Comment now on aquarium fishing impacts

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:

  1. harry oyama December 2, 2019 2:48 am Reply

    Why do people need to get exotic fishes to look at in their personal acquatic container when they could easily go snorkeling to see them in their natural environment? People should just get those fake fishes that swim about by the current generated by water pumps in their acquarium.

    1. Jacinta McDonnell January 6, 2020 6:58 am Reply

      We don’t need to capture and keep fishes in a tiny water prison for our own pleasure and entertainment!

  2. Palani December 2, 2019 7:08 am Reply

    “Common Sense” is a lot less common than it should be. Net fishing of non-food species should be outlawed, due to the volume of fish taken, the injuries suffered by the fish, and because of undesired species being taken. We’ve already seen the depletion of species in the ocean, this will happen in the reefs.
    Impose strict limits on takes by species and limit fishing to individual divers with “Slurp Guns” to ensure minimum damage.
    Better yet, ban all taking of reef and non-food fish.

    1. tunataxi December 2, 2019 1:34 pm Reply

      You are 100% correct common sense is not as common as it should be. Fish that are collected for aquariums are not damaged fish. These are not dead fish hanging in a reef net. There is zero bycatch .. no one accidentally collects the wrong fish… just doesnʻt happen sorry. Studies have been done already saying this is a sustainable industry. Finally “slurp gun” .. really you think a fish has less chance of being damaged by being sucked into a pipe with a plunger than by being hung in a net?? Yes… you are correct common sense is rare but commenting on things people know nothing about has no shortage

  3. manawai December 2, 2019 8:25 am Reply

    I believe it is way more important to have fish swimming wild, in the natural reef environment, than it is for people to have them in their personal aquariums. That said, I think that a ban on aquarium fishing will have the effect of increasing the prices the poachers get making it more profitable and encouraging even more aquarium fishing. If we’re not going to hire hundreds of reef police to thwart the poachers, then a ban will only help lawmakers to say they’re doing something. We seem to think that new laws are the answer to everything when the problem is really societal ethics.

  4. tunataxi December 2, 2019 1:26 pm Reply

    Hmmm.. well lets see why. Various reasons first of all because not everyone is capable of snorkeling in the ocean. Then thereʻs of course the fact that not everyone who can snorkel in the ocean will ever come to Hawaii or other places where the fish live. Oh.. and thereʻs also the fact that many species live at depth that NO snorkeler will ever get to much less have the opportunity to see the fish. Often aquariums are part of a persons learning experience leading them to move forward with an education in an effort to play a part to save our oceans.

  5. tunataxi December 2, 2019 1:44 pm Reply

    “You believe” … really and what do you base your beliefs on exactly ?? Science has told us the fishery is sustainable. As for poaching… this might be the funniest of all comments. Clearly you have no clue as to the process of collecting and shipping of live animals. If you think the law will increase “poachingʻ youʻre crazy. As for basing your thoughts on societal ethics well those are some big words are you familiar with their meaning ? “By promoting the values of social responsibility, solidarity, and social utility, social ethics stands as the fulcrum of a RATIONAL, moral, egalitarian, pluralistic, democratic society rising on the pillars of human rights and human dignity.” Keep in mind the important word here is “rational” ..just because some people find issues non ethical it doesnʻt simply make it “fact”. Curious.. do you own a pet cat… dog… bird…. turtle or any other living creature ?? Do YOU decide which animals are ethical to own and then decide for everyone else ??

  6. harry oyama December 2, 2019 4:03 pm Reply

    Poachers caught illegally taking of fish should be subjected to ancient Hawaiian laws, which is to fed alive to sharks. That will discourage any poachers in practicing their trade.

  7. Harry Rabin December 2, 2019 4:29 pm Reply

    More and more species of Saltwater fish can now be bred in captivity. So the real truth here is that there’s no reason to be taking ocean life from the wild any longer. There should be a moratorium in place right now. Until there is adequate staffing or robotic means to measure a reefs biomass we need to stop this industry now. Coral reefs worldwide are still in decline and less fish means less predators means lower health on the reef. It’s time for the aquarium industry to focus on the science of breeding to stay in business. This is an opportunity for Hawaii to take the lead here and be the example for the rest of the world. Reef Guardians Hawaii is constantly monitoring our reefs here on Kauai and the decline is real and severe.It’s time to stop taking recklessly from our oceans.

    1. tunataxi December 3, 2019 6:40 am Reply

      Kauai has very little active collection from the island. Your statement about breeding fish in captivity is simply not true. Itʻs in the early stages and much of what is being bred is inferior to wild caught. I would have thought someone interested in the reef would not spread such misinformation. But I suppose having a self serving agenda makes it easier.

  8. Richard Pendarvis January 6, 2020 8:04 pm Reply

    It’s common sense that this level of unrestricted take can’t be sustainable

  9. Gina Erskine January 7, 2020 4:54 am Reply

    We already know that the oceans are dying. The fish do not belong to us, we need to stop the greed if we want the planet to survive.

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