Catching reef fishes, such as this Auriga Butterflyfish, is currently legal in the state of Hawai’i—as long as you intend to kill and eat your catch. Image: Screenshot from YouTube, Fishing in Hawaii—Crazy Catches!! by Ace Videos.

While the aquarium fishery in Hawai’i remains shuttered, the so-called AQ fishing community is hoping that change may be coming, as a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) hangs in limbo.

Hawaii’s Marine Aquarium Fishery has been hobbled by a state-wide ban on collection imposed in late 2017. A nearly four-year battle is now coming to a head. Near the end of June 2021, Hawaii’s out-of-work aquarium fishers once again asked for public testimony in support of their occupation because a revised environmental impact statement (EIS) was to be reviewed by Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) on June 25th.

The latest EIS was presented by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) in conjunction with a group of aquarium fishers, and both parties feel they have addressed previous areas of concern with their revised environmental impact statement (REIS). A win would mean that just seven fishing permits would be issued with a severely limited “White List” of eight fish species, including the Yellow Tang, able to be collected.

What did the Board decide?

A 3 to 3 tie vote on June 25th was the result of the Board’s meeting, creating uncertainty around the REIS. Now, it seems, the legal questions have been settled.

Acceptance By Default

As reported by Tom Linder in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today on June 28th, the policies and laws surrounding this EIS result in a situation where it may end up “accepted by default”.

“The 3-3 tie means the board technically has not made a decision. However, if a decision is not made within the 30-day period mandated by law, the RFEIS will be deemed accepted; the deadline regarding the aquarium fishing RFEIS is July 8. Since BLNR’s next meeting is scheduled for July 9, the RFEIS will be deemed accepted by the next time the board meets.”

July 8th, 2021, has come and gone, meaning that all that remains is for the Board to decide what to do as the revised, final environmental impact statement (RFEIS) is approved by default. Linder explains, “Upon acceptance, the board will select one of the seven alternatives outlined in the RFEIS to approve. Alternatives range from no action, where no aquarium fish permits would be issued for the entire Big Island, to returning to the pre-aquarium collection ban, where the DLNR would issue an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits.”

As outlined in the RFEIS, PIJAC and the seven petitioning fishers would prefer a limited entry fishery covering just eight species in the West Hawaii Fisheries Management Area.

Again, as summarized by Linder, “The applicant’s preferred alternative would allow seven permitted fishers to collect only yellow tang, kole, orangespine unicornfish, potter’s angelfish, brown surgeonfish, Thompson’s surgeonfish, black surgeonfish and bird wrasse within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area. The WHRFMA spans the entire coastline of West Hawaii, from Upolu Point in North Kohala to Ka Lae (South Point) in Ka’u. No commercial aquarium collection would be allowed for other areas of the state.”

PIJAC’s Response

In an official statement from PIJAC Vice President of Government Affairs Robert Likins upon the acceptance of the Hawaiian Aquarium Fishery’s EIS, their position was made clear.

“The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council is pleased that the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) has accepted the most recent comprehensive and data-based Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that we at PIJAC, along with a group of Hawaiian fishers dedicated to responsible collection, prepared and submitted for their consideration. We commend those Board members who voted to accept the EIS, recognizing that it provided all the information they were seeking to make an informed decision on reviving ornamental fishing and issuing commercial marine licenses. Since aquarium fishing was halted in Hawaii in 2017, the fishers and their families who depend on fish collection for their livelihoods have been suffering. We are optimistic that the next step for the Board will be to issue permits to the seven fishers so that they will be able to sustainably collect and trade limited species within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.”

Still An Uncertain Future

As crazy as this entire process sounds, what will become of Hawaii’s marine aquarium fishery is still an unsettled matter, and there is no specific timetable available for when we can expect the next decision to come.

While the aquarium fishery in the state of Hawai’i remains shuttered, the free-for-all taking of reef fishes continues, as long as you intend to kill and eat the fish. Read more…

Worth thousands alive, creating many jobs and economic benefit, or $5/lb?

Additional Reading


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