Governor David Ige on Thursday signed a new sea cucumber bill into law that bans all large-scale commercial harvesting. The measure, which places severe limits on the collection of sea cucumbers comes following a 120-day emergency rule that was temporarily in place.
Upon signing the bill, Governor Ige said, “The DLNR worked quickly to stop the mass harvesting of sea cucumbers, and then to develop and propose permanent rules. This action is expected to protect and sustain critically important sea cucumber populations in our near-shore waters.”
The permanent rule bans any large-scale commercial harvesting of sea cucumbers, and takes effect in just a few days, on January 10, 2016.
State officials say harvesting spiked earlier this year when collectors virtually cleared some near-shore waters on Maui and Oʻahu of the creatures which are considered the “vacuum cleaners of the ocean.”
“Under the law, now in effect, licensed aquarium collectors are allowed to harvest two species of sea cucumbers from Oʻahu waters only, with a 20-per-day maximum and an annual take of no more than 3,600 for the entire commercial fishery. These numbers are based on data collected over many years and is expected to be sustainable,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case.
Case continued, “The rules allow a small level of take for personal, non-commercial use. We will continue to monitor the sea cucumber population over the next few years to determine whether we’ve correctly set the harvest at sustainable levels, and if not whether we need to make adjustments in the future.”
According to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, sea cucumber populations across the Pacific and elsewhere have been decimated by large-scale commercial harvesting.
The new rules were approved by the State Board of Land and Natural Resources on Dec. 11, 2015, after a series of statewide hearings.
Prior to the implementation of the 120-day emergency rule, Hawaiʻi did not have any regulations regarding sea cucumber harvesting. State officials say this was the first year that mass harvesting was observed in Hawaiian waters. Once the state became aware of the issue, state officials say they acted swiftly to investigate and to get permanent rules into place.
Dr. Bruce Anderson, the Administrator of the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources said, “I’m very proud of the work DAR and the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement did to address this issue so quickly. Without this prompt action the short-lived, mass harvest of sea cucumbers could have been an ecological disaster for the sea cucumber and its role in the health of Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs.”