Ban on taking fish for aquariums now statewide

HONOLULU — State officials have expanded the aquarium fishing ban to West Hawaii after a 2017 state Supreme Court ruling requiring environmental review prior to collection for the commercial aquarium trade.

“As a result of these court decisions it is clear that fine mesh nets cannot be used anywhere in Hawaii in the commercial aquarium trade until the environmental review process has been completed,” said Bruce Anderson, administrator of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.

He continued: “Given the intent of the court ruling, any taking of aquarium fish or other animals for the commercial pet trade in West Hawaii is prohibited until the environmental review has been completed.”

Aquarium fishing permits in Hawaii were declared invalid after the October 2017 Supreme Court decision authored by Judge Jeffrey Crabtree, and spokespeople for DLNR said then that the department would “fully comply” with that decision.

Conservationists on Kauai said they are concerned not only about statewide resources, but Kauai’s unique underwater environment and the potential for overfishing to impact the reefs.

“People fly here and spend thousands of dollars to see our natural marine life,” said Gordon LaBedz, of the whale conservation group Kohola Leo. “There are impacts to stealing our most photogenic fish (and) our fish belong on our reefs, they’re part of Hawaii.”

The state stated in October that officials continue to “believe that existing aquarium fishing practices are sustainable and environmentally sound,” a statement which shall be explored in the environmental review of aquarium fishing in the state.

When the halt was put on permits, there were 231 active commercial collection permits in Hawaii, according to DLNR.

Representatives from Earthjustice, the environmental law organization that represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the main concern is that too many fish and other wildlife are being taken without proper regulation.

“We asked the court to order the halting of commercial collection under existing permits because, given DLNR’s historical refusal to acknowledge the aquarium trade’s impacts, plaintiffs have no faith DLNR will take any action to prevent the ongoing illegal collection on its own,” said Earthjustice attorney Summer Kupau-Odo.

Statewide, aquarium fishing came to a halt after the ruling — everywhere, except for West Hawaii, which has its own set of rules for aquarium collection.

Friday, the state announced the rules apply to West Hawaii as well.

“Although the state permit referenced in the rules is not defined, the intent of the Supreme Court decision is clear,” Anderson said.

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