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BLNR fines Hawaii island couple $272,000 after aquarium fish collecting incident

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Two Hawaii island fishers have been fined a record $272,000 after an illegal aquarium fishing incident in Kona last year, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources today voted unanimously to fine the fishers, which the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources said are record fines for those types of violations.

“The Land Board is obviously taking a strong stance against the illegal harvest of aquarium fish,” BLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in a statement. “I applaud our DOCARE officers for their work tracking and investigating these cases, and the DAR staff for their expertise in documenting the illegal takes and presenting a detailed account of these egregious actions to the BLNR for consideration. I hope anyone engaged in illegally depleting Hawai‘i’s natural resources will realize the cost of breaking the law, based on the high fines levied in this case.”

Married couple Stephen Howard and Yukako Toriyama were ordered to pay the civil fines after a Sept. 15 incident that involved the two on a boat fishing within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.

The DLNR said that Howard, an aquarium collector, had dropped off two women — one being Toriyama — to dive in the area to collect fish. Personnel from DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement ordered Howard back to shore, leaving the two women in the water.

The missing women “prompted a multi-agency marine search and rescue operation” that was then called off “after the women were spotted late in the afternoon, with their dive gear, at a Kona-area gas station.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement and DAR biologists located the fish the divers caught and identified 235 fish belonging to 10 different species.

The total retail value of the fish is estimated to be just over $24,700, the DLNR said. The fish were released back into the ocean.

Howard was fined for 16 different fishing and boating violations, while Toriyama was fined for nine Hawaii Administrative Rules violations.

Howard and Toriyama are also facing criminal charges in Hawaii District Court.

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