Accepted by default: BLNR’s tie vote opens the door for aquarium fishing EIS

  • Pixabay photo After a tie vote by the BLNR on Friday, an RFEIS proposing the reopening of west Hawaii's coastal waters to aquarium fishing is poised to gain acceptance.

  • After a tie vote by the BLNR on Friday, an RFEIS proposing the reopening of west Hawaii’s coastal waters to aquarium fishing is poised to gain acceptance. (Courtesy Photo/West Hawaii Today)

  • Suzanne Case

A revised final environmental impact statement proposing the reopening of West Hawaii’s coastal waters to aquarium fishing is poised to gain acceptance from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

After hours of testimony, the BLNR’s Friday vote on the revised final environmental impact statement — submitted by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council — resulted in a 3-3 tie; Chairperson Suzanne Case, Samuel “Ohu” Gon III and Chris Yuen voted in favor, while James Gomes, Thomas Oi and Wesley “Kaiwi” Yoon voted against. The seventh member of the board, Vernon Char, was absent.

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The 3-3 tie means the board technically has not made a decision. However, if a decision is not made within the 30-day period mandated by law, the RFEIS will be deemed accepted; the deadline regarding the aquarium fishing RFEIS is July 8. Since BLNR’s next meeting is scheduled for July 9, the RFEIS will be deemed accepted by the next time the board meets.

The board made a point to clarify Friday’s decision does not address whether proposed actions by the RFEIS is environmentally sound or unsound or determine any permitting for aquarium fishing, only that it fulfills the requirements of an environmental impact statement.

“We would not be deciding today about permits,” said Case. “This is only about the adequacy of the EIS.”

The state’s DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources recommended the board accept the RFEIS.

“DAR concludes that the RFEIS sets forth sufficient information to enable the board to consider fully the environmental impacts of the proposed action and make a reasoned decision,” said DAR administrator Brian Neilson.

Upon acceptance, the board will select one of the seven alternatives outlined in the RFEIS to approve. Alternatives range from no action, where no aquarium fish permits would be issued for the entire Big Island, to returning to the pre-aquarium collection ban, where the DLNR would issue an unlimited number of aquarium fish permits.

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The applicant’s preferred alternative would allow seven permitted fishers to collect only yellow tang, kole, orangespine unicornfish, potter’s angelfish, brown surgeonfish, Thompson’s surgeonfish, black surgeonfish and bird wrasse within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area. The WHRFMA spans the entire coastline of West Hawaii, from Upolu Point in North Kohala to Ka Lae (South Point) in Ka’u. No commercial aquarium collection would be allowed for other areas of the state.

The state Supreme Court halted aquarium fishing in the state since Sept. 6, 2017, by ruling collection without environmental review violates the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act; no permits have been issued for the WHRFMA since. This most recent EIS marks the second submission produced by PIJAC; the first was unanimously rejected by the BLNR in May 2020.

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