Draft EA finds no significant impact to aquarium fishing resumption

  • File-This undated file photo from Oregon State University shows a school of yellow tang off the coast of Hawaii. The waters off the Hawaii’s largest island are home to a half-million brightly-colored tropic fish that are scooped up into nets each year and flown across the globe into aquariums from Berlin to Boston. Scientists say the aquarium fishery off the Big Island is among the best managed in the world, but it has nevertheless become the focus of a fight over whether it’s ever appropriate to remove fish from reefs for people to look at and enjoy. (AP Photo/Oregon State University, Bill Walsh,File) NO SALES

  • These multi-band butterfly fish live on reefs and are a species collected by the aquarium trade. (COURTESY PHOTO/ROBERT WINTER)

HILO — Commercial aquarium fish collecting could be returning to Hawaii shores, following a five-month pause.

A draft environmental assessment released Sunday by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources anticipates no significant environmental impact from the resumption of the practice around Oahu and Hawaii Island.


The public has until May 8 to comment on the two documents, which can be found at http://oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/The_Environmental_Notice/2018-04-08-TEN.pdf

Aquarium fishermen were barred from plying their trade in Hawaii waters after the state Supreme Court sided with a coalition of environmental groups who said the impact of the aquarium trade has not been properly documented. The state 1st Circuit Court, sitting as the Environmental Court, on Oct. 27 deemed all commercial aquarium fish permits invalid.

At the time, there were 233 valid commercial aquarium permits.

The draft environmental assessment, applied for by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, representing the aquarium trade, and prepared by international consultant Stantec Consulting Services, included data from 256 survey points around Hawaii Island and 228 around Oahu.

“We worked hard to find and consider all available data on the fishery so that the best science was involved in its preparation,” Robert Likins, vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said Monday. “We were unable to find any research which shows that the aquarium fishery is depleting the reefs, and two studies have concluded that the fishery has no significant impact on coral or the reef ecosystem.”

The analysis found collection rates of less than 1 percent of the population of 37 of the allowed aquarium fish species and less than 5 percent of the other three species around Hawaii Island. Research suggests collection of between 5 percent and 25 percent is sustainable for the various reef species, the report says.

Average collection rates for the top 20 fish off Oahu from 2000 to 2017 varied from less than 1 percent for most species to an astonishing 61 percent for the flame wrasse.

“Based on the low percentage of the overall populations collected annually by commercial aquarium fishers, which is spread throughout the year and across multiple areas, as well as the targeted take of smaller, less fecund individuals, commercial aquarium collection likely has minimal impacts on populations in general,” the Hawaii Island report states, adding, “Two studies have concluded that the aquarium fishery has no significant impact on coral or the reef ecosystem.”

The environmental groups who sued the state, forcing the moratorium, said the reports don’t go nearly far enough.

“The industry’s assessments dodge critical questions that need to be answered for the documents to comply with Hawaii’s environmental review law,” Earthjustice attorney Summer Kupau-Odo said Monday in a statement.

“For example, Hawaii law requires identification of cumulative and secondary impacts, including long-term effects, of the industry’s massive mining of reef animals. The (environmental assessments), however, do not discuss any effects beyond a one-year period,” Kupau-Odo said. “That’s a glaring and troubling legal flaw, which prevents DLNR from finding no significant impact.”

The Supreme Court last year sided with plaintiffs Rene Umberger, Mike Nakachi, Kaimi Kaupiko, Willie Kaupiko, Conservation Council for Hawaii, The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, all represented by Earthjustice, in a unanimous ruling that the state’s land department could not approve commercial collection permits without first complying with the environmental review mandated by Hawaii’s Environmental Policy Act.

“Of course unlimited collection of aquarium fish harms Hawaii’s reefs. For the state to conclude otherwise would be lazy and ridiculous,” said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to strengthen our protection of imperiled coral reefs, not trample them to stock private aquariums.”

Those who depend on aquarium fish collecting, however, are hoping the reports pave the way for the resumption of their livelihoods.

From 2000 to 2017, the aquarium fishery within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area alone added an average of $1.4 million annually to the state’s economy, while the overall aquarium fishery within the state added an average of $2.1 million to the economy, the report states.

In 2017, an estimated 57 people were directly employed in the aquarium fishery in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area and as many as 266 were employed statewide, it added.

