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Increased protection sought for rare species in Kaohe Bay


KAILUA-KONA » A proposal is being put before the public to create a Kaohe Bay fish replacement area that would make West Hawaii the only area in the state to ban scuba spearfishing.

The idea is to provide increased protection for rare fish species in the designated fish replacement area.

According to Tuesday’s West Hawaii Today, a list of 40 species on a so-called "white list" would designate fish that aquarium collectors may remove within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area — an area that spans 147 miles between Upola and South points.

The idea is to reduce the threat to rare fish species, as well as ones that could be overfished and not sustainable for home aquariums.

Residents can provide input on the list during a Dec. 5 public hearing at Kealakehe High School. Anyone unable to attend the public hearing or wishing to present additional comments may submit written testimony by Dec. 19 to the Division of Aquatic Resources.

DAR Aquatic Biologist Bill Walsh said many of the species under discussion have charismatic value.

"Dive operators make a big deal about some of these species because they are unusual, rare and just so beautiful," he said. "They will then take patrons over and look in a cave to see it. If the fish is snagged, it’s a blow to the operation."

The list is just one of several new proposals that could be added to the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area rules.

The proposal would establish a 1,500-foot section of Kaohe Bay in South Kona as a fish replenishment area. In that area there would be no scuba spearfishing, and no taking of nine shark and ray species and two invertebrates. An aquarium collectors’ permit also would be required.

Among the amendments are restrictions to nighttime aquarium collecting, labeling requirements, and net and length clarifications.

The department is interested in testimony on nine species being listed as no-take, among them eagle rays, sting rays, sharks and two shellfish.

"These animals play a very important role out on the reef," Walsh said. "You need high-level predators out there — they are the ones that keep balance in the ecosystem."

The proposed rule and amendments can be obtained by calling any DAR office. They are also available online at dar/announcements.html.

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