Leading by Listening: Bold Steps Forward for Hawai‘i’s Ocean

Photo courtesy of Kua'āina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA)

This year, on World Ocean Day, Hawai‘i set an example for the rest of the world about how to take action to restore abundance to its spectacular coastlines, well-loved reefs, and deeply valued marine life.

Governor David Ige signed nine bills that advance new ocean protections for Hawai’i, including new revenue sources for restoration and management: a visitor fee on commercial ocean tours to fund restoration and conservation (HB 1019), fishing licenses for nonresidents (HB 1021), and new policies like shark protection (HB 553), adaptive management (HB 1020) and inspection authority for conservation officers to strengthen enforcement of existing laws (HB 1022). [Read more about these bills below.]

These bills represent a robust, community-supported series of actions to care for Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters and the life they support. As crowds of visitors return to Hawaii’s beaches after state residents enjoyed a quiet year during Covid quarantines, the timing couldn’t be better to implement laws and policies consistent with Hawai‘i’s deeply held respect and appreciation for its ocean.

Hawai‘i leadership on 30×30

The bills that Governor Ige signed on June 8 build on Hawai‘i’s commitment to effectively manage all its nearshore waters, including by establishing 30 percent as marine management areas by 2030. Hawai‘i was the first U.S. state to commit to the international 30×30 goal when Governor Ige made the pledge at the World Conservation Congress in 2016. The effort, called “Holomua: Marine 30×30,” means to go forward and represents Hawai‘i’s commitment to harnessing the wisdom of both traditional ecological knowledge and western science to restore the abundance of Hawai‘i’s marine resources so that local people may continue to enjoy their favorite coastal places and feed their families for generations to come.

Hawai‘i has put people at the heart of this effort from the start. Actively engaged community leaders and practitioners of traditional fishing and gathering methods are helping to shape the state’s 30×30 approach and ensure that it is centered on benefits—food security, economic, spiritual, health, and recreation—for the people and families of Hawai‘i. In that spirit, collaboration is key.

I first learned about Hawai‘i’s 30×30 effort in 2018. Having spent several years on O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island working on land and marine conservation efforts, and a decade with Resources Legacy Fund (RLF) supporting the development of California’s statewide network of marine protected areas, I wondered how I could help. I reached out to trusted colleagues and friends in Hawai‘i and after a series of exploratory conversations, RLF was invited to join the partnership. It has been a privilege to return to Hawai’i to help advance Holomua: Marine 30×30. I have brought with me strategic approaches and lessons learned from RLF’s experience implementing a science-based, stakeholder-designed statewide network of marine protected areas.

The Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) at Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) welcomed me in 2019 to the small and mighty Holomua: Marine 30×30 team to help craft a public-private partnership agreement, advise on initiative design, manage contracts, and help fundraise for this vital work. Through a memorandum of understanding signed in 2020 between DLNR, DAR, the Hawai’i Community Foundation (HCF), and RLF—we have agreed to implement the Marine 30×30 Initiative through a transparent and participatory process that will establish 30 percent of nearshore waters around each main Hawaiian island as marine management areas by 2030. To that end, HCF houses a pooled philanthropic fund—for which RLF is a fundraising partner—that has raised over $7 million to date. The pooled fund at HCF features the same respect for local people and communities as the Initiative itself and is guided by a diverse 10-member advisory committee with representatives from fishing, science, Hawaiian community groups, government, and philanthropy.

The pooled fund has begun supporting community-based monitoring programs, knowledge-sharing, staffing for the 30×30 Initiative, analysis and synthesis of monitoring data, and a robust and transparent process to engage Hawai‘i’s people in design of new marine management areas. In addition to RLF’s work with the Holomua: Marine 30×30 team, we strive to build capacity and knowledge among the full range of partners advancing this work. The policy progress made on June 8 is one sign that our work is making a difference. As we’ve helped connect our partners who have strong local knowledge and experience to experts in communications, policy, and advocacy, we are seeing a transformation take place, growing local capacity and engagement in the legislative process and policy development.

Marine management is more than mapping geographic areas and species protections. It is a commitment to listening and learning: listening to community partners and learning from traditional cultural practices. With nine bills signed in one session—in spite of the challenges of Covid—it seems Hawai’i is on a path to model ocean conservation for the world. Local community members are leading with passion, experience, and vision, and the state is listening.

We extend our deepest gratitude to our partners in Hawai‘i for their warm welcome and look forward to continuing to successfully transform management of Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters by working together. It has been  the honor of a lifetime to bring my family back to this special place and spend my days working to ensure that other families can enjoy the abundance of these waters for many generations to come. Mahalo!

More information on Hawaii’s June 8 ocean protection bills:

  • HB1022 (Natural resource inspections) – Authorizes DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources officers to inspect coolers or other containers which could carry regulated aquatic life.
  • HB 1023 (Nonresident recreational marine fishing license) – Establishes and requires a marine recreational fishing license for all non-Hawai‘i residents. Visitors will need to purchase this license in order to fish from the shoreline or a boat in Hawaiian waters. Revenues generated by license sales will help support fishing opportunities and provide state-matching funds for the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program. It’s estimated once up and running, fishing licenses for non-residents will generate upwards of $1 million annually. In the newsNew Hawai’i Law Requires Fishing Licenses for Non-Residents | Under a new law, non-residents will be required to get a license to go fishing
  • HB1020 (Adaptive management) – Authorizes the Board of Land and Natural Resources to implement effective and adaptive management measures in response to rapidly changing conditions, such as size and bag limits, closed seasons and gear restrictions when needed in extraordinary situations. [Becomes effective Oct. 1, 2021].  
  • SB772 (Special license plates) – Authorizes the issuance of special license plates relating to forest and ocean conservation. Revenues will be deposited into special funds for forest stewardship and beach restoration.  
  • HB 553 (Shark protection) – Prohibits the taking of sharks in State waters and authorizes DLNR to implement the measure. Exemptions include scientific research, public safety, and self-defense. (Becomes effective, Jan. 1, 2022). In the newsHawaii Marks World Oceans Day with 9 New Laws to Protect Sharks and Marine Life | Ige signs laws to protect sharks, crabs, lobsters | US Senate Approves Ban on Sale of Shark Fins as Hawai’i Enacts Shark Protection Act
  • HB1016 (Commercial Marine Vessel Licenses, CMVL) – allows DLNR to issue a single CMVL for all persons aboard a vessel. [Rules and fees to be established by administrative rules].  
  • HB1017 (Crustaceans) – Repealed statute prohibiting the taking or killing of female spiny lobsters, Kona and Samoan crabs. DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources has administrative rules that mirrored the statute and can modify regulations as necessary through the rulemaking process. [No change to regulations yet, but rulemaking planned for take of female Kona crabs].  
  • HB1018 (Lay net permits) – Authorizes DLNR to establish rules for lay net permits for use or possession. Requires annual permit renewal and the ability to withhold or revoke permits for violators.  

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