Lawmakers miss boat on ocean issues
In 1983, while a student at UH-Manoa, I was shocked at how little attention people here gave the ocean.
The university offered no degree in marine biology. TV, radio and newspapers rarely reported on things marine. Tumbledown buildings and trash-strewn lots lined the city's waterfront. And when we named our sailboat Honu, few people knew the meaning of the word.
So when the state Legislature asked the UH and Waikiki Aquarium for candidates for state fish in 1984, a lot of us ocean enthusiasts embraced the idea. University students paraded in fish costumes to promote nominees, and teachers helped schoolchildren join the campaign.
Eventually, legislators declared the humuhumunukunukuapuaa, or the reef triggerfish, to be Hawaii's official state fish -- for five years.
Placing a term limit on a state fish was ridiculous, but at least people were talking about fish. Besides, the expiration date passed pretty much unnoticed, and the reef triggerfish kept its post.
Now a state representative has discovered that the humuhumu's term is long over, and has drawn up a bill to make it the permanent state fish. This should be a no-brainer, but no. Another representative favors the oopu, an endemic freshwater gobie, to represent the state. Others have other candidates.
Gov. Lingle could stop this debate by issuing an executive order that the humuhumu is Hawaii's permanent state fish. She, however, believes the decision should be left to the public.
And so the blather goes on, making mainland news and reinforcing the impression that Hawaii lawmakers have nothing better to do than discuss little fish with big names.
But there is so much to do. If these politicians care about fish, they should stop wasting time and deal with the real marine issue in Hawaii: Our waters are overfished.
Three bills favoring fishing and restricting conservation currently stand before the Legislature. In a nutshell, these bills require state management officials to show scientific need before limiting or prohibiting fishing in public areas.
This is idiocy. The results of permanent fish bans in designated areas have been studied over and over, and the conclusions are always the same: They work. Give fish protected places to grow and reproduce, and there will be more fish for everyone. It's not a difficult concept.
Others in our community have moved forward in recognizing the value of a healthy ocean. The university now offers a bachelor's degree in marine biology. Both public and private efforts have beautified our waterfront. The local media regularly reports on marine events. And thanks to federal protection laws, most people here now know that honu means green sea turtle.
Our politicians, however, dither over something that doesn't matter. To serve the whole community, they must kill these pro-fishing bills and get to work on enacting some proven marine conservation laws.
I'm sure the humuhumunukunukuapuaa would agree.