Maui News

Land Board at Impasse Over Aquarium Pet Trade in West Hawai‘i

June 27, 2021, 11:33 AM HST
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Aquarium fish. File photo by Wendy Osher.

The State of Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources reached an impasse with a 3-3 vote regarding an environmental impact statement aimed at reopening the aquarium pet trade in West Hawai‘i Island.  Without a majority vote before July 8, the impact statement will automatically be deemed “accepted,” though the applicants can request a 15-day extension.

“After the Board rejected the industry’s first impact statement last May, and despite an ongoing appeal process that remains unresolved, the industry submitted a revised statement that repeated many of the same flaws the Board rejected the first time,” according to environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“This new EIS was based on the same skewed data and methods as the last one. We’re disappointed that a majority did not hold the line to ensure the trade’s harmful effects are fully studied and addressed,” said Earthjustice Attorney Mahesh Cleveland.

According to Earthjustice, the Board may not resume issuing permits or licenses to the aquarium collectors covered under the impact statement without lifting two court-ordered injunctions. These injunctions resulted from two prior lawsuits that Earthjustice brought on behalf of a coalition of environmental advocacy groups, Hawaiian fishers, and cultural practitioners to ensure that the trade fully complies with Hawai‘i’s environmental review laws before collection continues.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources reports that the board decision was limited to the acceptability of the revised final EIS and was not a decision on aquarium fishing permits in Kona. The seven aquarium fishers who undertook the EIS are expected to apply for permits. The RFEIS outlines seven alternative possible courses of action including: 

  • No action – no aquarium fish permits would be issued for the entire island of Hawai‘i and no commercial aquarium collection would occur anywhere in State waters. 
  • CML-Only – no aquarium fish permits would be issued for the entire island of Hawai‘i; however, CMLs would be issued for East Hawai‘i fishers using legal gear other than fine-mesh nets. 
  • Pre-Aquarium Collection Ban – DLNR would issue an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits as was done prior to 9-16-17 Supreme Court filing, allowing fish collection using fine mesh nets to resume. 
  • WHFRMA – Only Programmatic Issuance of Aquarium Permits – DLNR would issue an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits for the WHRFMA, but no permits for Hawai‘i Island outside the WHRFMA and an unlimited number of CMLs for fishers elsewhere in the state. 
  • Achilles Tang Conservation – The preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Assessment (FEA), allows the issuance of an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits and CMLs on Hawai‘i Island. Collection in the WHRFMA restricted to 40 White List species only and reduces commercial aquarium collection of Achilles Tang within the WHRFMA from 10 fish per day to 5 fish per day. 
  • Limited Permit Issuance – The preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), allows the issuance of aquarium fish permits and CMLs to 10 fishers covered by the FEIS, only in the WHRFMA. No commercial aquarium collection allowed elsewhere in the state. 
  • Revised White List and Limited Permit Issuance – The applicants preferred alternative would allow the issuance of aquarium fish permits and CMLs to the seven fishers covered by the Revised Final Environmental Impact Statement, for collection in the WHRFMA.  No commercial aquarium collection allowed elsewhere in the state. 
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In its submittal to the land board, the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources recommended board acceptance of the RFEIS, but also noted several concerns raised by the RFEIS, including potential impacts on coral.  

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The board can address these matters and others raised in the recent hearing, by establishing terms and conditions through the permitting process.  

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