Update on aquarium collecting

Recent news articles have reported that an Oahu Circuit Court lifted an injunction on aquarium fishing off the West side of the island of Hawaii. To clarify, this does not mean that aquarium fishing in Hawaii will immediately resume. Commercial and recreational aquarium collecting remain closed in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area (WHRFMA). In addition, commercial aquarium collecting remains closed statewide. The lifting of the injunction only means that the process for obtaining aquarium permit(s) may proceed for those who have already complied with the environmental review requirements of Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) chapter 343, also known as the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA). For clarity, below is a description of the step-by-step process one needs to complete in order to obtain the proper documentation to collect marine life for aquarium purposes in the WHRFMA. Other areas within the state will have a similar process.

Process to Obtain an Aquarium Permit to Collect in the WHRFMA:

In order to apply for valid aquarium permit(s), one must first comply with the environmental review process required by HEPA. HEPA requires the preparation of either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). They are both costly and time consuming with the EIS being a more thorough analysis. Successful preparation of these documents requires compliance with procedural and substantive requirements pursuant to Hawaii Administrative Rules chapter 11-200.1. More information about the HEPA process is available through the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development (OPSD) Environmental Review Program (ERP) website.  The last step of the HEPA process occurs when the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) either 1) accepts a Final EA and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or 2) determines that a Final EIS meets the criteria for acceptability (or fails to make a determination of acceptability within the statutory time limit). Only when the HEPA process is completed can an application for aquarium permit(s) (HRS § 188-31) be submitted.

Once the aquarium permit application is received by the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), it is presented to the BLNR for review. If they approve it, DAR will process and issue a valid aquarium permit.

In the case of WHRFMA, once one acquires a valid aquarium permit, one can apply for the separate WHRFMA aquarium permit (Hawaii Administrative Rule [HAR] § 13-60.4-7) from the DAR Kona office.

One must have all three of the aboveto obtain permitting required for aquarium collection in the WHRFMA.

Commercial Aquarium Collection in the WHRFMA:

Lastly, if the person is a collecting marine resources for commercial purposes, one also need to obtain a valid Commercial Marine License (HAR §13-74-20) from DAR. So, one would have FOUR pieces of documentation:

  1. HEPA Compliance (aka approved EA/EIS)
  2. CommercialAquarium Permit
  3. WHRFMA Aquarium Permit
  4. Commercial Marine License

If one does not have all the proper documentation noted above, one cannot lawfully collect marine species for the ornamental aquarium trade. Commercial and recreational aquarium collecting remains closed in the WHRFMA. In addition, commercial aquarium collecting remains closed statewide.

For additional information, please contact our office at:

[email protected]

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is commercial aquarium fishing open now?

No. The January 30,2023 court decision does NOT open Hawaii’s waters for commercial aquarium collection.  Commercial aquarium fishing is still closed and the commercial aquarium permit is still invalid.

I understand that the aquarium fishery is not currently open, but can I apply for an aquarium permit now?

No. DAR is not accepting aquarium permit applications. In addition, you first must complete the HEPA requirements in order to apply.