Court: Taking aquarium fish might violate environmental law

LIHUE — The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has stopped issuing new aquarium fish permits, and has stopped the renewal of existing ones after a Wednesday ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

“(DLNR) has long issued annual commercial and recreational aquarium fish permits…authorizing the use of fine meshed traps or nets to take aquatic life for aquarium purposes” said Dan Dennison, DLNR spokesman.

He continued: “The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that aquarium collection using fine meshed traps or nets is subject to the environmental review procedures provided in the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA). The issue has been remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.”

Aquarium permits are issued for state-wide fishing, according to the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources and records are kept with the Administrative Commercial Marine Licensing System.

“In other words, regardless of where the aquarium permit was obtained, it can be used anywhere in the state,” DAR representatives said in a statement to TGI.

A total of 235 commercial aquarium permits and 180 recreational aquarium permits were issued by the state in the year between Sept. 7, 2016 and Sept. 6, 2017, according to the DAR.

By island, 26 commercial and 4 recreational permits were issued on Hawaii Island; one commercial permit and one recreational permit were issued on Maui; two commercial permits and two recreational permits were issued on Kauai; and 206 commercial and 173 recreational permits were issued on Oahu.

Aquarium permits issued through the Public CMLS are credited to Oahu, according to DAR representatives.

For the year 2017, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 6, 2017, Hawaii Island recorded 19 commercial permits and three recreational permits; Kauai logged two commercial permits and one recreational permit; Maui distributed one commercial permit and no recreational permits; and Oahu recorded 164 commercial permits and 133 recreational permits.

Wednesday, Sept. 6, the Hawaii Supreme 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.

It’s a five-year legal battle in which the environmental law firm Earthjustice is representing The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity and 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.

Thursday, Hawaii Attorney General, Doug Chin said the ruling reverses all lower court decisions in the matter since 2012.

“We are reviewing the decision to determine what action the state will take in light of the ruling,” he said.


Associated Press contributed to this report.


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