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DLNR denies claims in fish lawsuit


Stephens Media

The Department of Land and Natural Resources, through the state Attorney General’s office, denied claims by environmental groups, divers and fishermen that it failed to follow the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act.

The Attorney General’s office late Tuesday filed a brief response to a lawsuit brought against DLNR last month asking for the complaint to be dismissed.

Earthjustice, the Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity joined with Maui resident Rene Umberger, Milolii residents Kaimi Kaupiko and Willie Kaupiko, and West Hawaii resident and business owner Mike Nakachi to file the complaint last month. The complaint seeks a declaratory judgment ordering the state to perform reviews under the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiffs say the act applies to the permits because they regulate an activity that happens within state waters.

The state’s response denied, paragraph by paragraph, the lawsuit’s claims, but did not provide lengthy comment on the allegations.

Further, Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff wrote, the plaintiff’s complaints are barred by the sovereign immunity doctrine and the plaintiffs lack standing, are barred by the statute of limitations to make the claims and failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

The brief response did not include any additional argument or comment on the complaint.

Caroline Ishida, with Earthjustice, said late Tuesday she had not yet seen the reply.

A 1998 State of the Reefs Report concluded removing fish and invertebrates from the reef may affect the long-term stability of the reef ecosystems, the original complaint said. DLNR’s alleged failure to comply with the state’s environmental policy act, which the plaintiffs claimed requires environmental assessments before the collecting permits may be issued, harms the plaintiffs’ environmental, aesthetic, recreational, educational, cultural and economic interests.

Hawaii is the country’s largest exporter of species intended for the aquarium trade, and the majority of aquarium fish collected in Hawaii comes from West Hawaii’s waters, the lawsuit said.

The complaint listed 50 aquarium permits approved in the last 120 days. The complaint also challenged any permit DLNR renewed or granted before that time period.

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