intl waters sept 20

In my last installment on the perennial Hawaii debate, I ended up saying: “… even before this long-running West Hawaii saga enters its next phase, attention is being cast toward Hawaii’s other, and much smaller, marine aquarium fishery in eastern waters around Big Island and Oahu. It appears we are in for a lot more action over the coming months!”

Well, we are now in the thick of it, again.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) has submitted a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) titled: Issuance of Commercial Aquarium Permits and Commercial Marine Licenses for the Island of O’ahu (short working title: DEIS O’ahu Commercial Aquarium Permits). The purpose of this DEIS is “to ensure that commercial aquarium fish collection allows for the lawful, responsible and sustainable commercial collection of various fish species from nearshore habitats” so that commercial aquarium fishers can pursue their livelihood “in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations pertaining to the industry.”

The DEIS proposes that 20 commercial aquarium permits be issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) for the collection of aquarium fish from nearshore habitats in the judicial districts of Honolulu, Ewa, Waianae, Waialua, Koolauloa and Koolaupoko of the island of Oahu.

In its 115 or so pages, the DEIS puts forward a strong case for the issuance of these permits, but it remains to be seen—as we’ve discovered with the equivalent West Hawaii Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)—if this will, or will not, be enough for the authorities to take on board the presented evidence and approve the issuance of the 20 permits.

For example, even as early as in its executive survey, the DEIS states: “If the average annual commercial aquarium fish collection were to occur annually over the 5-year analysis period, collection of 19 of the 22 species with population estimates analyzed in this EIS would result in the loss of less than 1% of their respective overall island of O’ahu populations. For the remaining five species, an estimated 1.0% of the Kole population, 1.5% of the Achilles Tang population, 1.8% of the Potter’s Angelfish population, 7.7% of the Yellow Tang population and 9.4% of the Flame Wrasse population would be collected.”

The figure for the flame wrasse might appear to be somewhat on the high side, but as the executive survey highlights: “… the Flame Wrasse spends much of its time below the 98-foot depth limit of population estimate surveys. The density of Flame Wrasse at 98-132 feet (30-40 meters) is over 1,000 times greater than the density reported from the CREP surveys on O’ahu (0.002293712 Flame Wrasse per 100 square meters (m2)). Additionally, the density of Flame Wrasse at 132-164 feet (40-50 meters) is over 900 times greater, and the density below 164 feet (50 meters) is over 100 times greater. Therefore, it is not possible to know the exact proportion of the Flame Wrasse population that would be collected, though it is assumed to be less than 1%.”

CREP stands for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Coral Reef Ecosystems Program, which is now known as NOAA’s Ecosystem Sciences Division and is responsible for collecting data on fish populations in Oahu nearshore waters.

The DEIS highlights the results of two studies which have shown that the collection of marine nearshore fish for home aquaria “has no significant impact on coral or the reef ecosystem.” Further, it emphasises that the small size classes of herbivorous species that are collected are “the least effective sizes for cropping algae” and, thus, have significantly less effect on algal abundance than larger fish. This assertion is backed up by a study that showed that macroalgal abundance was not increased as a result of collecting these smaller herbivores for home aquaria (overabundance of these algae have a detrimental effect on coral reef health).

Away from the strict collecting sections of the DEIS, the document proposes the expansion of the existing Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD) from its current 77.3 acres to 817.3 acres, an expansion of 10.5 times in size. It also concludes that the proposal (referred to as the “Preferred Alternative”) “… plays an important role as a nearshore fishery in the state. The Preferred Alternative would add an estimated $2.1 to $3.2 million over the 5-year analysis period (average of $422,612 to $642,225 per year), and another five times this value in indirect economic benefits. Loss of the fishery would result in the loss of income, tax revenue, and jobs.”

As Hawaiian state law stands at the moment, the DLNR has the authority to issue annual permits for the use of “fine meshed traps, or fine meshed nets other than throw nets, for the taking of marine or freshwater nongame fish and other life for aquarium purposes,” except where the law specifically prohibits this.

Without going into all the intricacies of the details presented in the DEIS, the fundamental thing is that the document has now been submitted and we await the next stage. As I frequently say: Don’t hold your breath. There’s more to come, and I will bring this to our readers as and when I receive the relevant information.

Further Reading

The full text of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) may be accessed here


I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) for keeping me informed on this important matter.

Top 20 Collected Aquarium Fish Species of Oahu per PIJAC (2018)

To provide an accurate picture of which species are the most popular and, hence, the main focus of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) titled Issuance of Commercial Aquarium Permits and Commercial Marine Licenses for the Island of O’ahu, here is Table 2 compiled by PIJAC for the document:

Scientific Name

  Common Name
  Zebrasoma flavescens

 yellow tang 

 Ctenochaetus strigosus goldring surgeonfish
 Centropyge potteri Potter’s angelfish
 Naso lituratus orangespine unicornfish
 Halichoeres ornatissimus ornate wrasse
 Cirrhilabrus jordani flame wrasse

 Pseudocheilinus tetrataenia 

 fourlined wrasse 

 Canthigaster jactator whitespotted Toby

 Forcipiger flavissimus 


 Chaetodon miliaris 

 milletseed butterflyfish
 Macropharyngodon geoffroy shortnose wrasse
 Pseudanthias bicolor bicolor anthias
 Acanthurus olivaceus orangeband surgeonfish
 Zanclus cornutus moorish idol
 Chaetodon multicinctus multiband butterflyfish
 Anampses chrysocephalus psychedelic wrasse
 Pseudocheilinus octotaenia eightline wrasse
 Canthigaster coronata crowned puffer
 Thalassoma duperrey saddle wrasse
 Centropyge fisheri fisher’s angelfish

John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.