The State of Hawaii is the largest exporter in the United States for reef fish and invertebrates intended for the aquarium trade, and the third largest supplier of aquarium wildlife worldwide. At a reported 600,000 fish a year, the number of wildlife collected from Hawaii’s reefs exceeds, by several times, that from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — the largest coral reef system in the world, with many more animals and greater biodiversity than Hawaii.
The aquarium fish industry has been largely unregulated in Hawai`i, despite the environmental impact caused by the fishery. Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is responsible for managing Hawai`i’s marine environment and has a broad conservation mandate to “enhance, protect, conserve, and manage Hawaii’s unique and limited natural, cultural and historical resources.”
The Hawai`i’ Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) is the division within DLNR that issues aquarium collection permits. A limitless number of wildlife can be captured and sold with a permit, and DAR issues these permits in unlimited numbers to anyone who applies and pays the minimal fee. The aquarium permit holders self-report the number of animals they collect — and DAR admits that there are indications of underreporting. This self-reporting data is the only source of information the DLNR has to determine how much wildlife is being taken from the reefs for aquaria.
Despite scientific evidence of the negative impacts of the aquarium trade, including from DLNR reports, and efforts by For the Fishes and others to advocate for increased regulations of the collection of reef wildlife, no meaningful actions have been taken to better manage the aquarium trade in Hawai`i.
In 2012, For the Fishes formed a coalition and secured pro bono representation by Earthjustice, the nation’s leading non-profit environmental law firm, to bring a case against the DLNR for violations of the Hawai`i Environmental Policy Act (HEPA).
A successful outcome would require the state to conduct environmental reviews and examine the cumulative damage before granting permits that allow unlimited collection of reef creatures for the aquarium trade. This case has been making its way through the courts and will be argued in front of Hawaii’s Supreme Court in March 2017.
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Aquarium Fish Suit Taken To State Supreme Court (2016)
Oral Arguments on Aquarium Trade Case Scheduled for Hawai`i Supreme Court on March 30, 2017
Hawaii’s aquarium fish industry in deep water over collection controversies (February 15, 2015)
Protecting Hawai`i’s Reef From the Aquarium Trade (2012)
Aquarium Collection Complaint (2012)
Citizens and Conservation Groups File Suit to Protect Hawai`i’s Reef Ecosystems (2012)