Hawai‘i Court Confirms Illegal Aquarium Collection Must Stop


Latest attempt by state to sidestep the court and allow continued collection shut down


Kylie Wager Cruz, kwager@earthjustice.org, (808) 599-2436, ext. 6618

Rene Umberger, rene@forthefishes.org, (808) 283-7225

Mike Nakachi, mike@moanaohana.com, (808) 640-3871

Maxx Phillips, mphillips@biologicaldiversity.org, (808) 284-0007

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) improperly sidestepped a court order invalidating commercial marine licenses used for aquarium fish collection, the state’s environmental court ruled today.

Willie Kaupiko, Ka‘imi Kaupiko, Mike Nakachi, For the Fishes, and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice, returned to court this week with a motion to enforce a November 27, 2020 ruling declaring DLNR’s issuance of commercial licenses for aquarium fish collection invalid and illegal for failure to comply with the state environmental review law. Despite the ruling, DLNR allowed the aquarium pet trade to continue operating under these illegally issued licenses.

“The court has confirmed — yet again — what community members and environmental advocates have been saying all along,” said Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz. “Exploitation of public marine resources for private profit cannot happen without first conducting environmental review.”

The November 27 ruling had closed a loophole DLNR created after a 2017 Hawai‘i Supreme Court decision requiring environmental studies for state-issued commercial aquarium permits. Under the loophole, DLNR has allowed the industry to continue operating with commercial marine licenses instead, resulting in hundreds of thousands of animals being harvested for the trade despite the court-ordered moratorium on commercial collection.

Photo courtesy of Paul Cox
Aquarium collectors taking fish from a reef in Hawai‘i.

Today’s ruling directs DLNR to enforce the loophole closure and require compliance with the environmental review law before allowing the trade to operate.

“We are thankful that the Judge once again upheld the letter and intent of our environmental laws, even though it doesn’t make sense that we should have to keep going back to court over and over again to say the same thing,” said Miloli‘i fisherman and educator Ka‘imi Kaupiko. “Hopefully, this time the state will fulfill its kuleana. ‘Nuff already with the loopholes.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are also deeply involved in the environmental review for West Hawai‘i and O‘ahu aquarium permits, and played a key role in the string of aquarium poaching busts by state enforcement officers along the Kona Coast in the last year.

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