Bill aims for tighter restrictions on aquarium fishing

LIHUE — Aquarium fishermen can still take from Hawaii’s waters, in spite of a Supreme Court ruling that ended the issuance of aquarium fishing permits statewide until environmental review can be completed.

The practice has to be brought into compliance with the Hawaii Environmental Protection Act, the Court’s opinion states, but the ruling is specifically regarding Aquarium Fish Permits issued pursuant to HRS 188-31.

If fishermen don’t use a fine-meshed net (smaller than two-inch stretched mesh) to collect aquarium fish, they don’t need that permit, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“Generally, no permit is required to take fish from Hawaii waters for aquarium purposes,” said Bruce Anderson, with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.

If a fisherman takes any kind of fish from the water for commercial sale, a commercial marine license is required, and that’s how a fish could still be sold from Hawaii waters for aquariums in spite of the Court ruling.

“A Commercial Marine License is required to take aquatic life for all commercial purposes, whether it be for food or aquarium purposes,” Anderson said. “No additional permit is needed to take aquarium species with legal size mesh nets and traps.”

The nuances of the licensing and permits go against the spirit of the Supreme Court Ruling, according to Robert Winter, owner of Kauai-based Snorkel Bob’s, who saw the Court opinion as a victory after six years’ worth of effort.

“The spirit and intent was to shut down the aquarium trade pending compliance with HEPA,” Winter said. “They’re just changing the size of the nets.”

And while the Supreme Court is mandating HEPA compliance in the aquarium trade industry in relation to HRS 188-31, DLNR maintains compliance isn’t the entity’s responsibility.

HEPA compliance is the permit applicant’s job, DLNR representatives say, but they are helping with information sharing.

“These are applicant actions, so Aquarium Fish Permit applicants are responsible for complying with HEPA when they apply for a permit,” Anderson said.

He continued: “DLNR has assisted applicants by providing them with the data we have on aquarium fish populations and commercial landings.”

Meanwhile, SB2003 has surfaced in the Legislature, restricting the “taking of, for commercial purposes, aquatic life by any method of catch to those individuals who hold a valid, non-lapsed aquarium fish permit and commercial marine license.”

It also prohibits DLNR from issuing new aquarium fish permits to take aquatic life for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

But the measure also allows for the renewal of existing aquarium fish permits by those with a commercial marine license for five years, with the ability to transfer to people with a commercial marine license.

Lastly, the measure allows for the taking of, for non-commercial purposes, aquatic life subject to a limit of five aquatic specimens per day, “provided that fine meshed traps, fine meshed nets, throw nets or other prohibited catch methods are not used.”

Winter said he’s not convinced SB2003 is geared in the right direction.

“It expands on an illegal loophole that DLNR established with this whole mesh size thing and the (nuances) between permits and licenses,” Winter said. “They want to make it difficult for you to follow this, but the Supreme Court said the spirit is to shut down aquarium trade.”

The measure is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Water and Land Committee at 2:45 p.m. today.

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