Under a new court ruling, state officials must halt all existing commercial aquarium fishing in Hawaii until those operations submit the proper environmental reviews, according to the environmental legal group Earthjustice.

First Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree issued that order from the bench Tuesday in state environmental court, according to Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz.

It compels the Department of Land and Natural Resources to void all existing commercial marine licenses used for aquarium fishing, Cruz said.

A kole tang, a species coveted in the waters off Hawaii Island by aquarium fishers. A court ruling Tuesday compels all existing licenses for such fishing to be voided until they can provide the proper environmental review. FromSandToGlass/Flickr

In November, Crabtree ruled that all commercial aquarium fishers must first provide approved environmental impact statements to collect fish from the islands’ nearshore waters, not just the ones who use fine-mesh nets.

In response, the DLNR declared that it would let the existing licenses operate until they expire instead of canceling them immediately.  Those commercial marine licenses, or CMLs, expire after a year.

But Earthjustice officials expressed concern that the DLNR’s actions didn’t go far enough, saying there could be a “run on the reef” to collect as many fish as possible before the licenses expire.

“You can’t collect under an illegal permit. There was no legal basis for DLNR to continue to allow this activity to continue to occur,” Cruz said Tuesday in regards to Crabtree’s order, which she said addressed Earthjustice’s concerns.

Now, any operator looking to engage in commercial aquarium fishing in Hawaiian waters will have to provide the proper reviews under the state’s Environmental Protection Act, Cruz said.

DLNR officials did not respond Tuesday afternoon to a request for comment on Crabtree’s order.

Out of 3,000 CMLs for the state, 41 were being used for aquarium catches as of Nov. 30, the agency reported previously.

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