The saltwater aquarium industry has won a small victory in the battle to reopen Hawaiian fish exports. The Board of Land and Natural Resources – the agency that protects Hawaii’s natural resources – approved an Environmental Impact Statement on October 8 allowing the harvesting of saltwater fish for aquariums, despite ongoing legal proceedings which seek to prevent it.
According to a report in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, the Environmental Impact Statement was approved by default after the Land Board failed to make a decision within the legally allowed 30-day period. The right to take wild fish from Hawaiian waters is being contested by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council on one side, and Earth Justice, an environmental law organization acting on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups, Native Hawaiian fishermen, and cultural practitioners, on the other. Earth Justice subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the acceptance of the EIS, which was previously deadlocked at 3-3 last year.
The latest Environmental Impact Statement contained revisions on the number of fishing permits issued and the number of species allowed to be caught. Commercial Fishing Permits would shrink from 10 to seven in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area and the number of fish species allowed would shrink by four-fifths from 40 to just eight species. Only Yellow tangs, Kole tangs, Orangespine unicornfish, Potter’s angelfish, Brown surgeonfish, Thompson’s surgeonfish, Black surgeonfish, and Bird wrasse would be allowed to be collected, under the new plan. That means no Bandit angels, no Hawaiian Flame angels, Jordan’s wrasses, Hawaiian Achilles tangs, or many other popular Hawaiian endemics.
The costly ongoing legal battle is being funded by aquatic companies and organizations on behalf of the whole aquarium industry. We have been praying for the Hawaii fishery to reopen for aquarium fish and although the species offering will be greatly reduced, if the decision is upheld, we cannot wait to see wild Hawaiian Yellow tangs again. We are holding our breath however as Earth Justice continues to rebut the evidence and the ruling and states “The denial of our (motion for summary judgment) did not lift the injunction which remains in place until further order from the court.”
The collection of Hawaiian fish for aquariums has been completely shut down since January 2021. We await further information on exactly when (and from whom,) wild Yellow tangs will be available for the hobby again.