Oahu court in­val­i­dates state-is­sued per­mits to col­lect trop­i­cal fish in wild

Maui marine ad­vo­cate says it’s time to ac­knowl­edge im­pact of fish har­vest­ing

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By MELISSA TANJI Staff Writer

Maui marine ad­vo­cate Rene Um­berger is ap­plaud­ing a re­cent Hawaii court rul­ing that in­val­i­dates all state-is­sued un­ex­pired recre­ational aquar­ium col­lec­tion per­mits.

The 1st Cir­cuit Court on Oahu, which was sit­ting as the En­vi­ron­men­tal Court, ruled Thurs­day that the 131 statewide per­mits are in­valid. Each of the per­mits au­tho­rized the cap­ture of al­most 2,000 fish, for about 250,000 fish per year, ac­cord­ing to an an­nounce­ment from Earthjus­tice’s Mid-Pa­cific Of­fice, the non­profit law firm rep­re­sent­ing the plain­tiffs, in­clud­ing Um­berger.

There are no state recre­ational aquar­ium col­lec­tion per­mits is­sued for Maui County, said state Depart­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources spokesman Dan Den­ni­son. And, over­all, there is no sig­nif­i­cant aquar­ium col­lec­tion in Maui or Kauai coun­ties, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from the depart­ment.

Um­berger added that Maui County saw many, if not all, of its com­mer­cial aquar­ium fish col­lec­tors leave the is­land and head to Hawaii is­land when a county law was en­acted around eight years ago that re­quires any com­mer­cial aquar­ium col­lec­tors to have a county per­mit. County Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor Rod An­tone said no one had taken out a com­mer­cial per­mit since the per­mit re­quire­ment was es­tab­lished.

“That ba­si­cally shut down the le­gal com­mer­cial guys on Maui,” Um­berger said.

But, she said some fish col­lected from the wild have been known to show up for sale. And yet, a his­tory of aquar­ium fish col­lect­ing has greatly af­fected marine life in Maui County wa­ters, Um­berger said.

She heads the non­profit For the Fishes, which aims to, among other things, en­hance le­gal pro­tec­tions for coral reef wildlife.

Um­berger said more aquar­ium fish tak­ings hap­pen with com­mer­cial per­mit hold­ers than with recre­ational per­mit hold­ers. Over the years, she said, fewer col­or­ful fish are be­ing found in coastal wa­ters.

“They all take the most col­or­ful, beau­ti­ful fish. They are not tak­ing the gray ones and the brown ones,” she said. “Once you know what should be there, you re­al­ize, ‘Oh my gosh, where are the yel­low tangs?’ ”

Last week’s rul­ing stemmed from a 2012 law­suit in which Um­berger and other in­di­vid­u­als — Mike Nakachi, Ka‘imi Kaupiko and Wil­lie Kaupiko — and or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing the Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil for Hawai‘i, the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States and the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Diver­sity, sued the state Depart­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources for fail­ing to com­ply with Hawaii’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act and to study en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts be­fore is­su­ing aquar­ium per­mits.

In Septem­ber, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view is nec­es­sary be­fore the state can is­sue com­mer­cial aquar­ium col­lec­tion per­mits. In Oc­to­ber, the Cir­cuit Court, in line with the high court’s rul­ing, de­clared all ex­ist­ing com­mer­cial per­mits void and or­dered an in­junc­tion pro­hibit­ing the Depart­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources from is­su­ing any com­mer­cial per­mits un­til it com­plied with the Hawaii En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act. The ques­tion about the le­gal­ity of recre­ational per­mits was re­solved last week.

In re­sponse to an email re­quest­ing com­ment, the DLNR is­sued an in­for­ma­tional re­port from Divi­sion of Aquat­ics Ad­min­is­tra­tor Bruce Anderson. It said col­lec­tors on Oahu and Hawaii is­land have pre­pared en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments. It also notes that the state im­me­di­ately ceased is­su­ing new com­mer­cial per­mits and voided any ex­ist­ing per­mits to use fine mesh nets.

The West Hawaii To­day news­pa­per re­ported re­cently that the Pet In­dus­try Joint Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil has ap­plied for the draft en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment. It an­tic­i­pates a find­ing of no sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact from the fish-col­lect­ing prac­tice around Oahu and Hawaii is­land. To view the doc­u­ments, visit oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/_lay­outs/15/start.aspx#/EA_EIS_Li­brary/Forms/Al­lItems.aspx.

Mem­bers of the pub­lic have un­til May 8 to com­ment on the draft en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment.

As for the re­cent rul­ing on recre­ational aquar­ium col­lec­tion per­mits, Um­berger said: “It’s well past time for DLNR and Gov. David Ige to step into the 21st cen­tury and stop their mag­i­cal think­ing that marine life cap­tured for aquar­i­ums can some­how sus­tain lim­it­less ex­trac­tion with­out im­pact. No other wildlife or ecosys­tem on Earth has been able to with­stand such an as­sault, and Hawaii is no ex­cep­tion.”

MEL MALI­NOWSKI photo

Yel­low tangs are pop­u­lar fish taken by aquar­ium col­lec­tors. A re­cent rul­ing from the 1st Cir­cuit Court on Oahu in­val­i­dates the state’s 131 un­ex­pired recre­ational aquar­ium col­lec­tion per­mits. Al­though there are no such per­mit hold­ers in Maui County, the...

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