Figure Caption – You can’t collect a single Achilles tang for aquariumuse… but you can kill as many as you want for sport or human consumption!

Photo: Jean – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

On 12 January, 2021, Hawaii’s Environmental Court ruled: “The state Departmentof Land and Natural Resources improperly sidestepped a court orderinvalidating commercial marine licenses used for aquarium-fish collection.” Inthe words of Kylie Wager Cruz, the attorney for Earthjustice which represented‘For the Fishes’ and the ‘Center for Biological Diversity’, the court “… hasconfirmed – yet again – what community members and environmental advocateshave been saying all along. Exploitation of public marine resources forprivate profit cannot happen without first conducting ( an ) environmentalreview.”

Despite earlier rulings, some (though very limited) legal aquarium fishcollecting has continued in strict accordance with the commercial aquariumpermits issued by the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) of the Department ofLand and Natural Resources (DLNR). However, under the latest ruling, theDLNR’s issuance of these Commercial Marine Licences (CML) is now deemedinvalid and illegal for aquarium fish collecting for, allegedly, failing tocomply with the Hawaii’s environmental review law.

CMLs are required for all fisheries, including spear fishing, collection forhuman consumption, aquarium fish collection and other types of fishing, butthe court ruling applies only to collection of fish for aquaria. This, quiteunderstandably, is widely considered somewhat hypocritical within theindustry, since it seems that the aquarium sector is being singled out forspecial treatment, while others remain untouched. As has been mentioned onseveral occasions over past months, this scenario means that a spear fishermancan, for example, take as many Achilles tangs (worth about $300 each in theaquarium market) as he or she wants, while an aquarium fisher is preventedfrom taking even one single specimen for live keeping by an aquarist.

Equally, there’s nothing stopping a ‘normal’ fisherman from netting largenumbers of Achilles tangs, or any other species for that matter, includingyellow tangs, for sale for human consumption at a fish market, but no aquariumfisher is allowed to take even a single specimen to supply the aquarium marketwhere the whole purpose is to keep fish alive!

Many within the industry, including Hawaiian fish collectors, as well asmembers of the scientific community, see the latest developments as a blatantexample of money winning over good science. The fact is that all availableevidence, including that presented in the Environmental Impact Studiessubmitted to the Hawaiian authorities by the Pet Industry Joint AdvisoryCouncil (PIJAC) – which I have reported on in previous instalments – haverepeatedly shown that the Hawaiian fishery is perfectly sustainable. It isalso of major concern that, despite this, the ruling demands a Chapter 343environmental review from the aquarium sector before the issuance of aquariumcollecting permits will be re-considered. However, no other fishery isexpected or required to submit such a review… only the aquarium fishery (seeFurther Reading for full details regarding Chapter 343… but I warn you,it’s a lengthy, wide-ranging chapter, so set sufficient time aside for thisexercise!).

So, as things stand at the moment, the Hawaii aquarium fishers have lost theirlivelihood and may never recover it, unless major changes come about. Buthoping for a change of heart from either the authorities or the activists whoare campaigning to close the aquarium fishery down, seems as unlikely asexpecting a snowball not to melt under the summer sun!

Does this mean that the decision has to be accepted without a fight? Not atall! As write, PIJAC is considering its next steps, as Bob Likins, PIJAC’sVice President of Government Affairs says in an official statement issuedimmediately after the announcement of the court ruling: “The Pet IndustryJoint Advisory Council is disappointed by the recent Hawaii Supreme Courtruling on commercial marine licenses (CML). We believe that the decision goeswell beyond interpreting the State Supreme Court decision on aquarium permitsand could in effect require applicants to also apply for court approval aftertheir license has already been approved by the state. The decision appears tosubject all CML issuances to the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA),meaning it could have a significant negative impact on all individuals andtheir families who depend on fish collection for their livelihoods, includingfor food as well as for aquariums. PIJAC is currently examining our options todetermine our way forward.”

Surely, this can’t be the end for what is widely viewed as the best studied,best managed and fully sustainable aquarium fishery in the world. Can it?

To access the full text of the exhaustive Chapter 343 referred to in thetext, go to:



My sincere thanks to PIJAC for their prompt attention at all times regardingthe Hawaii fishery, and for supplying me with the above official statement.

John Dawes is a freelance writer and international ornamental aquaticindustry consultant. He is a long-time contributor to, and supporter of, PIN,has written over 4,000 articles and contributed to 50 books as author, editorand editorial consultant. In 2005 John (along with his wife and businesspartner, Vivian) received the OFI Award for their “valuable contribution tothe ornamental aquatic industry”. John is an Honours graduate in Biology andGeology, a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a Fellow of the ZoologicalSociety of London, a Member of the Society of Biology and a CharteredBiologist.

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