Marine debris is defined as any solid material disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment. It is a chronic problem for Hawaiʻi that can be introduced by ships, arrive as wash from rivers, streams, and storm drains, or reach Hawaiʻi’s shores from ocean currents. Depending on its origin, marine debris also has the potential to introduce invasive species. Examples vary greatly, but include plastic bags, bottles, rubber slippers, derelict fishing gear, equipment, and nets, and abandoned or derelict vessels. Causes maybe accidental, natural disaster, illegal dumping, or abandonment of vessels. Land activities that can end up in the ocean include littering, dumping, improper waste management, and industrial losses. Also included are stormwater runoff, materials washed down storm drains, or trash deposited during storms, high winds, or waves.
A special case of marine debris is the materials adrift in the ocean or washing ashore that originated in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. These are referred to as Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD).
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) may be introduced in other ways through shipping activity, typically arriving through biofouling (previously referred to as hull fouling) or ballast water, or through purposeful introduction such as dumping. The majority of non-indigenous aquatic species seen in Hawai‘i today arrived on vessels as biofouling or in their ballasts. Many of these species cause negative impacts to important ecosystems.
Aquatic invasive species pose significant threat to Hawaiʻi’s native plants, animals, ecosystems, economy as well as the human population. While most island ecosystems in the world are highly vulnerable, Hawaiʻi’s isolation makes its ecosystems even more vulnerable than others.
Hawaiʻi contains 40% of the threatened and endangered species in the U.S. But as a major transportation hub and tourist destination, the threat of invasion can never be completely eradicated and requires constant vigilance.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Hawai‘i has the highest per capita noncommercial fisheries catch in the nation at 1.4 million fishing trips for a total near 2.7 million fish in 2011. For commercial fishing, the port of Honolulu ranks among the top ten fishing ports in the nation with $83 million dollars of fish landed in Honolulu Harbor in 2011.
Benchmark - Where we are now
  • Hawaiʻi’s position in the North Pacific Gyre makes it a hotspot for the aggregation of marine debris. Large floating debris impacts marine life such as seabirds, Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, and other species which ingest the debris or become entangled.
  • Concern over marine debris has received heightened attention recently as the world tracks JTMD. The Governor appointed Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) as the lead agency for JTMD, and they are preparing a response plan. The Department of Health (DOH) assesses and tests all JTMD for radiation.
  • The Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan (HI-MDAP) (2013) preparation was facilitated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. EPA with the active participation of the marine debris community, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic, and private interests.
  • DOH Compliance Assistance Office works with businesses to ensure compliance with DOH rules, regulations, and permits. This office held 24 workshops with businesses and other permit holders in 2012.
  • DOH Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch enforces illegal dumping in state waters and issues fines.
  • Fisheries – Both commercial and non-commercial fishing contribute to Hawaiʻi’s food security. Commercial fishing contributes directly to food security as well as to jobs in ways such as through fish auction, fish dealers, and grocers. Commercial fishers include bottomfish and pelagic fisheries, deepwater coral and coral reef fisheries, and crustacean fishing. Charter fishers are included in this category.
  • Recreational fishing is motivated by sport or pleasure. Fishermen often sell their catch through informal networks. Sport fishermen participate in several dozen fishing tournaments across the State of Hawai‘i annually. A 2006 University of Hawai‘i (UH) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) report estimates the economic impact of direct fishing tournament spending at $6.2 million annually, with non-tournament expenses such as airfare and hotel accounting for an additional $5.1 million annually. Others fish for reasons beyond sport or pleasure, such as for subsistence, sustenance, and tradition. Some call this “ohana fishing.”

Target – Where we would like to be
  • Through implementation of strategic actions in the 2013 HI-MDAP, the State reduces and prevents the impacts of marine debris.
  • Through implementation of strategic actions in the Hawaiʻi Aquatic Invasive Species Plan (2003) there is reduction of existing invasive species and further introductions can be avoided or eliminated shortly after they are discovered.
  • A permanent statewide AIS Coordinator is hired.
  • Education and awareness are increased as a major management strategy to more effectively control and prevent degradation of the ocean and coastal resources.
  • Research and development of new, innovative technologies for exploring, using, or protecting marine and coastal resources exists.

Increase in percent compliance with commercial fisheries reporting requirements 

As of July 2017, commercial fisheries are 96% compliant with reporting requirements. Licensed commercial fishers are now able to submit their monthly Commercial Fishing Report online . The monthly commercial fishing reports are required by law. It is DLNR’s goal to facilitate the collection of fishing reports, which provide invaluable data for both State and Federal government agencies who co-manage the fisheries in Hawaiian waters.

