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Taxing Tourists to Protect Oceans a Top Goal of 9 Marine Bills Signed Tuesday

By Max Dible
June 8, 2021, 3:46 PM HST
* Updated June 8, 3:55 PM
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Governor David Ige celebrated World Oceans Day by signing into law nine pieces of legislation that he described as collectively “critical to Hawai´i’s future as an ocean state and ocean community.”

The bills cover a wide range of ocean issues, including the criminalization of entangling and killing sharks, the creation of revenue through tourism that will be directly invested into ocean stewardship, and better enabling conservation officers to enforce laws that protect the state’s oceans and the marine life that dwells there.

Healthy reef in Hawai‘i. PC: K. Stamoulis.

“A lot of these bills have been many, many years in the making,” Big Island Representative Nicole Lowen, who chairs the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection, said via Zoom at a press conference convened Tuesday, June 8, in Honolulu.

The bills that were signed into law by the governor are as follows:

  • 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  • HB1017 Repealed statute prohibiting the taking or killing of female spiny lobsters, Kona and Samoan crabs.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 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.
  • HB1019 Ocean Stewardship Special Fund created through fees on visitors using ocean resources 
  • HB1020 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]. 
  • HB1022 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]. 
  • HB1023 Nonresident recreational marine fishing license to charge visitors who want to fish Hawaiian waters.
  • HB772 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. 
  • HB553 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). 

Stewardship Fund to Collect Fees From Tourists

The establishment of a Hawai‘i Ocean Stewardship Special Fund, created through HB 1019, is intended to provide more consistent and reliable support for the conservation, protection, restoration, and management of Hawai‘i’s precious and endangered marine resources. 

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It will achieve this by collecting money from visitors to the Hawaiian Islands through a fee structure, which will keep tourists financially responsible for the state’s ocean resources with which they interact.

Video courtesy of DLNR.
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“Hundreds of millions of visitors have enjoyed our magnificent ocean resources for decades without directly contributing to the management and protection of them,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “This new fund provides a framework to collect fees from visitors who use our waters.” 

Some provisions of the law went into effect upon signing, but the user fee will not begin until Jan. 1, 2024. It establishes a user fee of $1 per person, collected by commercial ocean operators providing vessel-based activities to passengers or vessel-free services to customers. Depending on tourism numbers, the user fee could generate anywhere from $14 million to more than $30 million over 15 years.  

In addition to user fees, other sources will contribute to the fund. These include state land lease revenues (lands, facilities, equipment) under DLNR jurisdiction that are utilized for or dedicated to the management, research, restoration, and enhancement of aquatic resources. 

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This sustainable funding source is critical as the state implements its Holomua: Marine 30×30 Initiative to effectively manage the State’s nearshore waters. The initiative establishes 30% of nearshore waters as a network of marine management areas to benefit fisheries and ecosystem resilience by the year 2030.  

Recreational Fishing License Established For All Non-Hawai‘i Residents

House Bill 1023, also signed by the governor Tuesday, 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.   

Charter boat clients are included in the new law, which took effect immediately upon signing. However, the bill requires the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) to first adopt a corresponding administrative rule and to develop a licensing system. This process could take close to a year to complete. 

Anaehoomalu / Image: James Grenz

According to DAR administrator Brian Neilson, the bill was a component of an administrative package submitted to the 2021 legislature by DLNR.

“Marine fishing opportunities attract thousands of visitors each year, including tournament professionals,” he said. “Visitors will gladly pay to fish premier fisheries and support fisheries management in Hawai‘i.”  

Most states require fishing licenses, so getting a license should prove routine for most fishers, the DLNR said.

Revenues generated by license sales will help support fishing opportunities and provide state-matching funds for the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Program.

By law, revenues will be put into a special fund that can only be used for sport fish management. Recreational fishing license revenues must, by law, be deposited into a special fund and may be used only for sport fish management. DAR has a number of continuing sport fish restoration projects, including fish aggregating devices (FADs), artificial reefs, fish stocking, and others which benefit recreational fishers. 

Out-of-state fishing license fees: 

  • One-day license $20 
  • Seven-day license $40 
  • Annual license $70 
  • No license needed for children 15 and younger 
  • No license needed for active military, spouses, and children 

DLNR has the option of increasing fees, but not more than once every five years, and increases must be tied to the consumer price index. It’s estimated once up and running, fishing licenses for non-residents will generate upwards of $1 million annually. 

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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