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Commercial aquarium fishing could return to Hawaii waters

April 12, 2018

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Commercial aquarium fish collecting could be returning to Hawaii shores following a five-month pause.

A draft environmental assessment released Sunday by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources anticipates no significant environmental impact from the practice around Oahu and Hawaii Island, West Hawaii Today reported .

Aquarium fishers were barred from plying their trade in Hawaii waters Oct. 27 after the state Supreme Court sided with a coalition of environmental groups who said the impact of the aquarium trade has not been properly documented. At the time, there were 233 valid commercial aquarium permits.

The draft environmental assessment, applied for by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, included data from 256 survey points around Hawaii Island and 228 around Oahu.

“We worked hard to find and consider all available data on the fishery so that the best science was involved in its preparation,” Robert Likins, vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said. “We were unable to find any research which shows that the aquarium fishery is depleting the reefs, and two studies have concluded that the fishery has no significant impact on coral or the reef ecosystem.”

The analysis found collection rates of less than 1 percent of the population of 37 of the allowed aquarium fish species and less than 5 percent of the other three species around Hawaii Island. Research suggests collection of between 5 percent and 25 percent is sustainable for the various reef species, according to the report.

Average collection rates for the top 20 fish off Oahu from 2000 to 2017 varied from less than 1 percent for most species to an astonishing 61 percent for the flame wrasse.

“Based on the low percentage of the overall populations collected annually by commercial aquarium fishers, which is spread throughout the year and across multiple areas, as well as the targeted take of smaller, less fecund individuals, commercial aquarium collection likely has minimal impacts on populations in general,” according to the report. “Two studies have concluded that the aquarium fishery has no significant impact on coral or the reef ecosystem.”

The environmental groups that sued the state, forcing the moratorium, said the reports don’t go nearly far enough.

“The industry’s assessments dodge critical questions that need to be answered for the documents to comply with Hawaii’s environmental review law,” Earthjustice attorney Summer Kupau-Odo said.

The public has until May 8 to comment on the environmental assessment.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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