nov. intl waters

Naso lituratus, the orangespine unicorn, is currently banned from collection for aquaria in West Hawaiian waters.

Where do logic and good science end and illogicality and blatant disrespect for scientific evidence begin? Well, in the case of the ongoing battle for the sustainable use of the aquarium fishing grounds of West Hawaii, the latest installment of the takeover happened on Aug. 13.

On that day, the state’s Environmental Council (EC) made a decision which, at first sight, could be interpreted (by those so inclined) to signal the end of the Hawaii aquarium fishery. However, what, in practice, the decision does is extend the current moratorium on commercial aquarium collection in West Hawaii. It does not, as far as I can determine, have the legal teeth to prevent an appeal against the decision. And the appeal will be on its way in due course.

The EC falls within Hawaii’s Office of Environmental Quality Control and constitutes the final authority with regard to Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) decisions. As readers of this column will know, in May, the BLNR rejected the Final Environment Impact Statement (FEIS) submitted by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and 10 West Hawaii fishers.

As I have reported on several occasions, the Environment Impact Statements—both the draft version and the final one—were massive, well-researched submissions, repeatedly citing scientific evidence that shows the aquarium fishery to be perfectly sustainable. Indeed, PIJAC and the fishers spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that the document they submitted was supported by scientific data throughout. Further, the submission even included proposals to restrict size and bag limits, as well as a reduction in the daily take of many species, including a reduction for the Achilles tang, from 10 specimens to five. However, to the dismay of many of us in the industry, this has not been considered acceptable.

In the words of Kylie Wager Cruz, an attorney for the environmental law organization Earthjustice: “The Council’s historic decision to affirm the land board reinforces that Hawaii’s bedrock environmental review is not merely a paper exercise.”

If scientific data were to show that the aquarium fishery is not perfectly sustainable and does damage to the reef ecosystems, this would be quite acceptable, but the scientific evidence loudly demonstrates otherwise.

So, where do we go from here?

Bob Likins, PIJAC’s vice president of government affairs, expressed surprise and disappointment at the latest decision, stating, “We are amazed that during these trying times state governing bodies continue to ignore the substantial science supporting the sustainability of the fishery and eliminate a livelihood that has supported Hawaiian families for generations.

“The Environmental Council within the Office of Environmental Quality control is the final authority on a Land Board decision. The final status is that the EIS that PIJAC and the fishers submitted, spending countless hours and hundreds of thousands dollars to prepare and support with scientific data, is denied.

“Our next step needs to be raising the funds needed to make changes to the EIS to address the objections brought up by the Land Board and resubmit it through the whole process. This is a critical fight that the entire aquatics community—businesses and hobbyists alike—needs to support. It is just the tip of the iceberg of activist efforts to put a permanent end to fishkeeping and the aquarium trade. We urge everyone to give what they can at”


I would like to thank PIJAC for constantly keeping me abreast of developments regarding this complex and vitally important crisis for the Hawaii fishery—and beyond.

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.