Hawai’i’s fish and seafood industry is booming, thanks to the efforts of the state’s new governor and the backing of an industry that had been largely neglected during the Great Recession.
But the state, once one of the most depressed in the country, has returned to economic growth after years of stagnation.
It’s been an enormous turnaround.
“I think it’s important to understand that Hawaii is no longer in the depths of the recession,” said Ken Loh, director of the Center for Hawai’I Studies at the University of Hawai’ili.
“That is the reality of this recovery, and it’s not going to go away.”
Loh said the state has returned nearly $4 billion in annual sales tax revenue and has recovered nearly $1 billion of its $6 billion in lost revenue during the recession, bringing in more than $7 billion since he took office in 2018.
In a report released Monday, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said Hawaii’s economy was worth $1.9 billion in 2020, with a net profit of $923 million.
Its gross state product rose to $1,638 billion from $1 (1.6 billion) a year earlier, thanks in part to increased exports and a boom in tourism.
The state also is in the midst of a two-year boom in real estate, with the housing market now worth nearly $2.3 billion.
But there is a major problem: The state still has a serious backlog of permits and licenses needed to import seafood and other seafood products into the state.
In the first half of 2021, the state had less than 1,500 seafood products waiting for approval.
In addition, the Department of Land and Natural Resources is working to address an influx of applications from states that have approved the import of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, which has been wiped out by the Pacific decimated sea ice.
The department has announced an expedited process to expedite approvals.
Loh praised Gov.
David Ige, who has called for the importation of Hawaiian fish in recent weeks, for his aggressive response to the import problem.
“The governor is working tirelessly to get approval for the seafood,” he said.
Lah said the government has also announced new regulations that will allow Hawaii’s ports to be open on Saturdays.
He said the ports have already processed about 2,500 containers, compared with the number needed to ship about 10,000 tons a day.
That will allow the state to ramp up production, he said, and he said the export program could start again in 2019.
But it will take time, and there is still a long way to go.
For one thing, there are still hurdles for the government to clear.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Monday that the department still has an inventory of about 1.7 million pounds of Hawaiian monk seals left in the state after the government decided in December to take them off the endangered species list.
And the Department to date has received only about 3,000 applications for permits for the export of Hawaiian seafood.
That’s a large portion of the 1.1 million pounds the state needs to export to other countries.
The agency said it was not yet ready to make a final decision about whether it would approve permits for shipments.
It also has to finalize all applications for licenses, including those from the state and the federal government, and then complete the process to send the seafood to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
There’s a long road ahead, and the state is taking all the time it can to get it done, said Loh.
But he added that the state will continue to focus on helping fishermen and the people who buy and sell them, which is important.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure that the market is healthy and that people are getting the seafood they need,” he added.
“There is a lot of work to do to get there.” Related: