Hawaii upholds moratorium on commercial aquarium fishing

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Environmental Council has effectively extended a ban on commercial aquarium collection along the west coast of Hawaii Island.

The state council on Thursday upheld a decision by the Board of Land and Natural Resources to reject an environmental impact statement for a proposal to reopen the Big Island waters to the million-dollar aquarium fish trade.

The land and natural resources board voted in May to reject the impact statement submitted by 10 West Hawaii aquarium fish collectors and the National Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.

The proposal would have allowed commercial aquarium collectors to take fish using fine-mesh nets, with restrictions including size and bag limits on various fish species and a reduction in the daily bag limit of Achilles tang fish from 10 to five fish.

The Hawaii Supreme Court halted aquarium fishing in September 2017 by ruling fish collection without environmental review violates the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act.

The activity is opposed by some Native Hawaiians and marine conservation groups. Many reef advocates have urged more state scrutiny for decades.

This was the first time in the 40 years since the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act was enacted that the state environmental council has presided over a policy appeal.

“The council’s historic decision to affirm the land board reinforces that Hawaii’s bedrock environmental review law is not merely a paper exercise,” said Kylie Wager Cruz, an attorney for environmental law organization Earthjustice.

Fisherman Wilfred Kaupiko has fought for more than 30 years to protect West Hawaii reefs from what he said are damaging effects of the aquarium trade.

“This is a huge win for me and my family and for our way of life,” Kaupiko said.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a Virginia-based trade group, expressed disappointment with the council’s decision “to ignore the evidence and support the Land Board’s flawed decision.”

“We are amazed that during these trying times state governing bodies continue to ignore the substantial science supporting the sustainability of the fishery and eliminate a livelihood that has supported Hawaiian families for generations,” council Vice President of Government Affairs Bob Likins said in a statement.

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