Hawaii marine fish collection banned

The aquatic trade and social media have been murmuring about this for a few days, but it looks like the collection of live tropical marine fish from Hawaii has been banned again.

That means that popular Hawaii fish like the Yellow tang, Flame angelfish, Potters angelfish and Achilles tang will not be available in the short or possibly the long term. And the marine hobby will be all the poorer for it.

The collection of Hawaiian fish for the aquarium trade has been controversial for a long time. Despite data to prove otherwise, the subject keeps coming up in courts, and last Tuesday, according to Hawaiian website Big Island Now, it’s been banned indefinitely.

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree on Tuesday ruled that all commercial aquarium fishing is completely banned in Hawaiian waters, unless and until the aquarium fishing industry completes the Chapter 343 environmental review process. The ruling was made in response to a request by aquarium fishing opponents.

Anyone who takes marine life for commercial purposes must have a commercial marine license (CML) issued by the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR). This requirement applies to all kinds of take of aquatic resources, including commercial aquarium collection.

More than 3,000 CMLs are outstanding. A total of 41 CML holders reported aquarium catch in 2020. The court’s ruling explains that none of the current CMLs may be used for commercial aquarium collection. The ruling does not affect other types of commercial fishing or taking of marine life.

“Commercial aquarium collection has been controversial for many years in Hawaiʻi,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “Various court orders over the years have narrowed the allowed scope of the industry. The DLNR has faithfully implemented those orders and will now faithfully implement this ruling completely banning the industry without an approved EIS.”

DAR is in the process of notifying CML holders about the court’s ruling.


Flame angel, By Andreas März from Darmstadt, Germany – 20120205-WJ7U0356_Lr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21496392


So there are over 3000 Commercial Marine Licenses, 41 of which collected fish for the aquarium trade last year. That now leaves 2959 licenses free to fish commercially and take that very same marine life, as long as when they do it the fish is killed.

Assuming the 41 license holding aquarium fishers are now out of a job, they may as well fish for food instead, taking the same fish and either selling them as food for a fraction of the price that they fetched when live, or just eat the fish they caught themselves. Bandit angel sandwich anyone?

Now for every well-minded aquarist there is an equally well-minded conservationist. Fishkeeping News strongly believes in in-situ conservation of species and habitats too. But if you want to protect a species you need to stop all of the capture and killing, not just the collection of live specimens which could be bred ex-situ, especially when numerous studies showed that all though collected over many decades, fish numbers actually went up. Go figure.

Yellow tangs have been captive bred successfully but numbers are very low, availability poor, and we’re not sure that one business having the monopoly is a good thing. But hopefully this will kickstart other aqua culturalists into captive breeding the Yellow tang and many other surgeonfish species on a much larger scale.

And although experiencing a boom time the marine aquarium hobby faces constant threats to its existence via livestock collection bans. All coral exports from Indonesia were banned until last year and now the export of corals from Australia is also to be reviewed in the coming months.

It goes without saying that the value of Flame angels, Yellow tangs, Potter’s angels and others that are already in captivity and collected before the ban, has just gone through the roof.

Jeremy Gay

Author of three fishkeeping books and lifelong fishkeeper. Experience includes editor of Practical Fishkeeping magazine, editor of Pet Product Marketing magazine, multi award- winning livestock manager and aquatic store manager.