An environmental court judge on Tuesday issued $200 in fines to one of two people charged for allegedly illegally collecting 550 aquarium fish earlier this year off South Kohala.
Wayne T. Newman pleaded no contest to possessing aquatic life for aquarium purposes without holding a valid West Hawaii aquarium permit and possessing a “white list” species during an arraignment and plea hearing held Tuesday in South Kohala.
South Kohala Environmental Court Judge Mahilani Hiatt ordered Newman to pay a $100 fine and a $30 fee for each offense for a total of $260 by July 7.
Newman was charged with the offenses after being contacted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement on Feb. 20 when returning on a vessel with Tyron T. Terazono and a third person to Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor.
The DLNR said it received a tip that day concerning illegal harvesting of aquarium fish off Kawaihae and conducted a commercial fishing gear and catch inspection of the vessel “Masako.” The inspection allegedly turned up aquarium fishing gear, including a small mesh net, aboard the vessel, according to the department. The vessel’s hold also contained 550 live fish, all which were returned live to the ocean.
Tyron Terazono, the vessel’s captain, was charged with possessing aquarium collecting gear or taking, possessing aquatic life for aquarium purposes without holding a valid West Hawaii aquarium permit and possessing a “white list” species. An arraignment and plea hearing slated for Tuesday was continued to June 30.
The third person on the vessel was not charged.
In a statement following Tuesday’s sentencing, Rene Umberger, executive director of nonprofit For the Fishes, questioned how “such paltry” fines can serve as a deterrent when “a commercial collector stands to profit tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling off our wildlife to the highest bidder?”
“36 cents per animal — that’s just the cost of doing business for this destructive and unwanted trade,” Umberger added. “It should not cost less to break the law than it does to respect and adhere to it.”
The DLNR also released a statement following sentencing, noting the Division of Aquatic Resources was disappointed with the sentence handed down.
“We estimate the retail market value of the illegal catch is in excess of $37,000 for this single incident. The $200 Court sentence doesn’t adequately match the seriousness of the crime or discourage illegal activity in the future,” the statement reads. “Unfortunately, because this was a first offense, the maximum penalty is a $100 fine for each violation.
“The DLNR is looking at additional penalties through a civil enforcement action. Our natural resources hold incredible ecological, cultural, and economic value. The maximum fine amount, as reflected in today’s court decision, does not reflect the value of the natural resources that can be lost when these laws are violated,” the statement continued.
The DLNR, however, did not directly respond to a request for an update on a proposal from the division that went before the Board of Land and Natural Resources last week.
Though commissioners stated a contested case hearing was sought during a live-stream of the event, the department later said the proposal was withdrawn. Draft minutes also indicate the proposal was withdrawn.
The board on May 22 was set to consider the proposal to split $110,000 in administrative fines among the three aboard the vessel on Feb. 20, Terazono, Newman and Kacie Terazono.
Under the proposal, Tyron Terazono would pay $38,600, Kacie Terazono $37,800 and Wayne Newman $38,000.
The aquatic life allegedly collected had a retail value of nearly $37,500, according to a submittal to the BLNR. Under administrative rules, a fine of up to $550,000 could have been sought for the 550 fish taken, in addition to fines for rule violations.