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Hawaii Fisherman Gets $260 Fine For Illegal Haul Worth $37,000

DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement
Conservation officers found tropical fish after receiving a complaint of illegal harvesting of aquarium fish offshore of Kawaihae in West Hawaii in February 2020.

A judge has imposed a $260 fine on one of three fisherman in Hawaii who was accused of violating the state's ban on aquarium fishing and recovered an illegal catch worth more than $37,000 in February, court officials said.

“This is outrageous,” said Inga Gibson of Pono Advocacy, which provides consulting services focused on animal and environmental protection issues. “This is an affront to a public trust resource and a slap in the face to community members.”

Wayne T. Newman pleaded no contest Tuesday to possessing aquatic life for aquarium purposes without a valid West Hawaii aquarium permit, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Judge Mahilani Hiatt ordered Newman to pay a $100 fine and $30 fee for each offense.

“The $200 court sentence doesn’t adequately match the seriousness of the crime or discourage illegal activity in the future,” state Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement. “The maximum fine amount, as reflected in today’s court decision, does not reflect the value of the natural resources that can be lost when these laws are violated.”

The department expects to look at additional penalties through a civil enforcement action, agency officials said.

The state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement were responding Feb. 20 to an anonymous tip when they found Newman and two other people with illegal aquarium fishing gear and a hold filled with 550 live fish abroad a vessel returning to a harbor in north Hawaii Island.

A second fishermen, who was determined to be the vessel's captain, was criminally charged and a third person was not.

Conservationists said after the hearing Tuesday that it was on Hawaii island Prosecutor Mitch Roth to impose a sentence that matched the extent of the crime.

Roth didn't handle the case for his office and was surprised to hear about the fine.

“I would have liked (the deputy prosecutor) to have asked for more,” Roth said, adding that the statute allows fines up to $1,000 for each charge and up to 30 days in jail.

The state Legislature needs to modify the law to allow for even greater penalties and adjust forfeiture statutes to allow for the option of seizing boats used in the crimes, Roth said.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources recently rejected an environmental impact statement submitted by 10 West Hawaii aquarium fishers, stating they did not adequately disclose the potential environmental impacts of their activities.

Board Chair Suzanne Case said the EIS did not provide enough information on issues such as limits on future catch, like the depleted p?ku?iku?i (Achilles tang) and other low-number species, as well as the effects of climate change, ocean warming and coral bleaching related to aquarium fishing.

The HPR News Staff contributed to this report.

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