Hawaii to impose a user fee that will help with ocean conservation efforts

Gov. David Ige has signed into law a bill that establishes a fee on ocean tour operators and other marine business activities to aid in conservation efforts.

The Hawaii Ocean Stewardship Special Fund was proposed in the Hawaii House of Representatives this year, and the new fee will go into effect on the first day of 2024 with the goal of contributing to the restoration, protection and management of the state's marine resources.The law establishes a user fee of $1 per person, collected by commercial ocean operators providing everything from sunset cruises to snorkel and scuba excursions.

"Hundreds of millions of visitors have enjoyed our magnificent ocean resources for decades without directly contributing to the management and protection of them," Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources chairwoman Suzanne Case said in a statement. "This new fund provides a framework to collect fees from visitors who use our waters."

Depending on tourism numbers, the new fee is expected to generate from $14 million to $30 million over 15 years, according to the DLNR. State land lease revenues from lands and facilities under DLNR jurisdiction also will contribute to the fund.

"Our beautiful oceans and vibrant ecosystems set Hawaii apart from other visitor destinations," DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources administrator Brian Neilson said in a statement. "Our oceans are under continuing threats from repeated coral bleaching events, pollution, marine debris and unsustainable fishing practices. The economic importance of ocean tourism requires a steady investment for critical marine management. The Ocean Stewardship Special Fund is a win-win for reefs, residents, visitors and the economy across the state."

This sustainable funding source is critical as the state implements its Holomua: Marine 3030 Initiative to effectively manage near-shore waters, according to the DLNR. The initiative establishes 30% of near-shore waters as a network of marine management areas to benefit fisheries and ecosystem resilience by the year 2030.

Additionally, Ige signed House Bill 1023 into law, requiring non-Hawaii residents to purchase a marine recreational fishing license in order to fish. Revenues generated by the sale of licenses will go toward sport fish management.
The rule won't go into effect until administrative processes are established, which could take about a year, officials said. The state estimates that fishing license fees will generate more than $1 million per year once the program launches

The two bills were among nine that Ige signed into law that are targeted at protecting the marine environment.

"Together these bills will criminalize intentional entangling and killing of sharks in state waters, produce new revenue through tourism that will be directly invested into ocean stewardship programs, enable state agencies to better manage our fisheries, while reducing economic and administrative burdens on the fishers," Ige said in a statement.

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