Hawai’i Bans Amateur Collection of Live Marine Fishes

20 Apr, 2018

“This is legal; catching them alive for an aquarium is not. No permit needed to kill them.” Paku Ikui (Achilles Tangs) on ice for sale at $4.99 a pound in a Hawaiian fish market. Image: Hiloliving.com

CORAL Staff Report

“Now kids can’t catch fish for their aquariums….”

Writing from his home in Honolulu, this was how Dr. Bruce Carlson, marine biologist and former director of the Waikiki Aquarium, first reacted to news that a court in Hawai’i had just expanded the ban on collecting live marine fishes to recreational marine life enthusiasts. The ruling effectively put a complete to halt the state’s collection of live fishes for aquariums. (See background articles.)

First, the courts invalidated the state’s commercial aquarium fine-mesh net fishing permits, which led to a virtual shutdown of the industry in Hawai’i. Then, Hawaii’s DLNR closed the main fishery for aquarium fish in Hawai’i, putting the West Hawai’i Regional Fishery Management Area off limits.

Recreational Fishing Banned In Hawaii 

Now, in addition to effectively ending the commercial collection of reef fish pending environmental review, Hawai’i’s First Circuit Court has issued a new ruling which invalidates recreational aquarium fishing permits. These permits allowed private individuals to collect marine fish for personal use in home aquariums. Reports state that the issuance of the current recreational permits, which authorized the collection of up to 5 fish per day, failed to comply with the environmental impact assessment requirements of the Hawai’i Environmental Policy Act.

Sport and recreational fishing with poles and hooks, and spearfishing which kills reef fishes, are both still allowed.

Other than the newly invalidated recreational aquarium fishing permits, there are no license requirements for recreational fishing in the ocean in the state of Hawai’i. (“There is no marine recreational fishing license in Hawai‘i for either residents or visitors, so you don’t need to worry about that as long as you don’t sell your catch.” – Hawai’i DLNR Fishing FAQ)

Dr. Bruce Carlson

Dr. Carlson also forwarded a copy of the image shown above to the CORAL editorial offices above with the comment: “This is legal; catching them alive for an aquarium is not. No permit needed to kill them.”

A check on the current price for a single Achilles Tang in the retail US aquarium trade is $299 and upward, although many suppliers are out of stock as Hawai’i’s collection bans have severely hampered the trade in many species.

Victory for Anti-Aquarium Coalition

According to an article by Timothy Hurley in the Honolulu Star Advertiser: “Thursday’s decision by First Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree means no such fishing is legally permitted in the islands until the appropriate level of environmental review is developed and approved.

“The ruling is the latest legal victory for plaintiffs Rene Umberger, Mike Nakachi, Ka‘imi Kaupiko, Willie Kaupiko, the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Represented by the Earthjustice environmental law firm, the group sued the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) in 2012 for failing to comply with Hawaii’s Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to consider environmental impacts in its actions.” (Link to full article below.)

Aquarium Trade Responses

Members of the Aquarium Fishery community and the aquarium trade are counting on responses from the DLNR and Environmental Assessments that use scientific data to support a reopening of the issuance of aquarium collection permits. All such current published data indicates that the aquarium trade in Hawai’i is sustainable and causing no significant harm to the state’s reefs and marine resources. (See “Pulse Check,” Sources, below.)

The Pet Industry Joint Action Council (PIJAC), based in Washington, DC, is supporting work on Environmental Assessments that they hope will support a return to legal commercial collection of aquarium fishes. Presumably, kids with nets would also be able to return to the states inshore waters and beaches.


