Permits allowed for aquarium fishing on Big Island’s west coast, judge rules
On Monday, an Hawaiʻi Circuit Court judge lifted an injunction that prohibited the issuance or renewal of aquarium fish permits to commercial collectors in the West Hawai‘i Regional Fishery Management Area.
In 2017, the state Supreme Court unanimously ordered a stop to the commercial collection of aquarium fish in Hawaiʻi pending an environmental review.
An injunction on issuing or renewing aquarium fish permits in the rest of the state remains in effect.
The injunction, in the Umberger v. Department of Land & Natural Resources case filed by opponents of commercial aquarium fishing in 2012, was lifted because an environmental review pursuant to the Hawaiʻi Environmental Policy Act is complete for the West Hawaiʻi management area, according to a press release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Aquarium fishing in West Hawai‘i is not allowed simply because the injunction has been lifted, said lead counsel for the state, Deputy Attorney General Melissa Goldman, during the hearing.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said it has not considered or issued any aquarium fishing permits for the West Hawaiʻi management area.
This management area extends along the west coast of the Island of Hawaiʻi from Ka Lae, Ka‘ū (South Point) to ‘Upolu Point, North Kohala and from the high-water mark on shore seaward to the limit of the state’s management authority, which extends to 3 miles offshore.
In May 2020, the Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to 7-0 to reject a more than 2,000-page Environmental Impact Statement for proposed aquarium fishing in West Hawaiʻi by 10 aquarium fishers and the National Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
In 2020, Board Chair Suzanne Case said: “This was a tough process and decision. But the unanimous vote clearly reflects the Board’s view that the aquarium fishers’ proposal, without meaningful limits on future catch, without enough attention to our highly depleted stocks like pākuʻikuʻi (Achilles tang) and other low-number species, and without adequate analysis of the near-future effects of climate change, ocean warming and coral bleaching on our reefs, did not adequately disclose the potential environmental impacts of the proposed 10 permits.”
Last year, a revised Environmental Impact Statement — with a decreased number of allowed permits and a significant decrease in the number of species allowed to be caught — was accepted by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, paving the way toward the possible reopening of the fishery.
The case was originally filed in 2012 by concerned individuals, including scuba diver Rene Umberger, and three nonprofit organizations: Conservation Council for Hawaiʻi, Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The ruling on Monday was made by Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree.
“Today’s decision returns the management of the state’s aquatic resources in the West Hawai‘i Regional Fishery Management Area back to the DLNR, now that the environmental review process for West Hawai‘i is complete,” Goldman said in a statement. “Today’s decision does not itself authorize any aquarium fishing. That question may now be taken up by the DLNR, which is the agency charged with managing the state’s aquatic resources.”
Anyone who engages in commercial aquarium collection without the required permit in the West Hawai‘i management area or elsewhere in the state will be cited, and the state will pursue enforcement to the fullest extent authorized by law.