Judge’s ruling halts aquarium fishing until state review of environmental impact

Yellow tang aquarium fish are shown in a tank at a store in Aiea in 2014. A judge has halted the commercial fishing of reef fish for aquariums until the state reviews the trade’s environmental impact. The ruling by the Oahu Circuit Court on Friday fell in line with the state Supreme Court’s decision last month. -- AP file photo

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii judge has halted the commercial fishing of reef fish for aquariums until the state reviews the trade’s environmental impact.

The ruling by an Oahu Circuit Court judge on Friday fell in line with the state Supreme Court’s decision last month. The high court ruled that issuance of permits allowing aquarium fish collection must comply with the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, and it left the lower court to determine if the fish collection may be exempt from the law.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has allowed 231 active commercial collectors. It was ordered to not issue any new permits.

Department officials said they respect the judge’s ruling, and they will comply as long as the order is in effect.

“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,” said a statement from DLNR.

Commercial aquarium fishermen are allowed to use fine-mesh nets, which are otherwise illegal for catching fish for consumption, said Rene Umberger, a Maui resident and avid diver who is among a group of plaintiffs who sued the state over the permits in 2012. The commercial fishermen are allowed to catch an unlimited amount of fish and other aquatic life, except organisms specifically protected by law.