The Hawaiian ornamental fishery saga continues as we have just watched a State of Hawaii public hearing once again calling for a total ban on aquarium fish collection, just as we thought we might be getting our beloved Yellow Tangs and friends back, so what’s happened? Here’s the story so far:
In January 2021 a ruling came in that completely banned the collection of ornamental fish in the entire state of Hawaii, immediately invalidating any existing permits for commercial aquarium fishing. Since then a group of aquarium industry advocates backed up by 30 years of peer-reviewed scientific data have been trying to get that ban reversed, and in October last year, a court ruled to lift the injunction that was preventing fishing permits from being issued.
To get that through, the aquarium industry and their fisher-people went for even tighter self-regulation (Hawaii is already one of the most regulated fisheries in the world,) restricting the possible permits to just seven, the number of fish species allowed to just eight, while also limiting potential catch and individual catch across those seven potential fishing permits. It’s not fair, but at least we may get Yellow tangs, Kole tangs, and Potters angelfish back.
But as we predicted, as soon as the injunction preventing permits was lifted (and no permits have been granted so far,) advocates for banning the collection of ornamental fish started legal proceedings again, and once again there are calls for a bill to ban all saltwater aquarium fish collection in Hawaii. It’s a vicious circle.
Those requesting a ban include multi-generational indigenous Hawaiians who want to protect their native fauna while also having the right to fish them for food, and Earth Justice, an environmental group that wants to ban the trade in wild-caught aquarium fish in its entirety. Those fighting to reopen the ornamental trade in Hawaiian fish include aquatic livestock importers and wholesalers, aquatic companies, and those who make their living from catching fish like Yellow tangs for the aquarium trade, some of whom are also multi-generational indigenous Hawaiians.
The argument for the ban is the environmental impact. The argument against the ban is that 30 years of scientific data has proved unequivocally that there is no environmental impact. None of the collected fish are on any threatened or endangered lists, they are still there after 30 years of sustainable collection, and some experts opposing the latest call for a ban have told the State of Hawaii on the record that there are more fish after 30 years of collection than there were before.
Lengthy court cases are very expensive and we must point out that the case for lifting any collection ban has been paid for by a select few aquatic companies who are paying on behalf of the whole saltwater industry. They will remain unnamed at this point but if we ever get wild Yellow tangs back it will be due to their funding and huge effort, and that should not go unacknowledged.
There is talk online about which species we want back, which we would like etc, but one stakeholder told Reef Builders that due to the process if any fish ever come back, the species selected and their numbers are already set in stone. The eight species will be; Yellow tang, Black surgeonfish, Orangespine unicornfish, Kole tang, Bird wrasse, Potters angel, Thomson’s surgeonfish, and Brown surgeonfish. No more, no less, with quotas capped too. It’s based on a 1500-page Environmental Impact Statement.
When are Yellow tangs coming back?
Where we should be right now is that with the injunction on permits being lifted, fishers can request a permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. It should be one final hurdle to clear to get wild-caught Hawaiian yellow tangs back into stores and our aquariums. Where we are actually at is back in court opposing a new proposal to ban them all again. So once again advocates for the collection of ornamental fish from Hawaii need your support and are asking for you to go to the following link, register and state something as simple as “I oppose banning marine aquarium ornamental fisheries in West Hawaii.” Your City, State, or Country is not necessary.
Key points on the Hawaii ban
- Licenses still aren’t available and it isn’t ok to fish at the moment.
- The decision to issue licenses is reserved for the DLNR and this needs to be respected.
- There are groups now trying to ban the fishery…. again. After the recent win
- It’s important to show support for the fishery by visiting the link