Press Release - Aquarium Trade Environmental Assessment Falls Short



  Aquarium Trade Assessment Fails to Recognize Impacts on Native Hawaiian Culture and Practices

Governor Ige Urged to Withdraw Insufficient Environmental Assessment

 Today Native Hawaiian practitioners, scientists, and community leaders join with a coalition of environmental protection groups calling for the DLNR to do a more rigorous and comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and to withdraw its currently proposed Environmental Assessment (EA) of the capture of marine life for the aquarium trade. The assessment was submitted by a Washington D.C. pet trade group, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, in response to a Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling ordering a moratorium on commercial aquarium collection until the state conducts an Environmental Assessment in accordance with the Hawai‘i Environmental Policy Act (HEPA).

 The legally required cultural impact assessment was a mere six sentences, comprised solely of a claim that the aquarium trade has no direct, indirect, or cumulative impacts. HEPA Guidance documents specifically require that, in addition to relevant Hawai‘i state agencies such as OHA and DHHL, Hawaiian community organizations such as KAHEA – The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, Kai Palaoa, and community members familiar with the cultural resources and practices in areas where commercial aquarium collecting may occur, be consulted “at the earliest practicable time.” None of these agencies or organizations were contacted.

The aquarium trade permits in question allow permitted aquarium collectors access to the vast majority of Hawai‘i’s nearshore coral reefs, which encompass 750 miles of coastline statewide. Historically the trade has captured over 250 species of reef fishes and invertebrates and done so with no limits on the total numbers of marine animals that may be taken.

 Last year, Governor Ige vetoed a compromise bill with near unanimous support, that would have phased out the aquarium collection trade. He committed to holding further public and stakeholder discussions, including with native Hawaiians, which never took place. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the state agency responsible for regulating the commercial aquarium collection trade was sued by a coalition of conservation and Native Hawaiian groups for its issuance of aquarium collection permits. The Supreme Court of Hawai’i found in favor of the plaintiffs and held that DLNR must halt the aquarium trade until an Environmental Review pursuant to HEPA is completed and the cumulative impacts to natural and cultural resources assessed.

 To make matters worse, the company hired by the industry to prepare the Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) is Iowa based Stantec, the same controversial consulting company who handled the design and installation of the Keystone Pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline has had twelve oil spills, including a leak of 800,000 liters in South Dakota in November of last year. The environmental review process for the pipeline generated two million comments in opposition during its 30-day comment period, many of which focused on the project’s disrespect for the land and indigenous people’s culture and rights.

 DLNR continues to claim the aquarium trade has no significant impact, although the key criteria for assessing impact applies when there is an irrevocable commitment to loss or destruction of any natural or cultural resource. Further, Articles IX and XII of the State Constitution require government agencies to promote and preserve cultural beliefs, practices, and resources of Native Hawaiians and the general public for whom these resources are held as a part of the Public Trust.

 State law defines a significant effect as “the sum of effects on the quality of the environment, including actions that irrevocably commit a natural resource, curtail the range of beneficial uses of the environment, are contrary to the State’s environmental policies or long term environmental goals as established by law, or adversely affect the economic welfare, social welfare, or cultural practices of the community and State.” (Section 343‐2, HRS).

 “To claim there are no impacts to cultural practices and resources is beyond inaccurate; it is shameful and derelict,” said Kaimi Kaupiko of Pa‘a Pono Miloli‘i.

 “Stantec is notorious for ignoring environmental risks and dismissing the input of indigenous peoples. The same situation experienced by Native Americans in the Midwest with Stantec’s Keystone pipeline is now playing out in Hawai‘i — with complete and utter disregard for native Hawaiian history, cultural values, and practices,” said Bianca Isaki of KAHEA–The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance.

Research published in the scientific journal Tourism Geographies examined more than 1600 testimonies submitted during earlier legislative efforts to implement restrictions on the aquarium trade in Hawai‘i. According to the study, aquarium trade members and their supporters failed to consider the effects of the trade on Hawaiian culture. The researcher described the discrepancy and held, "This is not a traditional fishery. What we have here is an extractive fishery where the end value is entertainment rather than sustenance.” (Brooke Porter, 2017)

 Said Native Hawaiian fisherman Isaac Harp: “Marine resource managers around the world are taking a modern approach to marine resource management, referred to as “Ecosystem Based Management.” This approach considers the contributions of individual species to marine ecosystems as a whole, as well as their relationships to other species. This could be viewed as similar to the Hawaiian ahupua‘a approach, where all things from mountain to sea are interrelated; therefore, when we negatively impact one species it impacts the whole ecosystem. Needless to say, Hawai’i is way behind the curve on this since even basic baseline data collection is absent.”

 “Aquarium fish collecting is one of the less obvious cases of cruelty to animals. But make no mistake, the capture, handling, and transport methods are cruel in ways that offend the basic principle of Aloha Aina, especially when we consider that we are all connected not only to each another but to all life,” said Kealoha Pisciotta of Kai Palaoa.

“Proponents of the aquarium trade fail to understand the cultural concepts of pono and taking only what is needed. The trade therefore is impacting our ability to use the ocean in our traditional cultural and religious ways,” said Charlie Young, of Kama’aina United to Protect the ‘Aina.

Native Hawaiian coral expert/PhD candidate Narrissa Spies stated: “I am concerned that the removal of herbivores combined with the increased nutrient input will lead to algal overgrowth which will smother recovering corals, as well as block recruitment sites for new baby coral. South Kohala (the area with the highest rates of collection in the state) lost 70% of its corals following the 2014-15 bleaching event, and the areas around Puako and Kaunaoa area were among the highest with 90-95% coral mortality. We need to stop frustrating the reefs ability to recover and to return to a state of `Aina Momona or Abundance.”

 “We are calling on Governor Ige to start taking the public and Native Hawaiian rights and resources seriously. The buck stops with Governor Ige, since the executive is the branch of government that is mandated to enforce the constitutional provisions as well as law made by the Courts,” said Mike Nakachi of Moana Ohana.

The Office of Environmental Quality Control has recommended that preparers of cultural impact assessments adopt the following protocol, all of which were ignored under the proposed EA.

A.    Identify and consult with individuals and organizations with expertise concerning the types of cultural resources, practices and beliefs found within the broad geographical area, e.g. district or ahupua'a;

B.   Identify and consult with individuals and organizations with knowledge of the area potentially affected by the proposed action;

C.   Receive information from or conduct ethnographic interviews and oral histories with persons having knowledge of the potentially affected area;

D.   Conduct ethnographic, historical, anthropological, sociological, and other culturally related documentary research;

E.   Identify and describe the cultural resources, practices, and beliefs located within the potentially affected area; and

F.   Assess the impact of the proposed action, alternatives to the proposed action, and mitigation measures on the cultural resources, practices and beliefs identified.

 For more information please visit:


 Porter, B. A. (2017). Exploring stakeholder groups through a testimony analysis on the Hawaiian aquarium trade. Tourism Geographies.



Kealoha Pisciotta (

Mike Nakachi (

Kaimi Kaupiko (

Charlie Young (