Aquarium fishing is no longer allowed in Hawaiian waters

Hawaii's aquarium fish industry put on hold as court seeks environmental impact study
Published: Oct. 28, 2017 at 2:18 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 28, 2017 at 10:04 AM HST
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AIEA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new ruling upholds a state Supreme Court ban on Hawaii's aquarium fishing industry and there's no timeline on when it will be lifted.

On Friday, the First Circuit Court -- sitting as the Environmental Court -- ruled that any and all existing aquarium fish permits issued to commercial collectors to date are illegal and invalid.

Randy Fernley, co-owner of Coral Fish Hawaii in Aiea, is one of more than 230 commercial fisherman affected by the ruling.

"Usually we bring in anywhere between 50 to 100 fish per day," he said.

Through the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, a $50 annual permit allows commercial fishermen to collect an unlimited amount of marine life for aquariums from Hawaii's coastal waters.

Fernley says about 60% of his fish are caught in Hawaii and he's hoping he doesn't lose business.

"We'll follow the court's direction and do a HEPA study and hopefully it won't take too terribly long," said Fernley.

The court order puts the aquarium fishing industry on hold, pending a review of the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA).

Opponents including Earthjustice lawyer Summer Kupau-Odo have been challenging the state's permit system, claiming that the impact to Hawaii's reefs has never been properly studied.

"DLNR has a duty to protect these resources for us today and for future generations," Kupau-Odo said. "All of the existing permits are illegal, collection under them is illegal and no one should be out collecting for commercial profits. No one should be out taking our reef resources for sale elsewhere to make a private profit."

In a statement, DLNR said in part "The department continues to believe that existing aquarium fishing practices are sustainable and environmentally sound.  And the department appreciates that dozens of local businesses and families depend on the industry for their livelihoods. But the department respects Judge Crabtree's ruling and will fully comply so long as it remains in effect."

"It's just unfortunate this has happened," Fernley said. "I am confident we will get through this and be successful."

The aquarium fish industry in Hawaii has posted annual gross sales of $3.2 million. The ruling does not impact recreational fishing permits which authorize the collection of 1,825 aquarium fish every year.

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