Maui News

State Land Board Rejects Reopening Aquarium Fishing on Oʻahu

October 9, 2021, 8:22 AM HST
* Updated October 9, 8:24 AM
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Yellow tangs, called Lau’ipala by Native Hawaiians, are the most exploited Hawaiian aquarium fish. The industry has historically extracted approximately 300,000 individuals from local reefs per year and exported them. Photo Credit: Kaikea Nakachi/Earthjustice

The Hawaiʻi state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted Friday to reject a final environmental impact statement submitted by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and aimed at reopening the aquarium pet trade on Oʻahu.

The O’ahu aquarium fishing industry proposed the issuance of 15 commercial aquarium permits and 15 commercial marine licenses for aquarium fishers on O‘ahu.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources had recommended acceptance of the final environmental impact statement (FEIS).

Land Board members raised concerns about discrepancies between the FEIS and a draft environmental impact statement; the lack of adequate community and cultural consultation; and a lack of adequate analysis of the impacts of the proposed aquarium fishing on the environment. 

The proponents will have an opportunity to review the Boards concerns and determine whether to revise the EIS to address them. 

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Six board members voted to deny the FEIS, and one member abstained. 

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“This O‘ahu EIS relied on the same skewed methods used in West Hawai‘i, and on top of that, tried to shoehorn an entirely new proposal into a final EIS to escape environmental review,” Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland said.  “We applaud the Board for upholding the law by rejecting this procedurally and scientifically flawed document.” 

Compared to the industry’s draft EIS, the final EIS proposed a significant increase in the take of marine life and a massive take of species that were not assessed in the draft.

Rene Umberger, executive director of For the Fishes, said: “Going back to the drawing board was the only option for this EIS. The lack of any analysis for Kāne‘ohe Bay, which already experiences the heaviest collection pressure, was an egregious omission. The industry’s plan allowed for take of nearly 293,000 fishes and invertebrates every year from Kāne‘ohe Bay or any other area around O‘ahu. Hawai‘i’s unique places and communities deserve better.”

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Maxx Phillips, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Hawai‘i director and staff attorney,” added: “O‘ahu’s reefs are in crisis. Our reefs are the lifelines of our ocean. They put food on our families’ tables, provide habitat for a myriad of endemic species, and shelter our islands from ever increasing storms and sea-level rise. There is no place for the industry’s false narrative, skewed analysis or outdated science in the fight to protect Hawai‘i for generations to come.”

O‘ahu once was the epicenter of the Hawai‘i aquarium pet trade. When overfishing caused the collapse of O‘ahu’s nearshore fishery in the 1980s, the trade largely relocated to West Hawai‘i, but the industry has nevertheless maintained a presence on O‘ahu.  Currently, commercial aquarium collection is prohibited statewide under a variety of court orders and injunctions, pending proper completion of the legally required environmental review process.

“To restore the beauty and abundance of our reef, reef wildlife, and our ocean ‘ohana, the people and agencies must work hand in hand for the greater good of Hawai‘i,” said Kealoha Pisciotta of Kai Palaoa.  “I am thankful the Board did not bend under pressure from the aquarium industry, and listened again to the voices of our people.”

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