Aquarium fish industry says no significant impact in resuming netting

  • A school of yellow tang off the coast of Hawaii. (AP Photo/Bill Walsh, Oregon State University)

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

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.

  1. Mark Schacht August 10, 2018 3:53 am

    The industry has ALWAYS maintained there is no significant impact of the wholesale extraction of wild reef fish from Hawaii’s waters. And their total blanket opposition to bag limits is also their longheld position. I’m quite sure the ‘fishers’ (aka the reef harvesters) are willing to talk talk talk about all this, but what’s the point? Ban the aquarium trade once and for all!

  2. Dan McNally August 10, 2018 5:43 am

    A simple solution is a limited number of licensed collectors and a daily “bag limit” for each species, dependent upon rarity. When I lived in Hawaii, I had a good friend who made a living collecting and selling fish to the aquarium trade – he was conscientious, was careful how he handled the fish. He even slowly decompressed fish he caught in deeper areas, taking hours to bring them to the surface. He never over-fished from one area or over-collected given species, because it was in his best interests for the species to survive and breed, giving him a life-long career income.

  3. Du Mhan Yhu August 10, 2018 9:10 am

    Well, of COURSE they would say that.

    What a shock!

  4. Chandrika McLaughlin August 10, 2018 11:46 am

    As someone who snorkels about 300 days per year. I can assure you that the population of reef fish has declined significantly over the past twenty-five years. It is time to ban this practice. Are we going to allow fifty people to damage an eco-system that helps to bring in billions of dollars annually through tourism? Do the right thing and ban this destructive practice.

  5. Big Mac August 10, 2018 1:32 pm

    They will keep trying until they get the answer thew want. 50 jobs isn’t worth depleting our marine life. I hope there are enough committed people to fight this indefinitely.

  6. ypupule August 11, 2018 11:33 am

    Although I don’t think a total ban is necessary, nor even probably warranted — at this point I’m willing to err on the side of the fish for a change. We need to cut our natural resources some slack, give them some time and chance to recover. For a State so dependent on and known for the beauty of its unique natural resources, we give them an incredibly low priority in terms of protection and conservation. Typical Hawaii backwards “logic.”

  7. Grant David Phillips August 12, 2018 12:28 pm

    90% fatality rate from collection to tank. What a terrible, selfish industry lacking compassion and Aloha.

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