Update of court rulings regarding aquarium fishing, including FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

A set of frequently-asked questions and their answers is now available for download as a pdf.


Draft environmental assessments now available

Draft environmental assessments regarding the impact of the issuance of commercial aquarium permits for the islands of O‘ahu and Hawai‘i are now available for review and comment through the Office of Environmental Quality Control. Comments are due May 8, 2018.


DLNR Statement, January 18, 2018:

On January 5, DLNR issued a press release clarifying that no aquatic life may be taken for commercial aquarium purposes off West Hawai‘i until an environmental review is completed.  DLNR has received inquiries regarding the legality of transporting aquatic life for aquarium purposes from East Hawai‘i to West Hawai‘i by road or by vessel.  Possession or transportation of aquatic life for aquarium purposes by road is legal, as the roads are not within the Fishery Management Area.  Possession or transportation of white list species for aquarium purposes by vessel within the West Hawai‘i Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA) is legal only with a valid West Hawai‘i Aquarium Permit and in compliance with other provisions of HAR Chapter 13-60.4.  It is illegal to possess or transport non-white list species for aquarium purposes anywhere within the WHRFMA. 

Please refer questions to the Kona DAR office at 808-327-6226.


DLNR News Release, January 5, 2018

HAWAIʻI SUPREME COURT DECISION STOPS WEST HAWAIʻI FISHING PERMITS PENDING AN ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

(Honolulu) – DLNR announced today that after applying a Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling from last year to an existing DLNR rule, no aquatic life may be taken for commercial aquarium purposes off West Hawai‘i until an environmental review is completed.

The court ruled on September 6, 2017, that an environmental review must first occur before permits can be used to catch aquatic life for the commercial aquarium trade.  Following that ruling, State Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree terminated and canceled all fine mesh net permits. DLNR rules state that a Hawai‘i State Aquarium Permit is also required to take any aquatic life from waters off of West Hawai‘i for commercial aquarium purposes.

“Although the state permit referenced in the rules is not defined, the intent of the Supreme Court decision is clear,” said Bruce Anderson, Administrator of the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.

“As a result of these court decisions it is clear that fine mesh nets cannot be used anywhere in  Hawai‘i in the commercial aquarium trade until the environmental review process has been completed.  Given the intent of the court ruling, any taking of aquarium fish or other animals for the commercial pet trade in West Hawai‘i is prohibited until the environmental review has been completed,” said Anderson.


Notice to holders of aquarium fish permits, October 31, 2017

A letter has been sent out to all commercial aquarium permit holders and aquarium dealers, notifying them of Judge Crabtree’s order. The letter can be downloaded here. Questions may be directed by email to aquarium@hawaii.gov.


DLNR Statement, October 27, 2017:

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree ruled today that, based upon a Hawaiʻi Supreme Court opinion issued on September 6, 2017, existing permits for use of fine mesh nets to catch aquatic life for aquarium purposes are illegal and invalid. Judge Crabtree also ordered the DLNR not to issue any new permits pending environmental review.

The department continues to believe that existing aquarium fishing practices are sustainable and environmentally sound. And the department appreciates that dozens of local businesses and families depend on the industry for their livelihoods.

But the department respects Judge Crabtree’s ruling and will fully comply so long as it remains in effect.


DLNR Statement, October 23, 2017:

In response to today’s filing of a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court by the plaintiffs in Umberger v. DLNR, the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources provides the following statement:

The Department of Land and Natural Resources has consistently stated its belief that existing aquarium fishing practices are sustainable and environmentally sound.  And DLNR appreciates that dozens of local businesses and families depend on the industry for their livelihoods.

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree ruled last week that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not require immediate closure of the industry and destruction of those jobs without consideration of the scientific facts regarding harm to the environment. 

The appeal sought by petitioners today does not allow DLNR to respond unless the Supreme Court directs it to do so.  DLNR will provide more information to either the Supreme Court or the Circuit Court as requested and will promptly comply with any orders from either court.


DLNR Statement, September 7, 2017

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has long issued annual commercial and recreational aquarium fish permits, pursuant to HRS §188-31 and administrative rules, authorizing the use of fine meshed traps or nets to take aquatic life for aquarium purposes.  On Wednesday (September 6), the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled that aquarium collection using fine meshed traps or nets is subject to the environmental review procedures provided in the Hawai‘i Environmental Policy Act (HEPA).  The issue has been remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.

In light of the ruling, until further guidance is received, DLNR has discontinued issuance of new aquarium fish permits and renewal of existing aquarium fish permits.

DLNR will provide more information as it becomes available.