State fines pair of aquarium fishers record $272K

  • Conservation officers have arrested a Hawaii island fisherman for the illegal possession of aquarium fishing gear. Divers subsequently found more than 200 fish held in underwater pens off of South Kona. Courtesy DLNR.

  • These illegally harvested aquarium fish were counted, then returned to the ocean. Courtesy DLNR.

  • These illegally harvested aquarium fish were counted, then returned to the ocean. Courtesy DLNR.

  • Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today Stephen Howard stands for the reading of 251 charges levied against him for illegal aquarium fish collecting in November in circuit court.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources voted unanimously Friday to fine two Big Island aquarium fishers $272,000 in civil fines stemming from an illegal aquarium fishing incident in Kona in 2020.

The DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) said these are record fines for these types of violations; and they are well within what Hawaii Administrative Rules allow.

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Husband and wife, Stephen Howard and Yukako Toriyama, were ordered to pay the fines for fishing and boating violations, which happened last Sept. 15. The Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) said it was tipped off that Howard, a known aquarium collector, had launched his boat from the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor and was fishing within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.

This case achieved a lot of notoriety, as Howard left two women divers underwater in open water during the incident. One was Toriyama. The other woman told DOCARE investigators that Howard had dropped them to dive and collect fish, and when they surfaced, he and his boat were gone. The absence of the divers on Howard’s boat, after he had been ordered by enforcement officers back to shore, prompted a multi-agency marine search-and-rescue operation.

The operation was called off after the women were spotted late in the afternoon, with their dive gear, at a Kona-area gas station.

The aquarium fish the pair of divers caught were later located by enforcement officers from NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and DAR biologists with the assistance of the other diver. The DAR team quantified and identified 235 fish of 10 different species.

Toriyama was fined for nine different HAR violations. Howard was fined for 16 different fishing and boating violations. The total retail value of the fish they collected is estimated at $24,730. All of the fish were returned to the ocean.

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Howard and Toriyama are also facing criminal charges in District Court.

“The Land Board is obviously taking a strong stance against the illegal harvest of aquarium fish. I applaud our DOCARE officers for their work tracking and investigating these cases, and the DAR staff for their expertise in documenting the illegal takes and presenting a detailed account of these egregious actions to the BLNR for consideration. I hope anyone engaged in illegally depleting Hawaii’s natural resources will realize the cost of breaking the law, based on the high fines levied in this case,” BLNR Chair Suzanne Case commented.

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