Last month, Hawaii’s Environmental Court voided more than 130 recreational aquarium collection permits. According to West Hawaii Today, “each permit authorized the recreational capture of almost 2,000 fish each year for a total of around 250,000 fish per year.”
The courts deemed the permits illegal “due to their failure to comply with The Hawaii Environmental Policy Act and examine environmental consequences before issuing permits,” West Hawaii Today explained.
Joe Hiduke, sales manager for Nautilus Tropical, says the ban—and the reason behind it—is incongruous with the research available.
“The ornamental marine fishery in Hawaii is one of the best studied and best regulated fisheries in the world,” he said. “A permanent ban on collecting in Hawaii is completely at odds with fact-based regulations. This ban is driven by HSUS and other groups that are opposed to keeping ornamental fish.”
For those who get fish through the recreational aquarium collection permits, Hiduke says the short-term effect for them will be that Hawaii endemics will not be available and that they will have to source their fish elsewhere. For non-endemic species, consumers will have to settle for lesser quality fish sourced elsewhere, he said.
“Long-term consequences are more significant. If is this type of emotion-driven fisheries management style expands beyond Hawaii it will significantly reduce the variety of species available to fish keepers, both marine and freshwater,” Hiduke said.
However, Hiduke said his suppliers are confident “reason will prevail in Hawaii and that collection will resume.”
As Quality Marine Business Development Director Lonnie Ready points out, though, suppliers to the industry operate with commercial licenses, so, at this point, the industry has not been directly impacted by the ban of remaining recreational permits. However, the move is an indication of how the aquarium trade might be affected later down the road, for its shows “the extremes that the court will apparently go to in restricting even the most benign practices,” PIJAC Vice President of Government Affairs Robert Likins said.
This ban comes after the voiding of the industry’s use of fine mesh net licenses, which has already had a substantial impact in Hawaii, according to Likins.
“Aquarium fishing on the big island has been brought to a virtual standstill, as most of it occurred in a controlled area that required an additional license—also suspended—to access. This means that Hawaii Island fishers must travel much further to rougher waters to conduct their livelihood,” he explained. “In Oahu, fishers have been able to continue operating, though at a severely diminished capacity. The banning of the use of fine mesh nets has obligated these fishers to use other methods for fishing, none of which are as efficient or as safe for the fish.”
PIJAC has taken several steps in response to the mesh net ban.
“We joined the case on the side of the state of Hawaii in order to seek relief for our member fishers. Although seeking relief proved unsuccessful in the state courts, we also submitted two Environmental Assessments (EAs) to the state to satisfy the court’s requirements,” Likins said. “These documents are comprehensive, scientific evaluations of the data regarding both the big island and Oahu fisheries.
“The EAs were published for public comment for a month; we are now responding to those comments and making necessary changes to our drafts.” Likins continued. “We expect to have the final EAs prepared shortly, which we will submit to the state for approval. Should the state approve our EAs, they will provide the basis for the state to once again issue fine mesh net licenses.
“This has been a hugely expensive process that PIJAC did not enter into lightly. Our Aquatic Committee and the Hawaii fishers have worked hard to fund raise for this effort, and we continue to need the broader industry’s support to see it through to completion,” he concluded.
Hiduke also recognizes the broader industry’s need for aid.
“I urge all interested stakeholders to support PIJAC [the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council] and their efforts to keep the Hawaiian marine ornamental industry,” Hiduke said.
While organizations like PIJAC are working with the government to make changes and limit the number of bans being placed on the aquatic industry, there of course is conversation about what’s next and what the bans mean. John Dawes, editor of the Ornamental Fish International Journal, continues to “bring to light the cooperation between the conservation community and industry,” as pointed out in a blog post on Good News for Pets’ site. And at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America, scheduled for September 7-9, in Las Vegas, Nevada, there are several discussions on conservation that are expected to include the recent bans out of Hawaii.