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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:32 p.m., Friday, May 20, 2005

Advisory group: Ban black coral harvests for 5 years

By Audrey McAvoy
Associated Press

An advisory group recommended imposing a five-year ban on harvesting the state gemstone, black coral, in Hawaiian waters because younger populations of the favored jewelry source have been declining.

The ban should also be extended if black coral populations do not recover after the five-year period, the scientists advising the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council said.

The council, a federally funded body responsible for managing U.S. fisheries in the western Pacific, will consider the recommendation when it meets in Honolulu from May 31 to Jun. 2.

Black coral is a living organism that attaches itself to a base rock in deep waters and grows like a plant. People harvest the animal's skeleton after it dies for use in jewelry and other decorative objects.

The council's Scientific and Statistical Committee added researchers should analyze the size of black coral at different depths and locations during the moratorium, the council said this week.

Experts should also examine the impact alien coral species have on black coral development, they said.

The committee also recommended steps to crack down on the unsustainable exploitation of Pacific bigeye tuna, whose meat is prized in Hawai'i and Japan for sashimi.

The council is tasked with protecting fishery resources in the U.S. exclusive economic zones — or up to 200 miles offshore — around western Pacific islands, including Hawai'i, Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa.

It also aims to maintain opportunities for sustainable fishing in these areas.