Bill raises scrutiny of fish-tank stockers
The measure would let officers onto boats of aquarium hunters
Anyone taking out a permit to collect fish and other marine creatures in Hawaii to sell for home aquariums would need to agree to having their vessels occasionally inspected by state officers under a measure before legislators this session.
"You're asking these guys to enforce with one hand tied behind their back or maybe in this case two hands tied behind their back," said Rep. Hermina Morita, describing the job of the officers charged with making sure Hawaii's aquarium collecting rules are followed.
Under current law, officers must have probable cause to search an aquarium collector's vehicle.
"The standard is so high that you actually have to see the wrongdoing in order to pursue," said Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa), who introduced the bill in the House.
The bill before lawmakers removes the requirement that the officers have probable cause and instead makes agreement to the inspections a condition of receiving a permit from the state, similar to the state's hunting laws.
Aquarium fish collecting is relatively loosely regulated across most of the state. A government permit allows collectors to net as many of a species as they want, wherever they want and whenever they want.
Without tougher regulations in place, some marine biologists worry that removing plant-eating fish from nearshore reefs already threatened by urban runoff could lead to an overgrowth of algae and a further deterioration of the reefs' health.
Limited authority and manpower at the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement have hampered officers' ability to enforce the aquarium collecting laws that do exist.
"Over the last year and a half, there's been a lot of discussion about the concern of enforcement and the ability of the enforcement officers to be able to do the job -- not personally, but being able to give them the right tools to do the job," said Glennon Gingo, chairman of the West Hawaii Fishery Council.
A little more than 35 percent of the west coast of the Big Island became off limits to collectors under state law in 1999. The local system also includes other regulations of the industry such as requiring collectors to distinctively mark their ships when they are harvesting.
Gingo said he had not analyzed the bill. But though he said he would support a strengthening of aquarium collecting laws in the state, he questioned what removing probable cause would mean for collectors who are operating entirely illegally without a permit.
Russell Kokubun, chairman of the Senate Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said the questions surrounding the constitutionality of eliminating probable cause from the law had been a sticking point when similar measures came before the Legislature in recent years.
Unless those questions are addressed this session, the bill likely will die, he said.