Honolulu Star Advertiser:

Recreational aquarium fishing is blocked,” by Timothy Hurley, April 17, 2018

Additional Information:

Hawai’i’s DAR Fishing License and Permit Information

Hawai’i DAR Fishing FAQs

Humane Society of the United States: “Hawai‘i Court Voids All Existing Recreational Aquarium Collection Permits,”

The Maui News: “Oahu court invalidates state-issued permits to collect tropical fish in wild,” by Melisa Tanji, April 17, 2018

West Hawai’i Today: “Recreational aquarium collection permits voided,” by Gita Howard, April 17, 2018

Reef to Rainforest:

A Pulse Check on Hawai’i’s Aquarium Fishing Ban: Draft Assessments Published“, by Matt Pedersen, April 13, 2018

Hawai’i’s Contentious Inshore Fisheries, By the Numbers,” by Dr. Bruce Carlson, April 13, 2018

Image: Hilo Living Blog

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About the author

Avatar photo
Reef To Rainforest

Reef to Rainforest Media, LLC is the publisher of award-winning magazines and books in the fields of aquarium keeping, aquatics, and marine science. It is the English-language publisher of CORAL Magazine and is based in Shelburne, Vermont, USA.


  1. April 20, 2018

    Thank you Dr Carlson ,for showing the aq industry and the Hawaiian perspective. Most boys and girls in Hawaii start at an early age 3 prong spearing of reef fish for food. The photo above paints a picture maybe of reef harvesting that may bother some,but remeber the average family will only harvest enogh reef fish to eat that day,and achillies fish has been the
    Favorite eating reef fish for many generations

    . I think that its a shame that a child will not be able to take home there
    Fish they found that day. There are probably not more than 5000 people in all the islands of Hawaii that catch mainly a tidepool fish to take home and learn about the ocean. The EAS will prove us sustainable.

  2. April 21, 2018

    After reading the article it seems that this isn’t a permanent ban, but rather a temporary ban for restructuring by the DLNR. Even as a major aquarium advocate I feel that this may not be a bad decision. “The now-voided permits were issued automatically via an online process. Applicants were not required to describe the fish they planned to catch, how many, or where they intended to collect the animals.” Sounds like this needed a bit more oversight in my opinion, and that R2R may be taking this out of context somewhat due to the attacks on the aquarium industry by the plaintiffs.

    • Avatar photo
      April 21, 2018

      Hi Chris, do you go fishing?

      In every state I’ve ever obtained a recreational fishing license, I’ve never been required to describe the fish I planned to catch, how many, or where I was going to go fishing. The only requirements of holding those licenses are following the fishing regulations set forth by the state management authority, which determines what you can fish for, where you can fish for them, and how many you can keep. When my wife and I collected marine aquarium fish in Florida under a recreational permit, there were no such reporting requirements, we were simply asked to follow the daily bag limits and possession limits.

      Effectively, this latest court ruling, as I see it, is no different than a court in the state of MN invalidating my personal fishing license because the commercial Lake Superior fishery for Lake Trout that get sold in my local grocery was found to require some environmental impact assessment.

  3. April 21, 2018

    I work in the aquarium service business and I fully support closing of the Hawaiian fisheries until a true environmental study not paid by the pet industry is done. We’ve seen a few cases already where the pet industry has wiped out local fishes- Banggai Islands and the Cardinalfish…
    Hawaii is/was being exploited by the pet industry and with the current state of the oceans, this move seems prudent.
    Sure, I wont be able to get Yellow Tangs any more, but that should encourage us reefers to ensure that they live long lives in our aquariums and/or encourage breeding programs.

  4. April 21, 2018

    I’ve seen aquarium shops reap the reefs since the 80s and seen parrot fish (Uhu) completely disappear from every surf spot that I’ve Surfed,was shocked to see on a popular food channel that fresh Uhu was flown in weekly to a New York resturant from Molokai waters.They ban the longliners and wonder why there are more shark attacks.

  5. November 04, 2018

    This is true bullshit.
    If there is a problem with reefs around Hawaii, the main thread has to be banned.
    That is global warming and acidizing and pollution the ocean.
    After you banned this above, you may consider a ban against aquaroum trade.

    Only dumbasses like Umberger, who target a weak ememy, with the help of fairy tale fotos of dead fish, make a win out of this.

    Congratulations for your President, who thinks nehotiation of global warming solves the problem.
    May the increasing hurricans wipe out the pollutant inhabitants of Hawaii and preserve the reefs for future access of aquarists

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