WEST HAWAII, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a roughly two-year halt to commercial aquarium fishing off West Hawaii, the industry hopes an environmental review will help to revive their trade.
The preferred alternative in a newly-released draft Environmental Impact Statement proposes the state Department of Land and Natural Resources issue 14 commercial aquarium permits in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.
The fishery covers nearshore waters from South Point to North Kohala.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council prepared the 490-page document.
"In West Hawaii, because they couldn't fish the fishery management area and because there aren't a lot of places that can be fished there because of conditions and other reasons, those folks have really been in dire straits," said Robert Likins, vice president of government affairs.
According to the draft EIS, based on the low percentage of the overall populations collected by commercial aquarium fishers, the industry likely has minimal impacts on populations in general.
The state imposes bag limits for a few species of aquarium fish.
The proposal calls for the bag limit for the Achilles tang to be reduced from 10 per day to five.
“When we looked at the data, most of the fish populations are extremely strong and even growing. The one that did raise some concerns was the Achilles tang,” said Likins.
“The population is strong and stable, but out of an abundance of caution, we just felt that the best alternative would be to reduce the bag limit on those.”
Even with the change, critics still want the DLNR to reject the environmental impact statement.
“That still doesn’t account for all the other species that the industry can continue to collect, and industry can go out every single day and collect as many as they want, except for those limited species,” said Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz.
Earthjustice represented several plaintiffs in a 2012 lawsuit that eventually led to the state ending all commercial and recreational aquarium permits for the use of fine-mesh nets to collect fish, pending the completion of an environmental review.
There has been a surge in fish abundance since commercial aquarium collection ceased off West Hawaii, according to the group.
"It's still not enough as compared to other areas that have been protected for a longer time, so what we need is time for the reefs to fully recover," said Wager Cruz. "The answer isn't a return to status quo aquarium collection."
The comment period for the draft EIS ends on January 7. The DLNR said it’s reviewing the document.