Maui News

Groups Urge End to “Reef Wildlife Trafficking”

July 27, 2018, 12:09 PM HST
* Updated July 27, 12:24 PM
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Snorkeling with fish at Molokini. PC: File Maui Now/N Schenfeld

Hawaiʻi environmental and wildlife protection groups today urged Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige to immediately halt all extraction of marine animals for aquarium purposes.

“This comes following a recent comprehensive review of collection reports showing that more than 126,000 reef animals have been taken in the months following the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court order and subsequent First Circuit Court’s October 2017 ruling that all commercial aquarium collection permits are illegal and invalid statewide,” said Rene Umberger Executive Director of the environmental group For the Fishes

According to information released by the groups, “The state records suggest that on average 20,000 reef animals continue to be taken from Hawaiʻi’s reefs every month despite the court ruling. The total number of reef animals potentially trafficked in violation of the court order could conservatively exceed 200,000 animals, not including under and non-reporting, since the October court ruling.”

Group leaders say it’s “ironic,” that the the state is allowing what the groups have called “continued mass collection” despite its own recent determination requiring a full environmental impact study by commercial aquarium collectors to be in compliance with the Hawaiʻi Environmental Policy Act.

“It’s outrageous that the state continues to disregard the court’s clear positions that aquarium collecting is subject to Hawaiʻi’s environmental laws, including the most recent Circuit Court ruling that even recreational extraction of less than five animals per day is also subject to environmental and cultural analysis,” said Umberger.


Mike Nakachi, native Hawaiian practitioner for Moana ʻOhana said, “The Ige Administration has given the mainland pet industry the green light to take all the marine life they want, without regard for HEPA and court rulings, and with zero enforcement to ensure rules aren’t being broken.  Rather than do its job to conserve our sacred reef resources for the Kanaka Maoli and future generations, the Administration continues to go out of its way to cater to private, commercial interests who exploit our people and wildlife.”


Bianca Isaki of KAHEA-The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance the groups are urging the Governor to “immediately intervene” and protect Hawaiʻi’s reefs from further collection.

“The cruel, environmentally harmful and potentially illegal collection of Hawaiʻi’s precious coral reef wildlife must be stopped,” said Keith Dane, Hawaiʻi policy adviser for the Humane Society of the United States.

Timeline of Events:

  • In September 2017, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court found that the State’s issuance of commercial permits to collect aquatic life for aquarium purposes was subject to the Hawaiʻi Environmental Policy Act.
  • The following month, the Hawaiʻi Circuit Court determined that all commercial permits to collect aquatic life for aquarium purposes were “illegal and invalid.”
  • In January of 2018 the State determined that all collection of aquatic life for aquarium purposes, regardless of gear or method of capture, in the West Hawaiʻi Regional Fisheries Management Area is prohibited.
  • In April, the Hawaiʻi Circuit Court further voided existing permits for recreational collection of aquatic life for aquarium purposes and determined that this activity is also subject to HEPA.
  • Last week plaintiffs in the litigation were advised that the DLNR was rejecting the pet industry’s proposed DEA’s, requiring a full Environmental Impact Statement on the industry’s impacts.
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