The Department of Land and Natural Resources is taking immediate steps to comply with a new order issued late Friday from the First Circuit Court, requiring Chapter 343 environmental review for issuance of new or renewed annual commercial marine licenses (CMLs) to be used for aquarium fishing purposes under HRS 189-2.
This is in addition to the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling requiring Chapter 343 environmental review for issuance of fine-mesh net permits used for aquarium fishing under HRS 188-31. “The court agrees with DLNR that Umberger did not specifically address or resolve the issue of whether HRS 189-2 permits are an “action” for purposes of HEPA.”
Immediately, the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) will not renew or issue new CMLs without a condition prohibiting the taking of marine life for aquarium fishing purposes until Chapter 343 environmental review is completed. 41 commercial marine licensees of the approximate 3,000 CMLs currently report aquarium catch.
The court declined to issue an injunction at this time stopping aquarium fishing under existing CMLs, which are issued for a year at a time. “The court therefore declines to issue an injunction at this time, without prejudice. Plaintiffs may file a further motion requesting injunctive relief if they so choose.”
The court recognized that an immediate ban would “cause economic hardship to aquarium fishers, their families, employees, and vendors” particularly now, during the pandemic.
DLNR Director Suzanne Case pointed to several high-profile aquarium fishing enforcement busts on Hawai‘i island this year that were the result of tips from concerned community members. These cases are still in the courts and DLNR civil violation systems. In the meantime, DLNR is encouraging anyone who suspects illegal aquarium fishing to report it immediately to the DLNR 24-hour violation hotline or via the free DLNRTip app. “We continue to take illegal aquarium fishing seriously. We want people to continue to report any illegal activity,” Case said.