Hawaii has stopped issuing and renewing aquarium fish collection permits in response to this week’s state Supreme Court ruling.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement Thursday it has discontinued the permits until it receives further guidance.
The state’s high court ruled Wednesday the issuance of permits must comply with the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, which requires an environmental study. The ruling said a lower court must determine whether recreational aquarium fish collection is exempt from the law.
Hawaii is the world’s third-largest source of commercial aquarium fish, after Indonesia and the Philippines, said Rene Umberger, an avid diver who is among a group of plaintiffs who sued the state over the permits in 2012.
The ruling reversed lower court decisions that sided with the state.
Each commercial aquarium collection permit authorized removal of an unlimited number of fish or other aquatic life from Hawaii’s coastal waters, the ruling noted. Each recreational aquarium collection permit authorized an annual catch limit of 2,000 fish.
The west coast of Hawaii island has more aquarium fish collecting regulations than the rest of the state. Rules for this fishery date to the late 1990s, when the state Legislature banned fish collecting along sections of the coastline in response to concerns about declining fish stocks.
Today, collecting is prohibited on 35 percent of the coast. Scientists say these no-take areas have helped some aquarium fish stocks rebound.