A Maui coffee farmer said controlling invasive species such as the coqui frog and fire ant is a Big Island problem.
“They already have them, we don’t. Why put the cost on us?” asked Bobbie Becker, owner of Maui Mountain Coffee Farm. “They’ve got it there.”
Becker is a supporter of state Senate Bill 2347 — written as an attempt to control the spread of invasive species to the local agriculture industry — which soon will be taken up by the House Finance Committee.
Parts of the bill would prohibit the transportation of the pests and establishes penalties for violations, including language that would require any commercial entity that transports invasive species to pay a fine equal to the value of the infested shipment.
Eric Tanouye, president of Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and vice president of Green Point Nurseries, called the bill “a detriment to the Big Island.”
“They are distracting, and distracting all of us from the main objective,” he said. “How do we make ag thrive on the Big Island and in the State of Hawaii?”
Springer Kaye, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, said the committee agrees with the intent of the bill, but does not support SB 2347 and thinks it puts the Big Island at a disadvantage.
“Unfortunately, SB 2347 specifically targets the already struggling horticulture and agriculture economy on the Island of Hawaii, without providing any appropriation to re-establish the state programs required to effectively stop the spread of invasive species,” she said. “Rather than creating a path toward a healthy exchange of pest-free, island-grown produce, this bill will put a stop to any intraisland, and in some cases, cross-island trade.”
Big Island Reps. Faye Hanohano and Clift Tsuji were among the six representatives who voted in favor of the measure March 21.
Tsuji said he voted with “strong reservations” and recognizes the concerns of Big Island ag supporters.
“They have strong doubts and disagree with what the purpose of the bill is trying to do,” he said. “They think it would devastate the industry,” he said.
Tsuji thinks the state could take a different approach at solving the spread of invasive species.
“We have to stop the spread of invasive species in the state of Hawaii,” he said. “How do we do that? By getting inspectors, inspectors, inspectors.”
“Our industry is 100 percent for the Department of Agriculture hiring more full-time inspectors,” he said.
Kaye also believes there are better alternatives to solving the problem.
“In SB 2347 and similar punitive bills, the Legislature attempts to address problems directly resulting from a decade of defunding successful state programs and positions including the Hawaii Department of Agriculture inspection and pest control programs, Hawaii Department of Health Vector Control Branch, Division of Forestry and Wildlife Invasive Species technicians and the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, which received zero dollars in general funds in 2007 and from 2010-13,” she said in an email.
The bill would put the state Department of Agriculture in charge of identifying infested areas, providing information about managing and mitigating the pest populations and working with commercial entities to implement the practices.
Janelle Saneishi, DOA public information officer, said the department will host a private meeting on the bill this week.
“Our legislative team says the department supports the intent of the bill, which is to prevent the movement of invasive species interisland,” she said. “We have set a meeting with the industry to hear their concerns to come up with a bill that is effective but does not overburden our local farmers and growers.”