Aquarium Fishermen’s Attempt to Reinstate Industry Reaches Significant Date

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Yellow tang is one of the Hawaiian reef inhabitants most sought by aquarium fish collectors. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Hawaii‘ fishermen in question created the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. That Council is a previously existing trade organization, which the aquarium fishermen joined. It is the policy of Big Island Now to immediately correct inaccurate or misleading information as soon as it’s brought to the attention of the website. 

A group of commercial aquarium fishermen are making a play to reopen an industry in West Hawai‘i waters that the state’s court system effectively shuttered nearly 15 months ago.

Pooling their efforts, the fishermen have come together and joined the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade association that has commissioned a draft environmental impact statement to convince the Board of Land and Natural Resources that the fishermen’s take from the aforementioned waters “does not involve an irrevocable commitment or loss or destruction of any natural or cultural resource.”

Opportunity for public comment to be included in the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) ends Tuesday. Comments can be submitted to Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Fisheries Program Manager David Sakoda via email at [email protected].


On Sept. 6, 2017, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court issued a ruling that commercial aquarium fishing permits were subject to review under Chapter 343 of the state of Hawai‘i Administrative Rules. At that time, the DNLR stopped issuing said permits.

In late October of the same year, First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree rendered all standing permits null and void, and no legal aquarium fishing has occurred since in the West Hawai‘i Fishery Management Area.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council moved forward with an environmental assessment (EA) in an attempt to regain 14 permits that authorize the use of fine mesh nets to take fish for aquariums, all of which would be used exclusively off within the Hawai‘i Island fishery.

The EA issued a finding of no significant impact, which was met with incredulity by conservationists and others who oppose the practice of aquarium fishing.


In July of 2018, the DLNR found that a more extensive environmental impact statement (EIS) was required to address significant criteria outlined in the Hawai‘i Administrative Rules. That led to the draft EIS that will incorporate and address public comment before being finalized and subsequently sent to the Board for evaluation.

Stantec Consulting Services Inc., the contractor employed by the Council to conduct the EIS, said in the executive summary that the parameters proposed for the issuance of the 14 permits “would ensure the lawful, responsible, and sustainable commercial collection of various fish species.”

Aquarium fish off the Hawai‘i Coast. Earthjustice photo by Brooke Everett

The summary stated the proposed agreement would reduce the bag limit of Achilles Tang to five daily, adding that the Board’s issuance of the permits “is not anticipated to result in significant beneficial or adverse impacts to water and air quality, geology and soil resources, aesthetics, noise, vegetation, terrestrial wildlife and avian species, threatened and endangered species, land use, public health and safety, communications, transportation, utilities, or population and demographics from their current condition.”

A letter sent Monday to Sakoda from Maggie Brown — owner and operator of the Body Glove, a company that has operated commercial snorkeling and SCUBA tours in Big Island waters since 1974 — disagreed with the consultant’s conclusion.


“I compare underwater pictures of our (Big Island) coral reefs/marine life from the 1970’s–80’s, and the devastating change would make a grown man cry,” she wrote. “I’m having a hard time understanding that this subject is even a topic. This is so wrong, in so many ways. Our Hawaiian coral reefs live symbiotically with tropical fish to nurture and flourish.”

Following the close of the public comment period Tuesday, the Council will submit its draft EIS to the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. The Board will then determine whether the document adequately discloses the impacts of the proposed activity, Sakoda said.

If the Board accepts the impact statement, it will decide whether or not to issue the permits. If it does, conditions for issuance will be outlined.

Even if the process reaches that point, the reinstatement of the commercial aquarium fishing trade in West Hawai‘i will not be set in stone. Legal challenges at the Circuit Court level would be available to those opposed to the hypothetical decision should it come to that, Sakoda explained.

If any person or entity hoped to obtain permits beyond the 14 in question, they would be required to go through a similar environmental review process and prove compliance.

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