Hawaii passes emergency sea cucumber ban

Published: Jun. 26, 2015 at 10:03 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 26, 2015 at 11:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The State Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday passed a 120-day emergency ban on the taking, possessing, selling or offering of any sea cucumbers harvested from Hawaii waters until long term rules regulating their take can be created to ensure the sustainability of the fishery.

Hawaii Aquatic Resource officials believe the sea cucumber fisheries in Hawaii are facing "imminent peril" with the recent discovery of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 being harvested off Maui and Oahu for an export business that profits on the mostly Asian demand for the species as food and for medicine.  The sea cucumber is prized for its medicinal properties in the treatment of cancer, joint disease and arthritis.

According to state documents submitted for the proposed rules, officials say they have found that 17 individuals are getting paid about $5 for each sea cucumber, with each person collecting about 200 per day, at a total of nearly $1,000 per day. The company is processing and drying the sea cucumbers for shipment to China, according to the investigation.

The squishy tube-shaped invertebrates play a critical role in the Marine ecosystem. They are referred to as the "recyclers of the reef" or "vacuums of the sea." They clean up the sea bed by ingesting all kinds of organic matter and then discharging clean sand. Removing too many of the slow moving animals from their habit can impact their ability to reproduce and therefore lead to depletion, say officials.

Research cited in the ban's proposal says that it takes decades for this particular fishery to come back after it's been depleted, and that's why state officials want to make sure that the animals are properly regulated to ensure their long term viability in order to maintain a balanced Marine ecosystem in the islands.

The finding of "imminent peril" of the animal allows the BLNR to justify its legal authority to take emergency action and circumvent its traditional 30-day public rule making process. 

Now that it has passed, those caught violating the law could face civil and criminal fines and even jail time.

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