BLNR Deadlock on Aquarium Pet Trade Prompts Lawsuit


Yellowfish, called Lau’ipala by native Hawaiians, are the most exploited Hawaiian aquarium fish. Photo credit: Kaikea Nakachi.

Conservation groups, native Hawaiian fishermen and cultural practitioners this week sued the Hawaiian Land and Natural Resources Council to protect the reefs and coastal areas of western Hawaii from commercial fish extraction and d ‘other wildlife for the aquarium pet trade.

The lawsuit, filed in Hawai’i Circuit Court in Honolulu, challenges “the board’s failure to reject the latest environmental impact statement submitted by trade representatives,” which the group says violates state laws on environmental protection.

“After everything we’ve done to try and fix this problem, it doesn’t make sense for BLNR to give the industry a pass,” said Miloli’i angler Wilfred “Willie” Kaupiko, who since more than 30 years have been fighting to protect the reefs of western Hawaii from what he calls the “harmful effects” of the aquarium trade. “How are we going to protect these resources for future generations if these agencies aren’t looking after us here in Hawai’i?” “

Kaupiko and his co-plaintiffs have led the charge to curb what they call a “loosely regulated” aquarium pet trade, which they say “regularly extracts hundreds of thousands of attractive small fish from the land. Hawaiian reefs every year ”. In 2012, a coalition represented by Earthjustice filed a lawsuit and, after a decisive victory in the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2017, was heavily involved in the court-ordered environmental review process orchestrated by a trade association. of pets based in Virginia.

After the board of directors unanimously rejected the industry’s first environmental impact statement for West Hawai’i in May 2020, a revised version was prepared. At a public meeting on June 25, the Board of Directors failed to achieve a majority vote on the revised statement (3-3), resulting in the “acceptance” of the revised statement as of right. July 8.


“If your first SIA attempt is rejected, you can try again, but the law is very clear that you have to fix the problems with the first one,” Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland said. “These collectors, this industry and now the Council have completely ignored this requirement; the Council cannot authorize the reopening of the trade without requiring the candidates to tackle head-on the many flaws that demanded rejection last year. “


The State Department of Lands and Natural Resources declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying “We cannot comment on pending legal issues.”

The DLNR released information following the standoff, saying the board’s decision was limited to the acceptability of the final revised EIA and was not a decision on aquarium fishing licenses at Kona. The state noted that the seven aquarium fishers who undertook the EIA should apply for permits, and RFEIS described seven other possible courses of action.

“BLNR’s failure to reject this latest EIS is a travesty for our reefs,” said Rene Umberger, executive director of For the Fishes. “BLNR’s lack of decisive action is a signal to those in the aquarium trade that there is no need to comply with Hawaii’s environmental protection laws. No doubt other private interests will take note.


“We will never stop pushing for our government to do the right thing for our communities and our natural resources,” said fisherman from Miloli’i Ka’imi Kaupiko. “For us, it’s not just about our keiki and future generations, but everyone as well. The grandchildren of these commercial collectors should also be able to see healthy, vibrant reefs, just like we did when we were kids. “

“To restore the beauty and abundance of our reefs, people and agencies must work hand in hand for the greater good of Hawaii,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, founder of Kai Palaoa and practitioner of Kanaloa . “We are very disappointed that BLNR has gone against its previous decision and bowed to pressure from this profit-hungry industry.”

The plaintiffs believe that accepting the new environmental scan by default “could lead to the reopening of commercial collection in West Hawaii, without the disclosure and mitigation of known environmental consequences required by law. the State “.


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