By Maui Now Staff
The Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources today approved an emergency rule that makes it illegal to take any species of sea cucumber from Hawaiʻi State waters for the next 120 days. The rule was in response to confirmed reports of a new commercial fishery that recently started. Authorities say the investigation was supported further by public observations.
Officials with the DLNR say Governor David Ige is expected to quickly follow the BLNR approval by signing the emergency administrative rules.
DLNR Chairperson Suzanne Case released a statement saying, “Based on a briefing from DOCARE about their ongoing investigation and recent findings and input from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, we took the unusual step of fast-tracking this rule to immediately stop the continued depletion of this natural resource.” 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 Oʻahu.”
State officials note that 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 Hawaiʻi’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 in a department press release.
“Since we’ve never seen this extent of exploitation in Hawaiʻi, we need to develop a clear understanding of the impacts on the fishery and aquatic environment,” said Miyasaka.
The results of the DAR inquiry are expected to lead to the development of permanent rules regarding harvesting of sea cucumbers in Hawaiʻi. Permanent regulations will also require BLNR and the Governor’s approval.
Staff from the Division of Aquatic Resources plan to work with interested stakeholders, including native Hawaiian traditional and customary practitioners, to come up with proposed rules for the sustainable harvest of sea cucumbers.
Today’s emergency rule making was applauded by officers from the DOCARE North Maui Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit who took the lead of looking into the commercial harvesting of sea cucumbers.
CFEU Officer Nathan Hillan said, “As a conservation officer it makes me very happy that we were able to get ahead of this in a proactive way. To see the emergency rule enacted and signed is very satisfying as an officer. It lifts up, why we do what we do.”