New & Noteworthy: Koʻolau Loa Plan; Aquarium Collecting

Koʻolauloa Plan Advances: On November 19, the Zoning and Planning Committee of the Honolulu City Council voted to adopt a revised Sustainable Communities Plan for the windward Koʻolauloa area that limits Hawaiʻi Reserves, Inc., which manages the land in Laʻie owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day, to building just 200 new housing units near the Brigham Young University-Hawaiʻi campus. HRI had at one point pushed for up to 875 units to be included in the plan.

Controversy over the housing proposal had long divided the community. The most recent amendments to the plan were proposed by Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi. Prior to that, the Honolulu Planning Department proposed a plan that would have expanded the zone designated for Urban Growth just north of Laʻie, in the Malaekahana area.

The bill approved by the Zoning and Planning Committee now faces a gantlet of public hearings and votes by the full council before it becomes law. But the Defend Oʻahu Coalition, which organized much of the protest against the urban expansion, was cheered by the action, posting a big “mahalo” to Tsuneyoshi and other council members on its Facebook page.

— Patricia Tummons

Loophole Closed: In 2017, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court upheld a Circuit Court decision to invalidate aquarium collection permits issued by the state. The court found that an environmental review was required before any such permits are issued. Since then, an industry group has unsuccessfully sought approval from the Board of Land and Natural Resources of an environmental impact statement on aquarium collection permits for West Hawaiʻi. No EIS has been accepted for commercial aquarium collection there, or anywhere else in the state.

Even so, the industry continued to collect hundreds of thousands of aquarium specimens in the years following the court decision. Because the collectors did not use the fine-meshed nets that are the industry’s most common tool and are regulated by the state’s aquarium collecting permits, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources argued that the collection could continue under general commercial marine licenses (CML).

On November 27, 1st Circuit judge Jeffrey Crabtree found that was not the case. In his order granting a motion for summary judgment brought by Willie and Kaʻimi Kaupiko, Mike Nakachi, For the Fishes, and the Center for Biological Diversity, he stated that commercial aquarium fish collection under a CML is an “action” under the state’s Hawaiʻi Environmental Policy Act.

“Potentially unlimited extraction of aquarium fish does not meet any of the exemption categories. … Taking more than a half-million aquarium fish is not a minor impact, no matter how many or how few licenses are issued,” he wrote.

“DLNR exercises or can exercise discretion concerning these takings. An environmental review is therefore required by law, and has not happened,” he wrote.

“We are relieved that the court shut this illegal loophole so our reefs can finally rest while the agency examines the industry’s harmful effects. These reefs are vital to our way of life and to the health of our entire Paeʻāina [Hawaiian Islands],” said Kaʻimi Kaupiko, a fisherman from Miloliʻi, Hawaiʻi, in a press release. 

The DLNR has stated that its Division of Aquatic Resources will not renew or issue new CMLs without a condition prohibiting the taking of marine life for aquarium fishing purposes until Chapter 343 environmental review is completed. Forty-one current commercial marine licensees report aquarium catch, the agency stated.

See our October 2020 story, “Lawsuit Seeks to Close ‘Loophole’ Allowing Aquarium Fish Collection,” for more background.

— Teresa Dawson

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