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Rule Proposed to Protect Sea Cucumbers

After a commercial operation was discovered overharvesting sea cucumbers earlier this year, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is seeking to regulate the catch and consumption of the marine creature throughout the state.

Previously, there were “no rules at all” protecting sea cucumbers, which serve an important purpose in the ocean, said Russell Sparks, aquatic biologist with the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR).

“The … thing that concerned us is the role these animals play on the reef,” Sparks explained. “They’re kinda like earthworms on land. They gotta turn the sediments over and clean it.”

Last week DLNR officials held a public hearing on Molokai to discuss proposed regulations with community members. The proposal comes at the tail end of a 120-day emergency ban on sea cucumber harvesting, which the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources approved on June 26 after receiving and confirming reports of a commercial operation on Oahu and Maui that was gathering sea cucumbers to market in China.

“The goal is to allow non-commercial personal use to continue at a reasonable level while preventing commercial exploitation,” said Sparks.

New regulations would prohibit taking or selling sea cucumbers for commercial consumption. The rules would, however, allow a harvesting season for commercial aquarium purposes. Those with aquarium permits and marine licenses would be able to collect two species of sea cucumbers—the tigertail and the pink and black variety—and only from Oahu waters. Each person would be limited to 20 per day, and once the annual catch limit of 3,600 is reached, the season would end.

When it comes to non-commercial use, residents would be allowed to take up to five sea cucumbers a day, as long as they “are taken and possessed for personal human use or consumption and not for commercial use or sale.”

Residents at the meeting supported the proposed rule and felt it would have little effect on Molokai.

“I think it’s not an issue here on Molokai,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Colette Machado. “People here are more cognizant of how to malama the ocean.”

Molokai fisherman Mervin Dudoit said in the past, Oahu fishermen used to collect sea cucumbers on the west end, but said he hasn’t noticed many Molokai residents harvesting the creatures.

“I think [the rule is] a good thing,” he said. “… Leave ‘em alone. They not doing anything to you. They doing good in the ocean.”

The full draft rule can be found at DAR’s website. Residents can send written testimony to the Division of Aquatic Resources, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813 or email to DLNRaquatics@hawaii.gov by Nov. 20.

Sparks said the division will review the testimony and decide whether changes need to be made to the proposed rule. If there are few changes, the rule will go to the land board in December. If approved, it will go to the attorney general’s office and finally to the governor.

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