BLNR Rejects West Hawai‘i Aquarium Fishing EIS

May 24, 2020, 7:30 AM HST (Updated May 24, 2020, 2:08 AM)
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Wikimedia Commons photo.

Aquarium fishing with fine mesh nets in West Hawai‘i waters will remain shut down, at least for the time being.

In a 7-0 decision Friday, the Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) voted to reject an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for proposed aquarium fishing in West Hawaiʻi.

The over 2,000-page EIS had been produced by a group of 10 West Hawaiʻi aquarium fishers and the National Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council on their proposal to ask the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to issue permits to the 10 aquarium fishers. The proposed permits themselves were not before the BLNR for decision.

The Supreme Court in 2017, in Umberger et. al vs. the Department of Land and Natural Resources, issued a decision requiring, for the first time, Chapter 343 environmental review for the issuance of permits required to use fine mesh nets for aquarium fishing. No permits have been issued since the 2017 decision, though aquarium fishing using other gear, considered less optimal for aquarium fishing but not regulated under Hawaiʻi law, continues. The EIS was an applicant-action rather than an agency-action, meaning it was proposed by the aquarium fishers, not the department.

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After reviewing the applicant aquarium fishers’ proposal and testimony and deliberating for over four hours, the BLNR determined that the EIS did not adequately disclose the potential environmental impacts from the issuance of 10 aquarium fishing permits for West Hawaiʻi.

“This was a tough process and decision,” said Board Chair Suzanne Case. “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 ten permits.”

Hundreds of written testimonies were submitted to the BLNR, which is meeting online in response to COVID-19 social distancing orders. In a first for this state agency, the Land Board took oral testimony during the online meeting from over a dozen members of the community who signed up to testify live before the board on the matter.

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