A Kealakekua resident was sentenced Tuesday to pay $5,500 in fines stemming from the illegal collection of 550 aquarium fish earlier this year from waters off South Kohala.
Tyron T. Terazono pleaded guilty Tuesday to 11 counts, including charges of aquarium collecting gear or taking, aquatic life for aquarium purposes without holding a valid West Hawaii aquarium permit and a “white list” species, in South Kohala District Court in Waimea.
Environmental Court Judge Mahilani Hiatt, who denied a defense motion to merge the counts, sentenced Terazono to pay $500 per count, or a total of $5,500 in fines, and serve 30 days in jail. The jail time is suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Britt Bailey had asked for Hiatt to order Terazono to pay the maximum fine of $1,000 for each count consecutively and serve 30 days in jail for each count concurrently. That would have equated to a total fine of $11,000 and incarceration of 30 days.
The case was initiated on Feb. 20 when state conservation officers were tipped off to illegal collection activities in West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area waters off South Kohala.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources 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 reportedly 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.
Terazono was the Masako’s captain and one of two people charged in connection with the incident. A third person on the boat was not criminally cited.
The second person charged, Wayne T. Newman, was sentenced in June to pay $260 in fines and fees after pleading no contest to possessing aquatic life for aquarium purposes without holding a valid West Hawaii aquarium permit and possessing a “white list” species.
“Mahalo to Judge Hiatt for taking this case more seriously than similar prosecutions in the past. For example, co-defendant Wayne Newman, was only fined $200 for similar acts. However, due to the egregious nature of these blatant violations, even these stiffer penalties are not enough. The market value of the 550 animals exceeded $37,000, which brings into question whether this fine will serve as a deterrent or is just the cost of doing business in Hawaii,” Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director and attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which released a statement along with For the Fishes following Tuesday’s sentencing.
“Unfortunately, both defendants have continued business as usual, shipping our imperiled reef wildlife out of state. While this sentencing is a step in the right direction, our nearshore resources deserve more,” Phillips continued.
Bailey, reached Tuesday afternoon, declined comment.
“DLNR and its Divisions of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) and Aquatic Resources (DAR) are pleased with the penalty in this case and the guilty plea. It demonstrates the seriousness of natural resource violations of any kind and we appreciate the court recognizing this in its sentence of the maximum criminal fines,” a statement from the Department of Land and Natural Resources read. “DAR is continuing to pursue a civil action for this case before the Board of Land and Natural Resources.”
Civil enforcement is pending after a contested case hearing was requested May 22 when the Board of Land and Natural Resources was set to consider a proposal to split $110,000 in administrative fines among the three aboard the vessel on Feb. 20, Terazono, Newman and Kacie Terazono. The matter is not listed on agenda for the BLNR’s meeting Friday.
The aquatic life 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.