Measure protects
discovered resources

The state would claim rights to
any products using found species

Hawaii would become the first state to stake legal claim to potentially valuable animal and plant products discovered by bioprospectors on state land and offshore under a bill being refined at the Legislature, according to its backers.

Legislature 2004
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Hawaii, with more species than any other state, is the logical place to establish a system to protect the untold resources as well as the state's property rights, they say.

Of the more than 22,000 known species on the islands, 8,850 are found nowhere else in the world, said Naomi Arcand of the Hawaii Audubon Society.

"Rather than selling the exclusive rights to our natural resources, we should focus initially on the method to achieve sustainable, equitable use," Arcand said.

Yellowstone National Park moved three years ago to collect royalties on the commercial results of scientific research in the park after getting nothing when a microbe discovered there was found useful in multiplying DNA used in medical diagnostic kits.

The discovery reportedly earned a fortune for the patent-holder.

The bill's supporters could not identify any comparable discoveries in Hawaii, but believe the potential is vast in the rain forests, volcanic fields, teeming reefs and deep ocean chasms between the islands.

The world's researchers apparently haven't hesitated to seek their intellectual and financial fortunes in Hawaii.

Rep. Glenn Wakai (D, Moanalua Valley-Salt Lake), primary architect of the bill, said an estimated 5,000 bioprospecting projects are under way in Hawaii.

"We have no idea what these individuals and these companies are doing here, so this is a step to finding out," he said.

He proposes an inventory of bioprospecting in the state.

"What if there's one bad apple among those 5,000 that goes in and rips out all the koa because the bark provides some type of cure for an ailment," he said.

Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki), chairman of the House Economic Development and Business Committee, which advanced the Senate-passed measure to the Finance Committee on Friday, said: "The issue is that of the state, and Hawaiians in particular, having a claim to these resources.

"The Legislature has identified this as a problem, and it's important for us to figure out how to stake that claim without unintended consequences," he said.

Hawaii follows last year's lead by China, Brazil, India and nine other of the world's most biodiverse countries who signed an alliance to fight "biopiracy" and press for rules protecting their people's rights to genetic resources found on their land.

That declaration responded to complaints by Indians and environmentalists that wealthy nations are "prospecting" for species in order to patent or sell them without offering concessions or benefits for local people.

Hawaii's indigenous people have been key players in the bioprospecting legislation, hoping to protect their rights to gather plant and animal resources used in traditional and cultural medicinal practices, as well as share in the profits as citizens of Hawaii.

"This is not an assertion that biotechnology is an evil doer. This is a claim to public resources, finite resources," said Annelle Amaral, representing the native Hawaiian community.

Other key players have been the University of Hawaii, concerned that overly broad laws, rules and regulations on bioprospecting could interfere with its internal and cooperative research projects, and farmers, concerned about agricultural research.

"The physical transfer of samples of biological material is critical to the functions of the university," said James Gaines, interim vice president for research. He said researchers around the world have an interest in animal and plant materials found in Hawaii.

These concerns saw lawmakers delete sections in the bill that mentioned farming or would have prohibited any exclusive possession or rights to biological resources from public lands.

Instead, the focus is on creating a temporary advisory commission with representatives of the various interested groups.

In 2006, it would recommend to lawmakers policies for conserving and using biological resources, regulating bioprospecting and making sure the state and native Hawaiians get a fair cut of profits from research and use of the land's biological resources.


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