new rules, as well as a lot of media coverage.

Tony Costa, of Hawaii Nearshore Fishermen, told the Board of Land and Natural Resources earlier this year that banning scuba spearfishing would compromise the community’s ability to gather food, as well as makes it unsafe and difficult to gather food. He said the abundant fish catch of fishermen confirms stocks are healthy.

“The use of scuba and spear is the nature of our gathering style. We have been sustainably gathering, harvesting in this manner for the last 50 years,” Costa said in testimony.

The rules also clarify the seaward boundary of the Puako Bay and Puako Reef Fisheries Management Area to extend out to the edge of the fringing reef. Within the FMA no person shall possess or use any type of net except a thrownet. In addition, the no-netting boundaries of the Keauhou Bay Fisheries Management Area are clarified to extend from Haikuu Point to Kaukalaelae Point.

Almost 90 percent of the 565 residents of West Hawaii who submitted public testimony on the topic last year supported the scuba ban. Similar percentages around the state and outside Hawaii supported the prohibition.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at


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