Agency: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources

Image: (Above) Getty Images, (Below) NOAA

Calendar Year (CY) Reporting Submissions
  • CY 2012: 32,915 fish reports were required, of which, 32,058, or 97.4%, were submitted
  • CY 2013: 32,721 fish reports were required, of which, 31,915, or 97.5%, were submitted
  • CY 2014: 32,248 fish reports were required, of which, 31,477, or 97.6%, were submitted
  • CY 2015: 31,939 fish reports were required, of which, 30,789, or 96.4%, were submitted
  • CY 2016: 30,855 fish reports were required, of which, 29,758, or 96.4%, were submitted
  • January through May 2017: 12,443 fish reports were required, of which, 11,944, or 96.0% were submitted

Increase in number of enforcement officers assigned exclusively to enforce fishing rules

While no enforcement officers are currently assigned to exclusively enforcing fishing rules, three officers are currently assigned to the Community Fisheries Patrol Unit (CFPU), a pilot program in north Maui. The CFPU enforces Hawaiʻi State fishing rules and regulations while spreading the message of sustainable fishing practices along a 13-mile stretch of Maui's coastline. Three DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers comprise the unit: a Makai Watch coordinator, a program coordinator, and a data manager. Eventually CFEU could be established statewide.

CFEU officers educate fisherman on the latest fishing rules. The unit was involved in the development of rules to restrict the mass harvesting of sea cucumbers in Hawaiian waters. After the issue was raised with CFEU officers, emergency rules were passed by the State Land Board to immediately shutdown mass harvesting on Maui and Oahu. Following this moratorium, DOCARE worked with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources to establish permanent rules which regulate the amount cucumbers that can be removed from state waters. To learn more, see DLNR's informational video on the creation of the emergency rule.

For more information, see the Fisheries Enforcement Unit press release (2013), Unit Update (2016), and DOCARE's informational video on the CFPU. Current fishing regulations (as of September 2016) are available online.

Agency: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement

Images: DLNR

Increase in number of targeted reef fish species that show an increase in size and/or abundance on at least one island

The Hawai′i marine aquarium fishery is currently the most economically valuable commercial inshore fishery in the State with Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 reported landings greater than $2.3 million. The West Hawai′i aquarium fishery has undergone substantial and sustained expansion over the past 38 years. Total catch and value have increased by 22% and 45% respectively since Fiscal Year (FY) 2000. Approximately 70% of the fish caught in the State and 67% of value presently comes from West Hawai′i. Concerns over continued expansion of the aquarium fishery and harvesting effects in the open areas prompted DLNR to establish in 2013 a ‘White List’ of 40 species which can be taken by aquarium fishers. All other species of fish and invertebrates are off limits.

Act 306 was enacted in 1998 to establish the West Hawai’i Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA). The bill's intent was to:

  • Manage fishery activities to ensure sustainability
  • Enhance nearshore resources
  • Minimize conflicts of use

The Act aimed to improve the management of fish resources in West Hawai’i by designating a minimum of 30% of the west Hawai’i coastline as aquarium Fish Replenishment Areas (FRAs), where aquarium fish collecting is prohibited.

The West Hawaiʻi Fishery Council developed a plan for a string of 9 'no aquarium collecting' FRAs that comprise 32.5% percent of the coastline. Including existing reserves, a total of 35 percent of the 150-mile Kona and Kohala coastline is closed to aquarium collecting. The local community was engaged through the WHFC, with 74 group members, more than 2,200 community attendees, and greater than 5,000 hours of volunteer service contributed towards the FRA initiative. The effectiveness of this management strategy was evaluated by the University of Hawaiʻi.

Since the establishment of the FRAs, species abundance of aquarium fish has rebounded substantially. Outward movement of adult Yellow Tang ( Zebrasoma flavescens ) from protected areas into surrounding areas (‘spillover’) augments adult stocks in open areas up to a kilometer or more away. Another important benefit of FRAs and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is an increase in the abundance of large, mature fish, which are able to produce more eggs and better sustain populations.

As seen in the graphs below, the abundance of Yellow Tang, a species which accounts for over 80% of aquarium fishery collection, has increased in density (#/100m2) by 137% in FRAs, 58% in MPAs, and 44% in open areas in West Hawaiʻi between 1999-2016. This observed growth in density amounts to a net increase of 2,131,755 yellow tang. Similar population increases were seen in the Achilles Tang, which has increased in density by 73% in FRAs, 90% in MPAs, and 83% in open areas during the same period.

For more information, see the DAR West Hawaiʻi Regional Fisheries Management website or review the Report on the Findings and Recommendations of Effectiveness of the West Hawai'i Regional Fishery Management Area (2015), prepared by DLNR-DAR in compliance with Act 306, SLH 1998, which requires a review of the effectiveness of the WHRFMA to be conducted every 5 years.

Agency: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources

Images: (Above) Getty Images, (Below) Honolulu Star Advertiser, Getty Images

Graphs courtesy of Dr. William J. Walsh, Hawai′i Division of Aquatic Resources

Title Image: Flickr