After Five Years, Hawaii Commercial Aquarium Fishing Ban Lifted

The West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area. Image: State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources.

Following a five-year ban on commercial aquarium fishing off West Hawaii, the state land board has regained the authority to consider issuing new permits.

On Jan. 30, Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree lifted an injunction in a case filed by opponents of commercial aquarium fishing. The order had prohibited the issuance or renewal of aquarium fish permits to commercial collectors pursuant to Hawaii law regarding the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA).

However, an injunction concerning the issuance or renewal of aquarium fish permits in the rest of the Hawaii remains in effect, and aquarium fish collecting remains banned everywhere else besides West Hawaii. The state legislature is considering a bill to make a statewide ban permanent.

During the January legal hearing, the state’s lead counsel, Deputy Attorney General Melissa Goldman, reminded the parties and the public that aquarium fishing in West Hawaii is not restricted only due to the injunction, as did the governor.

“No aquarium fishing permits have yet been considered or issued for WHRFMA by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and the lifting of the injunction in the WHRFMA does not permit the immediate resumption of commercial aquarium fishing either in the WHRFMA or anywhere else in Hawaii,” the office of Gov. Josh Green made clear in a statement.

In response to the ruling, Goldman explained that the decision returns the management of the state’s aquatic resources in the WHRFMA back to the DLNR now that the environmental review for West Hawaii is complete.

“Today’s decision does not itself authorize any aquarium fishing,” she said after the injunction was lifted. “That question may now be taken up by the DLNR, which is the agency charged with managing the state’s aquatic resources.”

State officials say that anyone who engages in commercial aquarium collection without the required permit in the West Hawaii management area or elsewhere in the state will be cited, and that DLNR will pursue enforcement to the fullest extent authorized by law.

In response to the lifting of the injunction, the environmental group Earthjustice said it’s disappointed with the ruling and that an appeal already has been filed with the court.