Gov. David Ige has signed a rule approved Friday by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) that makes it illegal to take any species of sea cucumber from state waters for the next 120 days.
Violations of this emergency rule are considered petty misdemeanors.
This is in response to an investigation by officers of the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), who confirmed that a new commercial fishery recently started. The investigation was supported further by public observations.
“Based on a briefing from DOCARE about their ongoing investigation and recent findings and input from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), we took the unusual step of fast-tracking this rule to immediately stop the continued depletion of this natural resource,” said DLNR chair Suzanne Case.
This decision was further confirmed to be prudent when “people across the state expressed outrage after seeing photographs and learning about the mass commercial harvesting of sea cucumbers in near shore waters on Maui and Oahu,” she added.
Sea cucumbers are often called “the vacuum cleaners of the ocean” due to their ability to scour the sea floor and remove sediments and other materials that can impact the health and resiliency of Hawaii’s coral reefs.
“We will use the next four months to work with our staff and researchers to better determine the overall impact of large-scale removal of sea cucumbers,” said Alton Miyasaka, DAR acting administrator. “Since we’ve never seen this extent of exploitation in Hawaii, we need to develop a clear understanding of the impacts on the fishery and aquatic environment.
“It’s not a perfect system, but there are some checks and balances there,” Miyasaka added. “We’ll have to look at how other jurisdictions have managed it and maybe adjust those regulations over time.”
The results of the DAR inquiry are expected to lead to the development of permanent rules regarding harvesting of sea cucumbers. Permanent regulations will also require BLNR and the governor’s approval.
“The trick is in trying to craft the language so that you can allow that level of take while protecting the stock from the larger commercial take,” Miyasaka said.
During this process, DAR staff will work with interested stakeholders, including native Hawaiian traditional and customary practitioners, to come up with proposed rules for the sustainable harvest of sea cucumbers.
“Don’t pass this thing on the Big Island unless you’re going to enforce it, because then it’s joke,” said Stanley Roehrig, Hawaii Island member of BLNR.
DLNR officers will continue to be on the lookout for anyone harvesting sea cucumbers in large numbers. Violators could receive a fine or jail time as follows:
- Not more than $1,000 for a first offense
- Not more than $2,000 for a second offense
- Not more than $3,000 for a third offense
- $250 for a first offense
- $500 for a second offense
- $1,000 for a third offense
- Jail time-up to 30 days