Conservationists Challenge State on Regulation Practices for Aquarium Collection

January 9, 2020, 9:33 AM HST · Updated January 9, 9:33 AM
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Aquarium fish. File photo by Wendy Osher.

A coalition of Native Hawaiians and conservation groups sent a letter to the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources this week warning the agency that it “could end up back in court” if it doesn’t end a policy the group says “allows for practically unlimited extraction” of reef fish and other aquatic creatures for the aquarium pet trade “without any environmental review.”

The group claims the department’s actions circumvent a court injunction halting activities until the review process is completed.

DLNR spokesperson Dan Dennison responded to our request for comment saying, “Under current law, commercial aquarium fishing is allowed as long as collectors have a valid commercial marine license and are using legal gear and methods.” Dennison noted that this is applicable “for all areas except West Hawai‘i, where all aquarium collection is prohibited until an environmental review is completed,”

The Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled in September 2017 that aquarium collection under permits is an action subject to environmental review under the Hawai‘i Environmental Policy Act (HEPA), and the circuit court subsequently voided all unexpired permits and placed a moratorium on renewing or issuing new permits pending the environmental review process.

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The environmental groups argue that new commercial licenses are being issued as long as collectors don’t use fine-meshed nets and traps, but “nothing is being done to verify methods that collectors claim to be using.”

“Instead of embracing the courts’ rulings and ensuring that the environmental effects of aquarium collection are properly considered, the agency has given the industry a free pass to continue collecting without any oversight,” said Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland in a press release. “Deregulation for the benefit of private industry is completely contrary to DLNR’s constitutional mandate to safeguard our marine life for present and future generations.”

DLNR representatives provided a list of Frequently Asked Questions in which they explain their policies relating to Aquarium permits.  The FAQ list is available online.

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