“Loss of the fishery would result in the loss of income, tax revenue and jobs,” the report concludes.

“The fact is that aquarium fishers are reliant on a healthy reef for their livelihoods, so they have more reason than anyone to ensure sustainability,” Likins said. “They care for and about fish.”

Randy Fernley, owner of the Aiea-based Coral Fish Hawaii, the state’s largest tropical fish store, said the industry has indeed taken a hit. While his business is somewhat insulated by his aquarium supply trade, freshwater fish sales and import of fish from out of state, many don’t have that buffer, he said.

“I’m barely staying in business. I’ve had to lay off some people,” Fernley said of the business he’s been in for 40 years. “Whether the industry can survive or not, I don’t know.”


The public can send comments by May 8 to the approving agency, Department of Land and Natural Resources, attention David Sakoda, 587-0104, david.sakoda@hawaii.gov 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813.

Copies should be sent to applicant Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, on behalf of Hawaii fishers Jim Lynch, jim.lynch@klgates.com, (206) 370-6587 925 Fourth Ave., Suite 2900, Seattle, WA 98104, and consultant Stantec Consulting Services, Inc.; 2300 Swan Lake Blvd., Suite 202, Independence, IA 50644 Terry VanDeWalle, (319) 334-3755, terry.vandewalle@stantec.com .

  1. fishman2 April 10, 2018 6:46 am

    So, they had to pay an outside consulting company to “prove” what the experts and government officials already knew. Now comes the useless and wasteful law suits from the opponents that will drag this out as long as they can. The typical approach taken in Hawaii. Thanks to the idiot supreme court that doesn’t take real scientific information into account. Sound familiar?

    1. Gail griffin April 10, 2018 11:37 am

      Fisherman, your name says it all.

      1. fishman2 April 10, 2018 2:27 pm

        Got the spelling wrong. Maybe that is your problem.

    2. Bigislandfarmer April 11, 2018 8:18 am

      It’s actually the opposite. A study posing as science to get the result they wanted.

      1. fishman2 April 11, 2018 9:44 am

        No, the science was already there and published. It is just that the Supreme Court didn’t even look at it or take it into account when they made that uninformed decision. They just chose to believe the anti-science activists instead.

  2. Kawaii April 10, 2018 8:13 am

    Studies proved the no take zones were working and replenishing reefs outside of the zones. The ban was completely unnecessary and arbitrary.

    Thanks West Hawaii Today for providing us with the list of people and groups responsible for wasting taxpayer money. They are: Rene Umberger, Mike Nakachi, Kaimi Kaupiko, Willie Kaupiko, Conservation Council for Hawaii, The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, all represented by Earthjustice.

  3. Bigislandfarmer April 10, 2018 8:29 am

    So we’ve known for 10+ years that reef fish counts are down 80% from a generation ago and we know virtually all coral around the world will be gone in 50 years. Why is any further destruction of the reef allowed at all? I wish advocates for this would go after the far more impactful practice of shoreline reef fishing and seek an outright ban on such activities. You’d think in a state run by Dems they’s have at least a small amount of environmental awareness. Not here!

    1. Gail griffin April 10, 2018 11:36 am

      The yellow tang can live 40 years. Remember when 500 were found in a dumpster in Kona several years back?? The Humane Society wrote an article about it in their news letter. The old, the young, the injured died. I also noticed less tang in Keahou Bay at that time. So don’t tell me that the collections don’t have an impact.

      1. fishman2 April 10, 2018 11:55 am

        Everything we do has an impact. As far as an EA, it has to decide whether there is a “Significant Impact”. So now, I expect everyone will be arguing what is significant. I remember that scene with the dead fish. Sickening, but I don’t remember they ever found out who did that.

    2. LimeyinHi April 10, 2018 5:07 pm

      Bigislandfarmer, tell me, how do you ‘know’ that ‘virtually all coral around the world will be gone in 50 years.’ Are you a psychic or do you believe everything that you read in the media? Will the sea level rise twenty feet, will temperatures be degrees warmer? Tell me how do you know the future?

      1. Bigislandfarmer April 11, 2018 8:15 am

        It’s called science.

        1. I know COH better April 13, 2018 7:39 am

          Yep. Gone. Stupid is as stupid does.

