SCOOPING STOPPED. Yellow tang aquarium fish are seen in a
tank at a store in Aiea, Hawai‘i. A Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling
has halted the commercial collection of reef fish for aquariums
until the state reviews the trade’s environmental impact. (AP
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #18 (September 18,
2017), pages 9 & 16.
Ruling halts commercial scooping of Hawai‘i
By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
The Associated Press
HONOLULU — A Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling has halted the
commercial scooping of reef fish for aquariums until the state
reviews the trade’s environmental impact.
Hawai‘i is the world’s third largest source of commercial
fish, after Indonesia and the Philippines, said Rene Umberger,
an avid diver who is among a group of plaintiffs including
subsistence fishermen and environmentalists who sued the state
There’s especially high demand for Hawai‘i’s yellow tang,
The state’s practice of doling out permits for commercial
aquarium fish collection must comply with the Hawai‘i
Environmental Policy Act, the ruling said. A lower court must
determine if recreational aquarium fish collection may be exempt
from the law, the ruling said.
"It certainly is the biggest step forward in getting a handle
on this industry, which has been virtually unregulated,’’
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said of the ruling.
Earthjustice represented the group of plaintiffs whose lawsuit
argued there should have been environmental reviews before the
state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued the
In Hawai‘i, the brightly colored tropical fish are scooped up
into nets and flown across the globe into aquariums.
The aquarium fishery off Hawai‘i’s Big Island is among the
best managed in the world, scientists say. Yet there’s been a
long-running conflict over whether it’s appropriate to remove
fish from reefs for people’s viewing enjoyment.
"Taking tropical fish from Hawai‘ian reefs harms that fragile
ecosystem,’’ Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program director for the
Center for Biological Diversity — one of the plaintiffs — said
in a statement. "Maybe now people will begin to realize that
people are loving these beautiful fish to death.’’
Each commercial aquarium collection permit authorizes removal
of an unlimited number of fish or other aquatic life from
Hawai‘i’s coastal waters, the ruling noted. The state also
issues recreational aquarium collection permits that authorize
an annual catch limit of 2,000 fish for each permit.
There’s no limit on what kinds of fish are taken and how many
permits are issued, Achitoff said. "You really have this
unlimited take of public resources and they’re just taken so
that people can make money,’’ he said.
The ruling reverses lower court decisions that sided with the
The ruling also reverses "more than 60 years of previously
unchallenged practice by the Department of Land and Natural
Resources,’’ said a statement from Hawai‘i attorney general Doug
Chin. "We are reviewing the decision to determine what action
the state will take in light of the ruling.’’