Hawaii Land and Natural Resources Board targeted in aquarium fishing lawsuit

July 14 — A group of cultural practitioners and conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources to strike down an environmental review calling for the reopening of the aquarium fishing industry in the west from Hawaii.

The Kaupiko Hui in Hawaii Circuit Court in Oahu on Tuesday, just days after the Land Board accepted a revised final environmental impact statement that could allow the collection of aquarium fish in the Fisheries Management Zone regions of western Hawaii, where commercial activity has been closed for months.

The lawsuit would invalidate RFEIS and prohibit BLNR and the State Department of Lands and Natural Resources from issuing aquarium permits or commercial marine licenses for aquarium purposes.

“After everything we’ve done to try and fix this problem, it doesn’t make sense that BLNR is giving the industry a pass,” said Wilfred “Willie” Kaupiko, a fisherman from Milolii and member of the hui. , in a press release. “How are we going to protect these resources for future generations if these agencies aren’t looking after us here in Hawaii?”

The RFEIS was presented to the BLNR at its meeting on June 25, and to the board, then composed of six members present, on the decision to accept it. A tie meant no action had been taken at that time, but the review was accepted by default on Friday because the board did not resolve the tie at that time.

Acceptance of the revised impact statement could lead to the reopening of commercial aquarium fishing on the west side of the island of Hawaii.

A Circuit Court ruling in November shut down aquarist fishing in Hawaii altogether after a previous lawsuit, which involved many of the same parties involved in Tuesday’s lawsuit, alleged the Department of Land and Natural Resources was allowing unduly the industry to continue.

The Kaupiko Hui is made up of Kaupiko and Mike Nakachi, who are both cultural practitioners and residents of the area, and the non-profit organizations For the Fishers, Center for Biological Diversity and Kai Palaoa. The coalition, along with many others, is trying to prevent aquarium fishing from returning to Hawaii, at least until it is satisfied that an appropriate environmental and cultural assessment is carried out.

The lawsuit said the RFEIS, submitted by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, fails to meet the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, the state’s environmental review process, because it fails to address a number of problems.

They include the “localized impacts of the catch quotas proposed by PIJAC in the catch areas of individual aquariums”, “sustainable catch levels based on the lifespan of the species, the size of the population, the reproduction rates. and age at first reproduction ”,“ impacts of exceeding historical catch levels for certain species, ““ cumulative impacts by comparing fish populations in areas collected to areas closed to the aquarium trade ”,“ “impacts on Indigenous Hawaiians ”and“ economic impacts on affected stakeholder groups beyond the collectors themselves. “

The nonprofit Earthjustice, which represents the hui, said the BLNR had ignored the issues of the environmental review.

“If your first attempt at EIS is rejected, you can try again, but the law is very clear that you must resolve the issues in the first,” Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland said in a statement. . “These collectors, this industry and now the Council have completely ignored this requirement; the Council cannot allow the reopening of the business without requiring applicants to tackle head-on the many flaws that demanded rejection last year.”

PIJAC had argued in its RFEIS that a limited reopening of aquarium fishing would be sustainable. During the review, he recommended that only seven licenses be issued to commercial fishers who, together, would only be allowed to catch 247,000 fish per calendar year. Additionally, these fish are said to be in just eight white-listed species, and licensed fishermen would be limited to catching fish only in the WHRFMA and nowhere else in the state.

The board had presented a previous EIA to BLNR in May 2020 which was unanimously rejected. Board chair Suzanne Case said at the time that the proposal was “without significant limits on future catches, without enough attention to our severely depleted stocks … and without adequate analysis of short-term effects. end of climate change, ocean warming and coral bleaching on our reefs. “

This EIS proposed to reopen aquarium fishing at WHRFMA by authorizing the issuance of 10 permits. There were 40 species on the white list and the proposal included bag limits for certain species.

Case and two other board members voted to accept RFEIS and, contrary to the beliefs of Earthjustice and Hui, said he responded to numerous complaints from the board last year.

The DLNR declined to comment for this story, saying it does not comment on ongoing legal issues.

In 2017, before the harvest ban, 45% of Hawaii’s aquarium fish were caught in the WHRFMA on the island of Hawaii.


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