Friday, June 5, 2009

Manta Ray bill becomes law

Governor Lingle today signed a bill into law protecting Manta Rays within state marine waters. Rep. Denny Coffman (District 6 – North Kona, Keauhou, Kailua-Kona, Honokohau) introduced the bill as a way to ensure that these unique sea creatures, captured and in demand for various uses, do not become endangered in Hawaii. According to ocean resource experts, Hawaii is the top Manta Ray destination in the world because of limited natural predators.

House Bill 366 was signed into law as Act 92 (09). The new law establishes criminal penalties and administrative fines for knowingly killing or capturing Manta Rays within state waters. Exceptions are made for research and educational purposes.

The fines are: $500 for the first offense; $2,000 for the second offense; and $10,000 for the third or subsequent offense.

The bill provides an exception for special permits granted for scientific, education, management or propagation purposes. It requires the Department of Land and Natural Resources to determine the allowed “take” under special permit circumstances.

The new law is now in effect. Prior to today, there were no laws protecting the Manta Ray in Hawaiian waters.

“I thought it was important to take action now before we face a serious loss of these magnificent creatures,” said Rep. Denny Coffman. “We are a state surrounded by water and protecting the Manta Rays is part of our role as stewards of the ocean.”

Manta Rays are not extinct, but considered “near threatened”, which means that they are in danger of becoming an extinct species in the near future. There are two small resident populations of Manta Rays in Hawaii under observation. One of the populations, about 150 in number, is located near the Big Island. The other is located near Maui and contains about 300. They are particularly vulnerable to extinction as they take a long time to reach maturity and they reproduce a single offspring every two or three years. The populations are relatively small.

Manta Rays are captured for display in aquariums, but their survival rate in captivity is poor. Manta Ray gill rakes and fins are also in demand in East Asia as a food delicacy.

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