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Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday that he has decided to veto a bill that would have phased out the commercial collection of aquarium fish in Hawaii.
The governor said he will also veto 12 other bills, including a measure that would have required the state Attorney General’s office to defend lifeguards in liability lawsuits since the Legislature let their immunity protection expire June 30.
House and Senate leaders announced Monday that the Legislature will not convene a special session to override any vetoed bills. They said they would review the governor’s concerns with any vetoed measures and consider them during the next regular session, which starts in January.
Ige said his office received thousands of phone calls and emails from constituents expressing their support for and opposition to the aquarium measure, Senate Bill 1240, over the past two weeks.
The governor said he and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, headed by Suzanne Case, agree that sustainable policies and practices are needed. He said he has no objection to the first part of the bill requiring DLNR to define “sustainable” and establish policies for sustainable collection.
But he said the science does not support the claims made in the bill that justify a need to end the state’s issuance of new permits to use the small meshed nets and traps used by aquarium fish collectors.
He said the Division of Aquatic Resources has collected data over 17 years off the west coast of the Big Island, where roughly 80 percent of the aquarium catch comes from. He said those surveys have found that aquarium fish populations, which include yellow tang, have been stable or increasing there.
But Ige acknowledged that there is no similar data for Oahu, where almost all the rest of the aquarium fish are caught.
The governor said discussions have begun on “limited entry” aquarium fisheries, expanding Fishery Replenishment Areas to Oahu, capping permit numbers, addressing catch limits and establishing permit fees.
Ige said he is committed to introducing legislation and/or administrative rules that will address all concerns and create “a policy that will establish Hawaii as the best managed sustainable nearshore fishery in the world.”
Keith Dane, Hawaii policy advisor for The Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it was a “disappointing outcome for a bill that would have gone a long way toward restoring Hawaii’s vital coral reefs and protecting its wildlife from largely unrestricted capture for the aquarium trade.”
He said the veto means the aquarium trade will be allowed to continue unrestricted.
“We won’t stand by and watch Hawaii’s precious coral reefs dwindle for a damaging trade that benefits a few,” Dane said. “We vow to continue to work with all stakeholders including Gov. Ige and the Department of Land and Natural Resource to find a solution.”
Case said the department will be working with stakeholders over the next couple of months to get a good proposal for next year.
When it came to the lifeguard liability measure, Senate Bill 562, the governor said he was “disappointed” that the Legislature let the immunity sunset June 30. He said he was confident his administration, working with lawmakers, will be able to get those protections back for the county lifeguards.
“We’ll be back again next year,” Ige said.
He had put 15 bills on his intent-to-veto list last month. He vetoed 13 of those bills, choosing to let House Bill 523, relating to recycling, and House Bill 575, which pertains to public lands, become law without his signature.
Ige, who served three decades in the Democrat-dominated Legislature before becoming governor in 2014, vetoed a combined 16 bills in his first two years in office. That’s far fewer than the previous two governors.
Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a fellow Democrat, vetoed 31 bills in his first two years and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed 88 bills in her first two years in office.
Read the complete list of bills Ige vetoed and his rationale below.