Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed new rules Saturday that would ban scuba spearfishing in waters of West Hawaii.
The West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area Rules were developed over 10 years of discussion and hearings by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council. The council is a community advisory group formed in the late 1990s to manage conflicts over fishing.
The restrictions would prohibit spearfishing in waters off West Hawaii by people diving with the aid of scuba gear.
They would also limit the collection of aquarium fish to a list of 40 species and redraw the boundaries of a fishery management area off Puako using updated information on the reef.
The scuba spearfishing ban was the most contentious measure considered.
Those supporting it say scuba spearfishing harms fish stocks and the ecosystem. They said scuba divers target larger fish, which is a concern because the offspring of larger female fish survive better and grow faster than the offspring of younger fish. They also argue that scuba fishermen harvest in deeper waters where fish take refuge.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the rule changes on June 28, after considering more than 1,200 pieces of testimony and 2,300 comments.
Fishermen testified before the board that the science doesn’t call for a ban on the practice. They also worried that banning spearfishing off West Hawaii would set a precedent and lead to other spearfishing bans around the state.
The new rules apply in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, which is about 147 miles from Upolu Point, North Kohala to Ka Lae, Kau. The rules:
1. prohibit take or possession of nine species of inshore sharks, rays and two invertebrate crown-of-thorns predators;
2. establish a list of 40 fish species permitted for aquarium take with size and bag limits on three of these species (No other fish may be collected for aquarium use);
3. establish a 1,500-foot section of Kaohe Bay (Pebble Beach) in South Kona as a Fish Replenishment Area (FRA) where aquarium collecting and/or recreational fish feeding is prohibited;
4. prohibit scuba and/or re-breather spear fishing or possession of such gear with a spear and/or speared aquatic life;
5. clarify the boundaries of Puako Bay and Puako Reef; and
6. clarify the no-netting boundaries of the Keauhou Bay Fisheries Management Area.
The rules can be seen at the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources website: http://state.hi.us/dlnr/dar/announcements.html .
The Associated Press contributed to this story.