HILO — Should commercial aquarium fish collectors be allowed to resume plying their trade with fine mesh nets along Hawaii Island’s shores?
That question, along with how commercial licenses should be regulated, is the subject of a dispute between the aquarium industry and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources upon the publication Wednesday of the industry’s finding of no significant impact in its final environmental assessment.
The public has until Sept. 7 to comment on the 518-page document, which can be found at http://oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/The_Environmental_Notice/2018-08-08-TEN.pdf.
The environmental assessment covers the nearshore region to depths of 600 feet around the island except in those regions already designated as no-collection areas such as Fish Replenishment Areas.
Courts invalidated all existing aquarium permits for commercial collectors using fine mesh nets, the preferred method of catching fish, in October and recreational collectors in April. DLNR in January banned aquarium fishing in West Hawaii, regardless of the type of gear used.
The state environmental agency disagrees with the aquarium industry that resuming the practice of allowing commercial fishing licenses will have no significant environmental impact.
DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case, in a July 26 letter to the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, outlines eight factors that also should be taken into consideration in a full-fledged environmental impact statement, as opposed to the less detailed environmental assessment the industry is proposing.
“We also note that there are no bag limits for most species, and that the fishery as currently regulated does not limit the number of permits, so that the annual take as a percentage of estimated population could rise significantly,” Case said in the letter. “Alternatives of overall annual take limits, a limited entry aquarium fishery program and restrictions including full moratoria on the take of herbivores, species of special concern and species evidencing severe population declines have not been proposed or analyzed.”
The applicant, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said Thursday it is reviewing DLNR’s determination and considering its next steps.
“The fishers are open to discussing limitations on take or licenses, but do not want any numbers being discussed to be arbitrary,” spokesman Bob Likins said. “We believe that the EA/EIS process would identify if there is a need for such limitations in order to ensure sustainability, and what those limitations should be.”
The aquarium industry estimates its business adds $1.35 million to the state economy annually and provides more than 50 jobs.
Opponents worry about harm to the environment and the tourist industry from the depletion of the colorful reef fish.