Beginning Jan. 1 there will be steep penalties for intentionally or knowingly capturing, entangling or killing a shark in state marine waters.

House Bill 553, which failed to pass in previous legislative sessions, was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. David Ige.

Opponents sought exemptions for research, subsistence fishing and incidental takes. While some exemptions will be allowed — e.g., killing in self defense, incidental captures or in accordance with protected cultural practices — the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is now tasked with establishing rules based on the bill.

The penalty for a first offense will be $500 and as much as $10,000 for a third or subsequent offense. Administrative fees, costs and attorney fees might also be levied.

Penalties could also involve seizure and forfeiture of any captured sharks or shark parts and commercial marine licenses, vessels and fishing equipment.

Endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks live off shore and come into shallower waters of Hilo Bay, Kaneohe Bay, Waimea Bay and other areas in Hawaii, according to the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources. A new law will protect sharks in state marine waters. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

State Rep. Nicole Lowen, HB 553’s primary author, said the legislation was “many, many years in the making.” She credited its passage to Inga Gibson, policy director for Pono Advocacy, and Michael Nakachi and his son, Kaikea, a father-and-son duo who advocate for more culturally sensitive methods of academic shark research.

The bill-signing ceremony at the Governor’s Ceremonial Room at the state Capitol as well as via Zoom was timed to mark World Oceans Day, which was established by the United Nations in 2008 to inform the public of the impact of humans on the oceans and to mobilize sustainable management of them.

“They are the lungs of our Planet and a major source of food and medicine and a critical part of the biosphere,” the UN says of the oceans, which covers more than 70% of the Earth.

“This is a great day for the ocean.” — DLNR Chair Suzanne Case

But, as Ige noted in his remarks, Hawaii is facing “unprecedented” challenges from climate change, heat waves, coral bleaching, degraded reefs, declining ocean populations and greater man-made pollution such as runoffs.

In addition to the shark-protection bill, Ige signed eight other related measures. They cover a range of issues focused on ocean conservation, resource management, regulation and enforcement.

House Bill 1019 sets up a five-year ocean stewardship special fund and a $1 user fee for the conservation, restoration and enhancement of Hawaii’s aquatic resources.

According to the DLNR, the fee — which could generate between $14 million to more than $30 million over 15 years, depending on tourism numbers — will be collected by commercial ocean operators that provide vessel-based activities to passengers or vessel-free services to customers.

“Hundreds of millions of visitors have enjoyed our magnificent ocean resources for decades without directly contributing to the management and protection of them,” DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said in a press release. “This new fund provides a framework to collect fees from visitors who use our waters.”

A Molokini snorkel tour in 2018. A new law will assess a user fee on commercial ocean operators. Courtesy: DLNR/2018

Several of the measures approved by Ige are intended to allow for the sustainable harvesting of marine life.

House Bill 1017 repeals a section of the Hawaii Revised Statutes that prohibits the taking or killing of female spiny lobsters, Kona crabs and Samoan crabs. Since the 2006 law, the bill explains, new information shows that the Kona crab population is “very healthy.”

It was also determined that the prohibition on taking female spiny lobsters could potentially “create a sex ratio and size imbalance that may inhibit successful reproduction.” DLNR has since adopted rules that allow it to regulate the taking of the crustaceans.

House Bill 1018 allows the DLNR to adopt rules to establish a permit for the use or possession of lay nets “including reasonable permit fees and provisions for revocation, suspension, and withholding of permits for noncompliance with lay net rules.”

Even though the department already has detailed lay net rules, the Legislature said in its committee report on HB 1018 that “the illegal and irresponsible use of lay nets continues with adverse impacts to both fishery resources and protected species.”

House Bill 1023 creates a nonresident recreational marine fishing license requirement and fees, and it prohibits nonresidents from fishing, taking or catching marine life without the license.

While Hawaii’s ocean fishing opportunities “attract thousands of visitors each year,” the bill explains, “nonresident recreational fishers directly benefit from enjoyment of Hawaii’s marine fishery resources without directly contributing to management of those resources.”

The other bills signed into law detail the requirements of valid commercial marine vessel licenses, establish special motor-vehicle license plate fees to support environmental conservation, clarify the enforcement duties of DLNR conservation and resources officers, and authorize the Board of Land and Natural Resources to temporarily adopt, amend and repeal “certain natural resource rules” if the BLNR finds that it is necessary in order to respond to “rapidly changing” resource conditions.

Gov. Ige’s bill signing featured many supporters of the ocean-related bills via Zoom. Screenshot/2021

Seven of the nine bills — except for the shark and license plate bills — were part of the administration’s 2021 legislative package.

Ige described the ocean as being Hawaii’s connection “to our food, our culture, our leisure time, our business and — most importantly — to each other.”

The governor tied the new laws to the state’s Holomua: Marine 30×30 Initiative to effectively manage the state’s nearshore waters. It established 30% of nearshore waters as a network of marine management areas to benefit fisheries and ecosystem resilience by 2030.

Case, who attended the bill signing, described some of the bills as “long-needed” and “cutting edge.”

“This is a great day for the ocean,” she said, adding that the Legislature “really moved the needle forward.”

Other legislators credited for advancing the bills are Sens. Lorraine Inouye and Chris Lee, and Rep. David Tarnas.

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