LIHUE — Some conservation groups and Native Hawaiians are concerned the state isn’t following court orders for the environmental review of aquarium fishing and permit issuance in Hawaii.
That’s because the Department of Land and Natural Resources is still issuing new commercial marine licenses to aquarium contractors, even though the courts ordered a moratorium on renewals and new issuances pending a Hawaii Environmental Policy Act review of the whole process.
The order to halt permits was handed down by the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2017, triggering a lower court ruling that voided all unexpired permits.
Environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing entities like For the Fishes, Willie & Ka‘imi Kaupiko, Mike Nakachi, and Center for Biological Diversity, sent a letter to DLNR Tuesday warning of another potential lawsuit should they continue issuing permits.
In its new policy, the DLNR maintains it is following court orders by banning the use of fine-meshed nets and traps and not issuing permits for collectors using those tools, but a coalition headed by Earthjustice claims DLNR doesn’t verify the methods collectors claim to be using.
In its letter, the coalition claims that since the 2017 court orders, DLNR has logged a statewide industry-reported commercial take of at least 372,769 fish and 203,972 aquatic invertebrates.
“We were shocked to learn that under the agency’s watch, the industry has continued ravaging Hawai‘i’s reefs without any assessment of environmental harm, despite the courts’ rulings,” said Rene Umberger, executive director of For the Fishes. “Taking hundreds of thousands of marine animals for private profits obviously requires vetting under the environmental review process.”
Concerns are that the removal of so many herbivorous, reef-dwelling fish could impact coral ecosystems.
“Hawaii’s reefs are the lifeblood of kanaka maoli and our communities,” said coalition member Mike Nakachi. “We simply can’t afford to allow the aquarium trade to continue lawlessly, putting private profits over the health and protection of our public trust resources.”
Currently, DLNR is overseeing the environmental review process for West Hawaii and Oahu.