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Revised Final Environmental Impact Statement for W. Hawai‘i Aquarium Permits Reaches Impasse

June 26, 2021, 8:30 AM HST
* Updated June 25, 7:44 PM
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The Board of Land and Natural Resources reached an impasse in a decision to accept or reject the Revised Final Environmental Impact Statement (RFEIS) submitted by seven aquarium fish collectors for the West Hawai‘i Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA).

The vote was a three-to-three tie.

The law provides a 30-day time period in which the board must reach a decision. The clock started on June 8, when the RFEIS was published, and ends on July 8, though the applicants can request a 15-day extension. If no action is taken by the deadline, the RFEIS will be deemed accepted.

In May 2020, the board declined to accept the Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Aquarium fishers revised the FEIS over the past year. The revision, which incorporated many of the findings and reasons for denial by the land board, had been opened to public comment for 45 days.

The board’s decision on Friday, June 25, was limited to the acceptability of the revised final EIS and was not a decision on aquarium fishing permits in Kona. The seven aquarium fishers who undertook the EIS are expected to apply for permits. The RFEIS outlines seven alternative possible courses of action including:

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No action – no aquarium fish permits would be issued for the entire island of Hawai‘i and no commercial aquarium collection would occur anywhere in State waters.
CML-Only – no aquarium fish permits would be issued for the entire island of Hawai‘i; however, CMLs would be issued for East Hawai‘i fishers using legal gear other than fine-mesh nets.
Pre-Aquarium Collection Ban – DLNR would issue an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits as was done prior to 9-16-17 Supreme Court filing, allowing fish collection using fine mesh nets to resume.
WHFRMA – Only Programmatic Issuance of Aquarium Permits – DLNR would issue an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits for the WHRFMA, but no permits for Hawai‘i Island outside the WHRFMA and an unlimited number of CMLs for fishers elsewhere in the state.
Achilles Tang Conservation – The preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Assessment (FEA), allows the issuance of an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits and CMLs on Hawai‘i Island. Collection in the WHRFMA restricted to 40 White List species only and reduces commercial aquarium collection of Achilles Tang within the WHRFMA from 10 fish per day to 5 fish per day.
Limited Permit Issuance – The preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), allows the issuance of aquarium fish permits and CMLs to 10 fishers covered by the FEIS, only in the WHRFMA. No commercial aquarium collection allowed elsewhere in the state.
Revised White List and Limited Permit Issuance – The applicants preferred alternative would allow the issuance of aquarium fish permits and CMLs to the seven fishers covered by the Revised Final Environmental Impact Statement, for collection in the WHRFMA. No commercial aquarium collection allowed elsewhere in the state.

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In its submittal to the land board, the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) recommended board acceptance of the RFEIS, but also noted several concerns raised by the RFEIS, including potential impacts on coral.

The board can address these matters and others raised in the June 25 hearing, by establishing terms and conditions through the permitting process.

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