Gov. David Ige said Friday he will likely veto a bill that would severely curtail and eventually end the aquarium fish collecting trade in Hawaii, stating it would be premature to consider a ban before more studies are done.
Ige’s comments drew a strong rebuke from state Rep. Kaniela Ing (D, South Maui), who said 90 percent of the public agrees with environmental advocates that Hawaii’s aquarium fish trade should be phased out.
The aquarium fish measure, Senate Bill 1240, was one of 15 on an “intent to veto” list Ige is required to submit to the state Legislature by Monday. Bills that the governor does not sign or veto by July 11 become law. Ige stressed that ultimately he might not veto all 15 bills.
More than 200 bills passed by the Legislature that are not on the list are destined to become law.
Among other bills on the veto list are requiring an audit of the Department of Taxation’s troubled computer modernization project; a measure requiring the state attorney general to defend lawsuits against county lifeguards; and a proposal to allow “tiny homes” on land designated for agriculture.
Proposals to end the aquarium fish collecting trade have been introduced, and failed, for a number of years.
The one on the governor’s desk argues that state law now allows an unlimited number of permits for collecting aquarium fish and fails to consider how the collection of marine life affects sustainability of the state’s near-shore waters and its coral reef ecosystem.
The measure calls for the Department of Land and Natural Resources to stop issuing new aquarium fish permits for those using mesh nets, and that existing permits not be transferable after July 1, 2022. Those with valid permits would be allowed to continue to renew them indefinitely.
DLNR also would be required to define sustainability and establish a policy for aquarium collecting practices, including a process for determining limits on some species.
Ige said he spent time meeting with passionate supporters and opponents of the bill. DLNR “has significant concerns” about the aquarium fish measure but will work with other stakeholders “to really define sustainable and, I think more importantly, to make resource decisions in and around aquarium fish moving forward.”
A press release issued by Ige’s office also said “there is concern that the science does not support the claims made by the bill.”
Ing, in an email, said DLNR has refused for years to conduct studies on the impact of the aquarium fish trade. “It’s also extremely disingenuous for DLNR to say a ban is premature, when this bill grandfathers current collectors in, and wouldn’t take effect for decades,” he added.
The unlimited amount of permits now being allowed have led to fewer and fewer fish, Ing said.
A veto would be bad for the tourism industry, the health of the state’s reefs and local fishermen who rely on small feeder fish, Ing said. The bill is a common-sense measure, and “about putting the public interest above a small special interest group and a handful of former aquarium collectors that now lead DLNR,” he said. He did not name anyone at the agency.
The bill drew a mass of testimony both for and against it.
In April, Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in written testimony that her department would not be able to establish collection rates by 2019. Further, “there is no biological basis to prohibit the issuance of new aquarium permits,” she said.
Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, said the public would be up in arms if commercial wildlife collectors were allowed to capture Native Hawaiian birds from Hawaii forests to be sold as caged-bird pets. “The practice of removing marine life for the aquarium trade is unnatural, unnecessary and wasteful with high levels of wildlife mortality,” she said.
Other major bills on Ige’s potential veto list:
House Bill 1414, seeking an audit of the Department of Taxation’s tax system computer modernization project. The Legislature this year denied the Ige administration’s request for $18 million in additional funding for the project due to taxpayer complaints and lawmaker concerns. The state has spent about $18.74 million so far, and the entire project is expected to come in at $60 million. Ige said there has been an independent third-party consultant who has been submitting reports on the project.
Senate Bill 562, requiring state attorneys to defend legal actions brought against county lifeguards at state beach parks. “We thought that this was an overreach,” Ige said, and that there are no exceptions to what can be covered. A law providing limited protection to lifeguards is set to expire Friday, exposing the counties to expensive lawsuits. A Senate draft of the bill extending the protection until June 30, 2021, failed.
HEADED FOR VETO
Here are a few of the bills Gov. David Ige intends to veto and his reasons why:
Senate Bill 1074 would appropriate funding for the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to coordinate a 50th-anniversary celebration for the state Capitol.
>> Veto reason: Current state laws do not allow for the financing of such a celebration.
House Bill 523 would authorize the Department of Accounting and General Services to establish a recycling pilot program for the on-site collection of recyclable materials at buildings and facilities it manages, maintains or services.
>> Veto reason: The amount of waste produced is insufficient to merit having an on-site recycling pilot program. DAGS already recycles cardboard and paper, and janitors recycle bottles and cans.
House Bill 2 would authorize the placement of “tiny homes” of 500 square feet or less within the state agriculture district of Hawaii County. The homes would be used by farmworkers or their families on farmland.
>> Veto reason: The Hawaii County Zoning Code already allows for a “farm dwelling” as a permitted use of agricultural-zoned land.
House Bill 727 would allow the operator of a motorcycle or motor scooter to proceed cautiously between stopped lanes of traffic and on the shoulder lane of highways.
>> Veto reason: While the intent of the bill is to reduce risk or injury or loss of life, allowing these vehicles to use the shoulder lane could instead create more danger for the motorcycle and scooter riders.
Senate Bill 1073 would appropriate money to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to support its artist fellowship program.
>> Veto reason: State law does not allow for the financing of an artist fellowship program.
For the governor’s full veto list, go to 808ne.ws/Igevetolist.