New Hawaii Aquarium Bill Prohibits Harassment of Fishers in a Marine Environment

24 Jan, 2015

An underwater altercation between aquarium fishermen and anti-aquarium activists grabbed nationwide attention in May, 2014

An underwater altercation between aquarium fishermen and anti-aquarium activists grabbed nationwide attention in May, 2014

House Bill 511 will likely be the second aquarium fish bill introduced to the State of Hawaii’s 28th Legislature. The Bill, which will be introduced by Representatives Cindy Evans, Nicole Lowen, Mark Nakashima, Richard Onishi and Joy San Buenaventura, would prohibit the harassment of persons marine fishing and aquarium fishing. The Bill also specifically addresses the enforcement of harassment “as a duty of a conservation and resources enforcement officer.” The first aquarium bill of 2015–SB 322, which would prohibit the sale of aquatic life for aquarium purposes–was introduced yesterday in the Senate.

HB 511 would amend the Hawaii Revised Statues to read:

No person shall intentionally prevent or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish by a person permitted pursuant to section 188-31, licensed pursuant to section 188-50, or fishing in marine waters within the State’s jurisdiction by:

  1. Placing the person’s self in a location in which human presence may affect the behavior of fish to be taken or the feasibility of taking such fish;

  2. Creating a visual, aural, olfactory, or physical stimulus to affect the behavior of fish to be taken;

  3. Affecting the condition or placement of personal property intended for use in the taking; or

  4. Obstructing the person’s access to areas in which the person intends to lawfully take fish.

Conflict between anti-aquarium fishery activists and aquarium fishers is par for the course in Hawaii–especially on Big Island, which is home to the State’s largest’s aquarium fishery. In the past few years, that conflict has escalated, culminating in an underwater confrontation last May between divers acting in association with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and aquarium fishers. While Sea Shepherd staff and other anti-fishery activists defend their actions, calling them “documentation” or “observation,” aquarium fishers maintain it often amounts to harassment. As one fisherman told me, “It interferes with our legal, permitted livelihood, and that shouldn’t be allowed.”

In several cases, aquarium fishers have attempted to bring charges of harassment against anti-trade activists, but those cases are usually dropped because, according to state law, there is no regulation in place specifically against harassment of a fisher in the marine environment. While there is a provision for bringing harassment charges against an individual interfering with freshwater fishing, at this time, marine fishers have no such explicit protection. “There are still ways charges may be brought,” a source well-versed in state law told me last spring, “but it’s not as cut and dry as if a similar thing happened in freshwater.”

HB 511 could change that.


In addition to explicitly prohibiting the harassment of a fisher in the marine environment, HB 511 addresses how the new law would be enforced. In previous cases where harassment has been claimed by aquarium fishers, there has been some question as to who has enforcement jurisdiction. HB 511 directs “the conservation and resources enforcement officers” to “Enforce the laws relating to harassment, specifically, criminal harassment pursuant to section 711-1106, hunter harassment pursuant to section 183D-27.5, and harassment of fishermen pursuant to section 188-71.”

HB 511 would not “affect rights and duties that matured, penalties that were incurred, and proceedings that were begun before its effective date.” The Bill would become effective immediately upon its approval.

What’s Next?

It is common for a number of bills relating to the aquarium fishery to be introduced each year in the Hawaii Legislature. In addition to HB 511 and SB 322, Representative Cindy Evans’s office confirmed she will be “introducing a bill that would enact a moratorium on aquarium fishing.” The cutoff date for bills to be introduced is 29 January. After a bill is introduced it will be referred to a committee or jointly referred to multiple committees. Stay informed about about the status of these bills and how interested parties can submit testimony by subscribing to The Good Catch Blog, liking The Good Catch Blog Facebook page or signing-up for the CORAL Magazine electronic newsletter and subscribing to the digital or print magazine.

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About the author

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Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is an award-winning writer and photojournalist who writes frequently on sustainability issues. He lives with his wife, artist Karen Talbot, in Rockland, Maine.


  1. January 30, 2015

    WOW! And “Ocean Gag” Law! Proving these thieves of our oceans have much to hide!!!

  2. January 30, 2015

    Destroying the Ocean From Your Living Room

    Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

    How do Aquarium fishermen in Hawaii prevent any documentation of illegal activity by conservationists? The answer is, they get a legislator to make it a crime to document illegal activity.

    That is exactly what is being introduced into the Hawaiian legislature with House Bill 511.

    Not surprising. When there is a buck to be made from any enterprise, there will be legislation created to protect it.

    Sea Shepherd has never interfered with Hawaiian fishermen but in response to documenting a fishing activity last year a Sea Shepherd diver was physically assaulted. The assault goes unpunished and instead legislation is introduced to ban any further documentation. And the only reason aquarium fishermen do not want documentation would be to prevent any evidence gathering of illegal fishing operations.

    Every year more than one hundred million fish are caught for home aquarium and most of these fish die within a year or so. Aquarium fish capture is diminishing coral reef eco-systems around the world and causing irreparable damage to oceanic eco-systems.

    It is difficult of course for the home aquarium hobbyist to comprehend how their hobby can be so destructive. How can a few fish in their tank contribute to the destruction of coral reefs? The answer is ten million hobbyists constantly buying fish that die and need to be replaced.

    Fish belong in the Ocean and not in your living room or office. – Captain Paul Watson

  3. AJ
    February 02, 2015

    You guys do know of the article and research that was just released a couple weeks ago, right? They have been studying the fish population the last 5 years and it has substantially increased, even with all of the aquarium hobbyists removing livestock from the ocean. They also found the biggest reason why the fish population has slowed down at all is from pollution. Our carbon foot print is what we all need to be working on.

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