LIHUE — Hawaii Supreme Court put the brakes on aquarium fishing in the state in a decision announced Wednesday.
The court ruled it is requiring the state to analyze the industry’s impacts on marine environments before issuing more commercial permits or allowing any collection.
“Today’s ruling from the Hawaii Supreme Court reverses all lower court decisions since 2012 and more than 60 years of previously unchallenged practice by the Department of Land and Natural Resources,” said Hawaii Attorney General, Doug Chin.
He continued: “We are reviewing the decision to determine what action the state will take in light of the ruling.”
Earthjustice started representing conservation groups and a few private citizens five years ago when they sued DLNR for not undertaking environmental review before issuing aquarium collection permits.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity were involved in the legislation, as well as Hawaii citizens Rene Umberger, Mike Nakachi, Ka’imi Kaupiko, and Willie Kaupiko.
They alleged DLNR was failing to comply with Hawaii’s Environmental Policy Act.
DLNR argued that aquarium fishing wasn’t under the purview of HEPA.
The Supreme Court ordered an injunction prohibiting commercial aquarium collection pending legal compliance, according to Earthjustice.
Conservationists on Kauai were encouraged with the decision, but those within the industry oppose a statewide ban on aquarium fish collection.
Aquarium fisherman Ron Tubbs told TGI he thinks DLNR has done a “great job in regulating and managing the industry with extensive studies.”
He said he and other aquarium fishers work with dive shops and other industries to make sure they’re not impacting fish populations and tourism.
“Sustainability is very important to us and we too wish to see lots of fish continue forever in Hawaii’s oceans,” Tubbs said in an email.
But, further regulating the aquarium fishing industry could increase the health of Hawaii’s coral reefs, said Kapaa marine biologist Katherine Muzik.
“They (fish) are an important thread in the fabric of reef life,” Muzik said. “For example, yellow tangs favor corals by nibbling on turf algae, thus keeping the reef clear for coral settlement and growth.”
Conservationist Gordon LaBedz said he’s heard strong arguments for having aquariums, but believes the Supreme Court “made a good decision.”
“People fly here and spend thousands of dollars to see our natural marine life,” he said. “There are impacts to stealing our most photogenic fish (and) our fish belong on our reefs, they’re part of Hawaii.”