HONOLULU - New data released by local scientists show Hawaii's coral and reef fish are in serious decline.

The Nature Conservancy presented a briefing at the State Capitol for lawmakers Thursday on how to better protect ocean resources.

Hawaii's heat waves of 2014 and 2015 were ground zero for Hawaii's sea life, a massive bleaching event.

Representatives from NOAA Pacific Island Fisheries said the Big Island saw 56 percent of it's coral bleached. 44 percent was impacted along West Maui
and 32 percent on O'ahu.

"Nearly half of the corals actually died because of that event. So that's losing (in terms of live corals on our reef) half of them from a single event," said Tom Oliver.

Scientists also pointed out, overflowing sewage and exposure to light can also trigger bleaching events.

Representatives Kaniela Ing and Chris Lee hosted the discussion which also touched on the status of Hawaii's supply of reef fish. Like coral, the drop off is severe.

A research team from the University of Hawaii compiled data for 15 years and found a 90 percent decline in overall catch from the last 100 years. That includes fish like, ulua, moi and 'o'io.  

Dr. Alan Friedlander said expanding marine reserves around the islands could help with restoration. He also suggested stricter enforcement.

"We don't have enough enforcement out there. Enforcement is quite low in Hawai'i compared to most other states. So that would definitely improve the adherence to a lot of regulations and probably help restore the populations," Friedlander explained.

But some local fisherman who attended the briefing disagree and call that robbery: stealing their livelihoods.  Makani Christensen of the Hunting, Farm and Fishing Association said restrictions aren't the answer.


"Each community should be concerned. Each fisherman should be concerned because it could be your backyard's next where you lose your fishing grounds and it's more than just losing your fishing grounds. Its losing the ability to feed your families. That's something that's very important," Christensen said.  

This is a debate that will be hard fought going in to next year's legislative session.