  4. Kawaii April 10, 2018 10:26 am

    It was very irresponsible of these individuals and groups to pursue legal action against the state knowing fish collecting had no negative impact on fish populations. These individuals have wasted donor and taxpayer funds.

    I am very disappointed in Rene Umberger, Mike Nakachi, Kaimi Kaupiko, Willie Kaupiko, Conservation Council for Hawaii, The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, all represented by Earthjustice. They need to focus on more meaningful work.

  5. Du Mhan Yhu April 10, 2018 10:28 am

    Sounds like the right amount of money changed hands.

    1. fishman2 April 10, 2018 4:57 pm

      I realize bribery happens, but really, do you think these fishermen are successfully bribing the government on this issue? Really?

  6. KonaLife April 10, 2018 10:53 am

    I’m not against aquarium fish collecting if there is research showing it’s not harmful. Apparently, there is, so that’s not a big problem in my mind.

    My concern is the collectors are able to use a public resource, the near shore waters, and take millions of dollars of fish a year, and the public get no benefit. Why aren’t the collectors paying a $1 a fish (or something)? Seems wrong to me that they can go and harvest and sell thousands of “our” fish without any contribution to the common good.

    1. antifaHI April 15, 2018 8:05 am

      That fee actually should go directly to salaries of field inspectors and control mechanisms at ports.

      1. KonaLife April 15, 2018 1:01 pm

        Mhmmmm.. No! My idea was not to use the money to create more expensive government jobs.

        How about going into a community fund that could be used for supplies for volunteer groups to paint park pavilions, plant trees, remove waste from our shorelines, clean beaches, maintain trails, etc? That would be a big benefit for community and the money would be multiplied by letting volunteers do the work. Never happen, I know, as the county/state would want to create positions to oversee the funds!

        My whole point is that the fish collectors are taking a community resources at basically no cost. We wouldn’t allow loggers to cut trees on public land without a monetary benefit to the community; why are we doing so with the fish collectors? It’s also reasonable to believe that the fish collectors would be more conscientious about their fish collecting choices if there were costs associated with it.

        1. antifaHI April 16, 2018 7:42 am

          Without enforcement nothing works as it should be, especially in natural resources. Earmarking funds is a possibility, but they end up always in the general fund later on. Where they’ll go into raises of employees or to pet projects.

  7. Danny Smith April 10, 2018 12:42 pm

    They make laws and regulations to protect marine life and the water but allow these guys to just take whatever they want. A turtle is worth protecting but a yellow tang is not? A yellow tang can live over 25 years in the wild but in captivity their lifespan is about 3 years. Doesn’t take a genius to see the collectors are giving them a death sentence when captured. If you want to argue the loss of jobs then think about how many jobs will be lost if tourists don’t come anymore because of the lack of marine life.

  8. Jude Dideo April 10, 2018 9:21 pm

    The stark reality of EAs and EIAs is that evironmental consultants get paid a lot (A LOT) of money to find No Significant Impact. In 40 years of reading these reports, I think I’ve only seen one or two that actually identified an impact that was “significant”. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, there will never be a “significant impact” found by a consultant who is paid to clear a path for development.

    1. onceawarrior April 10, 2018 11:32 pm

      Jude Dideo, your statement is substantially correct. EAs are written by professionals to support the clients vision. The EA process is a farce.

      1. fishman2 April 11, 2018 2:12 pm

        And your suggestions for how to improve things??

        1. onceawarrior April 28, 2018 2:50 pm

          On fish habitat and its environment, i have no idea for its improvement.
          On the EA process, the lead agency can seek feed forward comments.
          Feed back response to decisions are most always useless.

    2. Bigislandfarmer April 11, 2018 8:16 am

      Much like Hawaii County’s Board of Ethics. Filled with hacks appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. The foxes guarding the hen house.

  9. Vfaye April 11, 2018 11:34 pm

    The public can send comments by May 8 to the approving agency, Department of Land and Natural Resources, attention David Sakoda, 587-0104, david.sakoda@hawaii.gov 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813.

  10. Mark Schacht April 13, 2018 7:09 am

    I wonder…How many more millions of reef fish have to extracted from Hawaii’s reefs before these hired guns (for the aquarium death trade) see a “significant” impact?

  11. I know COH better April 13, 2018 7:37 am

    Of course not. Want a f joke. Measure fish in “protected areas”vs not. They fish the protective areas as well. What a joke this is. A slap in the face.


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