Aquarium Fishing EIS rejected

  • File-This undated file photo from Oregon State University shows a school of yellow tang off the coast of Hawaii. The waters off the Hawaii’s largest island are home to a half-million brightly-colored tropic fish that are scooped up into nets each year and flown across the globe into aquariums from Berlin to Boston. Scientists say the aquarium fishery off the Big Island is among the best managed in the world, but it has nevertheless become the focus of a fight over whether it’s ever appropriate to remove fish from reefs for people to look at and enjoy. (AP Photo/Oregon State University, Bill Walsh,File) NO SALES

HONOLULU — In a 7-0 decision Friday, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) voted to reject an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for proposed aquarium fishing in West Hawai‘i.

The more than 2000-page EIS had been produced by a group of ten West Hawai‘i aquarium fishers and the National Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, on their proposal to ask the Department of Land and Natural Resources to issue permits to the ten aquarium fishers.

The proposed permits themselves were not before the BLNR for decision.

The Supreme Court in 2017, in Umberger et. al vs. the Department of Land and Natural Resources, issued a decision requiring for the first time, Chapter 343 environmental review for the issuance of permits required to use fine mesh nets for aquarium fishing.

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.

No permits have been issued since the 2017 decision, though aquarium fishing using other gear, considered less optimal for aquarium fishing but not regulated under Hawai‘i law, continues. The EIS was an applicant-action rather than an agency-action, meaning it was proposed by the aquarium fishers, not the Department.

This is the second time the BLNR has rejected environmental review documents on the issue — in July 2018 BLNR told PIJAC the industry their initial environmental assessments on industry impacts didn’t contain enough information and required a more detailed EIS to be put together.

The first draft of that EIS went up for public review at the end of 2019 — and surmised collection of Hawaii’s reef animals has a minimal impact on the state’s coral reef ecosystem.

After reviewing the applicant aquarium fishers’ proposal and testimony and deliberating for more than four hours, the BLNR determined that the EIS did not adequately disclose the potential environmental impacts from the issuance of ten aquarium fishing permits for West Hawai‘i.

Board Chair Suzanne Case stated, “This was a tough process and decision. But the unanimous vote clearly reflects the Board’s view that the aquarium fishers’ proposal, without meaningful limits on future catch, without enough attention to our highly depleted stocks like paku‘iku‘i (Achilles tang) and other low-number species, and without adequate analysis of the near-future effects of climate change, ocean warming and coral bleaching on our reefs, did not adequately disclose the potential environmental impacts of the proposed ten permits.”

Hundreds of written testimonies were submitted to the BLNR, which is meeting online in response to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. In a significant first for this state agency, the Land Board took oral testimony during the online meeting from over a dozen members of the community who signed up to testify live before the board on the matter.

  1. Palani May 26, 2020 6:37 am Reply

    Net fishing is indiscriminate. Many other species can be harmed. If the aquarium industry can’t be satisfied by using “Slurp guns” wielded by divers, then too bad.

  2. Toni May 26, 2020 7:21 am Reply

    We should all be grateful to Renee Umberger for stepping up to speak out for our voiceless reef fish.

  3. Paulo May 26, 2020 10:35 am Reply

    Good job BLNR. Save our reef fish, save our reefs.

  4. Mary Finelli May 26, 2020 11:33 am Reply

    Cheers! Wildlife belongs in the wild, not captive for human entertainment and private profit.

  5. andrew johnston May 26, 2020 6:49 pm Reply

    MAHALO! Our reefs and the beautiful and fascinating critters that depend on them are facing enough serious threats without pure human greed depleting them any more than it already has.

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