KAILUA-KONA >> An appeals court has ruled that about 50 Hawaii businesses with permits to catch fish bound for aquariums do not need environmental assessments to receive the state permits allowing them to collect the fish.
Environmentalists in 2012 filed a lawsuit demanding the assessments. They say too many fish are taken from Hawaii’s reefs and many do not survive their trips for sale to aquarium owners.
But the Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that commercial collectors of fish destined for aquariums are not involved in the type of business requiring environmental assessments, like construction companies that build structures on land, West Hawaii Today reported on Friday.
Mandating environmental assessments for the aquarium fish permit holders “would create an unreasonable, impractical and absurd result,” said the opinion written by Judge Katherine G. Leonard.
Hawaii’s so-called “aquarium fish collectors” already report details of their catches to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Environmentalists who filed the lawsuit will probably appeal it to Hawaii’s Supreme Court, said Summer Kupau-Odo, a lawyer with the Earthjustice environmental law group.
“It’s obviously not working,” Kupau-Odo said of regulations. “They’re obviously not utilizing all the tools they have to protect the environment.”
David Dart, an aquarium fish collector, said he was pleased with the ruling. He said existing regulations work and that the western Hawaii fisheries that supply 70 percent the state’s fish destined for aquariums are sustainable.
Environmentalists opposed to aquarium fish want to shut down the business and “keep hitting us from different angles,” Dart said. “They have a personal bias against keeping a fish as a pet.”
The state attorney general’s office, which represented the Department of Land and Natural Resources, was pleased with the outcome of the case, said spokesman James Walther.