The bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius) is one of just eight species which PIJACproposes for inclusion in a revised White List.

PHOTO: RICKARD ZERPE – Photo Reproduced in Accordance with Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0

Rene Umberger is the executive director of the organisation, For the Fishes,one of the parties opposing all scientific data–based attempts by the PetIndustry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), acting with, and on behalf of,Hawaii’s aquarium fishers, to reopen that State’s ornamental marine fishery.In her opinion, the latest Revised Environmental Impact Statement (REIS)submitted by PIJAC – which is being referred to as the “updated proposal” –feels more like a negotiation attempt than an effort to conduct a proper EIS.In her words: “That’s not how Hawaii’s environmental law works. You need todescribe the impacts and propose mitigation, especially in a conservationdistrict. We’re not negotiating here; we’re just asking them to adhere to therequirements for an environmental impact statement.”

Her “negotiation attempt” comment relates, presumably, to the fact that theREIS is requesting the issuing of just “seven Aquarium Permits” for collectingaquarium fish within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area(WHRFMA), and for revising the White List of 40 species down to just eight.The REIS also requests the implementation of individual catch quotas for thesespecies. Collecting would, of course, be “in compliance with all applicablelaws, rules, and regulations pertaining to the industry”.

Note: The White List consists of 40 species of fish that can becollected by commercial aquarium fishers within the WHRFMA, with all otherspecies being off limits within this region, but not in East Hawaiian waters.

__ However, repeated opposition by several heavily backed (financially) andinfluential parties has led to all aquarium collection being banned, pendingthe receipt of convincing evidence arguing for its re-establishment. Yetagain, though, the evidence presented in the REIS is considered by theseparties as being unconvincing, despite the scientific data submitted by PIJACshowing that the fishery is perfectly sustainable and the REIS addressing “the14 concerns raised by the BLNR (Board of Land and Natural Resources) in theirnon-acceptance determination.”

The REIS bases its new catch proposals on three criteria suggested by the DLNR(Department of Land and Natural Resources):

  1. Recent catch (2017 fiscal year) of at least 100 fish (representing at least 0.03% of the total aquarium catch)
  2. Open Area population density of at least 0.5 fish/100m2
  3. No statistically significant population declines in Open Areas between 1999/2000 and 2017/2018

Quoting from the PIJAC REIS: “A total of 9 of the 40 White List species metthese 3 criteria, including Yellow Tang, Kole, Orangespine Unicornfish ( Nasolituratus ), Potter’s Angelfish ( Centropyge potteri ), Brown Surgeonfish (Acanthurus nigrofuscus ), Thompson’s Surgeonfish ( Acanthurus thompsoni ),Black Surgeonfish ( Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis ), Fisher’s Angelfish (Centropyge fisheri ), and Bird Wrasse ( Gomphosus varius ). One of thesespecies, the Fisher’s Angelfish, is considered a species of special concern inHawai’i, and the Applicant therefore chose to not include this species,leaving eight species on the proposed Revised White List.”

In rejecting all proposals made so far, the authorities’ actions have beenreferred to as an example of “legislative overreach”, for instance, in anarticle written by John Mack in March of this year. Overreach can be definedin several ways, the following being representative:

  • To get the better of, especially by deceitful cleverness
  • To get the better of especially in dealing and bargaining and typically by unscrupulous or crafty methods
  • The act of doing more than your authority allows
  • To outwit or cheat others
  • To reach or extend over or beyond

Does this not sound very much like what’s happening in Hawaii, with theauthorities apparently overreaching on a regular basis, under the influence ofpowerful lobbies?

One of several (many) factors that is particularly frustrating and defiant ofall logic is that the total ban on collection only applies to aquarium fish.Other activities that also use this resource remain totally untouched by therulings. So, if you want to go fishing (either using rod and line or spear),or harvest fish for human consumption, you can continue killing as many fishas you want with full legal backing, whereas those whose aim is to keep thefish alive and, thus, earn a sustainable livelihood, are prevented from doingso. How logical is this?

Well, one thing that has been totally lacking in all the goings on from thevery beginning of the Hawaii saga, has been both logic and common sense. Itseems that those who oppose our industry have as their main objective theclosing down of the sector, while keeping the fish-killing alternatives open,irrespective of how much solid scientific evidence is presented to the courts.Why? What interests are in play here? Unfortunately, so powerful are theseforces, that people have lost, and are losing, their perfectly sustainablelivelihoods without any valid reason, while others are perfectly free to dowhat they like, even if this means that they are destroying the very resourcethat the aquarium fishers aim to keep alive.

As I write these lines, the REIS is open for public comment. However, althoughthe solid, scientific evidence contained within its more than 125 pages andthree Appendices would normally be enough to convince anyone with an open mindthat the fishery should be re-opened, I feel that the forces of oppositionwill not see it this way. As an example, no sooner had the REIS been submittedthat the quote included at the top of this article appeared in print. So, theindustry must be prepared for yet another rocky ride, with the odds apparentlystacked very much in favour of the anti-trade campaigners. But… who knows? Wemay yet be taken by surprise.

Bob Likins, PIJAC’s Vice President of Government Affairs, issued the followingstatement regarding the REIS. It is non-confrontational and constructive.Let’s be optimistic and hope it bears fruit.

“PIJAC has released a revised draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) forthe Big Island of Hawaii, which addresses subjects raised by the Land Boardduring their review of the initial EIS. The revised draft is now open forpublic comment, and we welcome a rigorous review of the meaningful scientificdata included in it. We are not surprised that the groups who have opposedaquarium fishing at any level from the beginning are again making theirdissatisfaction known, but we are optimistic that the extensive historical andscientific data will be compelling and prevail.”


The full contents of the revised Environmental Impact Statement may beaccessed at:


I would like to thank Gwyn Donohue (PIJAC Director of Communications andPublic Affairs) and Bob Likins (PIJAC Vice President of Government Affairs)for their prompt and helpful responses during the preparation of this article.

Previous Common Hazards when Walking you Dog

Next Puerto Rico: Threat Looming for Aquarium Fishery