For over a decade now, Robert Wintner has tried to get the State of Hawaii to clamp down on the aquarium fishing trade. A dedicated conservationist, he’s also the owner of Snorkel Bob’s, a snorkel gear rental company with shops all around Hawaii and a vested interest in helping people see healthy, vibrant marine ecosystems.
For the first half of this year, it looked like Wintner might finally get his way. Senate Bill 1240, a compromise measure that would have phased out new aquarium collecting permits in the state, passed both the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Senate. On June 29, Wintner wrote an op-ed for Honolulu Civil Beat calling on Governor David Ige to sign the bill.
“We implore Gov. David Ige to sign Senate Bill 1240 to keep Hawaii’s native and endemic wildlife on Hawaii reefs instead of shipping it out to tanks across the United States, Europe and Asia,” Wintner wrote. “China is the fastest-growing market for Hawaii reef wildlife. Ending aquarium permit issuance will not guarantee survival for Hawaii reefs. Our reefs face many challenges, but the governor can eliminate one serious, entirely unnecessary and immoral threat.”
But on July 11, apparently acting on the strong recommendation from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Governor David Ige vetoed the bill. This wasn’t actually a surprise, considering that the DLNR has long opposed measures to constrict the aquarium collecting trade and Suzanne Case, chairperson of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, testified before various legislative committees that reef fish like the yellow tang have actually been thriving over the past decade.
Outraged, Wintner decided to strike back by forming a new political action committee (PAC). Called REEFPAC, it’s based in Kihei, according to the organizational report released by the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission on July 20. The organizational report lists former Hawaii Rep. Jessica Wooley as deputy chairperson.
“REEFPAC is a Hawaii non-candidate Super PAC dedicated to replacing corruption and weakness in the reef state,” Wintner told me.
While a Super PAC cannot contribute money to political parties or candidates, it can spend money on political issues and raise unlimited sums of money from individuals, corporations, etc.
Given Wintner’s outspoken advocacy for marine conservation (and against the aquarium trade), REEFPAC will definitely be something to watch as we get closer to next year’s legislative session.
Photo of yellow tangs in La Perouse Bay: Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr