Hawaii officials found 239 fish worth an estimated $17,000 after a Kailua-Kona man’s arrest for illegal fishing this week.
The fisherman, Steve Howard, 57, was charged with possessing illegal collection gear, resisting arrest, and reckless endangerment, Hawaii News Now reported. The reckless endangerment charge was due to Howard’s allegedly leaving two scuba divers near his catch site.
Aquarium fishing illegal
West Hawaii has a ban on aquarium fishing. But officials say fish collectors have pursued the practice regardless. The rest of Hawaii allows it though prohibts fine-mesh nets, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers received an alert about Howard’s plans to fish in West Hawaii on Tuesday. They followed him as his boat left the pier with two women aboard. They then sent a boat to intercept him and found the illegal collection gear.
“Illegal collection of aquarium fish in West Hawaii is turning into a persistent problem,” Administrator of the Division of Aquatic Resources Brian Neilson said, according to Hawaii News Now. “This is the third arrest we’ve seen associated with illegal aquarium harvest in West Hawaii this year,” he continues, “which indicates this is a larger problem that the department is going to have to deal with.”
Search and rescue operation
When the officers intercepted Howard’s boat and found the women gone, they attempted to question him, but he resisted. So the Hawaii County Fire and Police Departments, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard led a land, air, and sea search and rescue mission. The crew eventually found the women at a Kona gas station.
State officials returned Howard’s captured fish to the wild, West Hawaii Today reported. Howard faces five misdemeanor charges, each carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail. He also owes a fine of up to $1,000.
“Everyone knows the rules, and the industry is under a microscope legally, procedurally and physically,” Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said. “Why anyone would blatantly flaunt the law to continue to fish illegally for aquarium fish in Kona is beyond me.”