HONOLULU — A new evaluation of the aquarium industry’s environmental impact is out for public comment, part of an effort to bring aquarium trade into compliance with the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act.
That’s following a September 2017 Hawaii Supreme Court decision to ban commercial aquarium fishing with fine mesh nets until the industry could prove it could pass environmental review.
At that time, Hawaii aquarium fishing permits issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources were declared invalid.
Before those permits can be declared valid again, the industry has to prove they can capture fish from the waters around Hawaii Island for aquarium sales without harming the environment, fish stock levels, reefs or cultural practices attached to the fish, among other things.
After that Supreme Court ruling, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council submitted two full final environment assessments to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which detail the information required by the courts specifically for West Hawaii reefs.
It wasn’t enough information, however, and in July 2018, BLNR Chair Suzanne Case told PIJAC the industry had to produce a more detailed environmental impact statement on commercial aquarium fishing to satisfy the requirement.
The first draft of that 480-page EIS is now up for public review, and citizens have until Jan. 7 to comment on the document.
In this DEIS the aquarium trade surmises the unlimited collection of Hawaii’s reef animals has a minimal impact on the state’s coral reef ecosystem.
It also outlines the industry’s preferred way forward — a “limited permit issuance alternative,” which basically limits aquarium permits to 14 aquarium fishers in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.
Some Hawaii fishermen, cultural practitioners and those in the snorkeling industry oppose the commercial aquarium collection because they see a major impact on the reefs because of the practice.
Kauai’s Robert Wintner, the “Snorkel Bob” behind Snorkel Bob’s on Kauai, has come out against the practice, and actively hosts an anti-aquarium campaign that includes educational materials like books, videos and other media.
In his materials, Wintner says only 2% of fish that end up in aquariums are captive bred, and points out much of that 98% of wild-caught fish come from Hawaii waters.
Others have come out against Hawaii commercial aquarium collection, including the environmental law firm Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Both point out the fish are needed in the reefs to help rehabilitate after bleaching and to help keep the coral healthy.
“Hawaii needs its reef fish now more than ever before,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Hawaii is expected to lose 70% of our coral reefs in the next couple of decades, so we don’t have time for aquarium industry-sponsored justifications for raiding the reefs. Our reefs depend upon the restoration of that balance and the return to natural abundance,” said Phillips.
Opponents say their bottom line is that the DEIS is based on the “false premise” that aquarium collecting doesn’t impact fish populations on the reefs where the trade operates.
They also stress their point that there needs to be some kind of limits on take for the aquarium industry.
“DLNR can’t ignore the 800-pound gorilla that, except for bag limits for a limited number of species, nothing prohibits these collectors from taking every single fish from every single reef in the state,” said Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz. “It’s common sense that this level of unrestricted take can’t be sustainable.”
Read the DEIS: bit.ly/2Ox1z96