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.