Wednesday, July 30, 2014         

 Print   Email   Comment | View 16 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

Aquarium fish industry draws activists' ire

A campaign aims to stop a practice they say is harmful to reefs and oceans

By Associated Press


The waters off Hawaii's largest island are home to a half-million brightly colored tropical fish that are scooped up into nets each year and flown across the globe into aquariums from Berlin to Boston.

Scientists say the aquarium fishery off Hawaii island is among the best managed in the world, but it has nevertheless become the focus of a fight over whether it's ever appropriate to remove fish from reefs for people to look at and enjoy.

Activists have launched a campaign to shut down the buying and selling of fish for aquariums, saying the practice from Hawaii to the Philippines is destroying coral reefs.

"In this day and age, where the ocean faces a crisis ... there's absolutely no justification for a fishery for hobby," said Mike Long of Seattle-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is heading the campaign.

A coalition of fishermen, state regulators and even local environmentalists say the group should focus its attention elsewhere, noting comprehensive aquarium fishery regulations and scientific research that shows fish stocks there are rebounding.

"We don't have a problem here anymore," said Tina Owens of the local environmental group Lost Fish Coalition.

Scientists estimate the aquarium trade removes about 30 million fish from reefs around the world. Hawaii accounts for less than 2 percent, while the vast majority comes from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Some fishermen in these countries capture fish by pumping cyanide into the water to make fish sluggish and easier to catch. The chemical may also harm nearby marine life as well as shorten the captured fish's life span.

The Philippines has long prohibited cyanide fishing and in April banned certain types of fishing gear that destroy coral reefs and other marine habitat, said Asis Perez, director of the government's Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Hawaii collectors use nets to capture fish. Local collectors might sell one yellow tang -- the most commonly caught species on Hawaii island's west coast -- for about $3 or $4. With middlemen adding costs to store and ship them, the fish might retail for anywhere between $30 and $60.

Long said Sea Shepherd would take the campaign to Indonesia and the Philippines as well.

The group is known for using aggressive tactics -- even violence -- to achieve its aims, as when its members rammed Japanese whaling ships in Antarctica and hurled glass containers of acid at the vessels. A federal judge called them pirates.

Conflict over the aquarium fish industry shot into the limelight last month when Sea Shepherd activists wearing cameras approached two fish collectors working underwater in West Hawaii.

One collector swam to one of the activists and ripped her scuba air regulator out of her mouth. Both the fish collector and the activist filed complaints against each another. Prosecutors are reviewing evidence but haven't decided whether to file charges.

Local activists have long pushed to shut down Hawaii's aquarium trade.

Robert Wintner, owner of the Hawaii dive shop chain Snorkel Bob's and vice president of Sea Shepherd's board, lobbied the state Legislature for years to ban aquarium fish collecting, but the bills didn't pass.

Wintner and others sued the state in 2012, saying environmental studies should be conducted before collection permits are issued. A state judge rejected the suit, but the plaintiffs are appealing.

Long said Sea Shepherd came to Hawaii to help Wintner and other local activists. He said the group doesn't intend to "harass, attack or engage an individual fisherman who is trying to put food on the table."

The group is focusing on filming and documenting to bring attention to what he called "a very fragile ecosystem out there that is being depleted for the sole benefit of a multibillion-dollar industry for the home and business hobbyist."

Fish collectors say the filming isn't harmless, saying it could scare away skittish fish.

West Hawaii's aquarium fish collecting rules date to the late 1990s, when the state Legislature, responding to concerns about declining fish stocks, banned fish collecting along sections of the coastline. Today collecting is prohibited on 35 percent of the coast.

Scientific surveys show yellow tang populations have jumped 88 percent in these areas since the regulations went into effect, said Brian Tissot, a Humbolt State University conservation biologist. Numbers of goldring surgeonfish, the second most caught aquarium fish, climbed 37 percent.

The population growth has spilled over into areas where fish collecting is allowed.

A local fisheries advisory council -- made up of environmentalists, divers, fish collectors, tourism industry officials and others -- recently moved to strengthen the regulations. Their new rules limit species that collectors may capture to a list of 40.

Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press

 Print   Email   Comment | View 16 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

You must be subscribed to participate in discussions
By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may receive a warning, and if you persist with such comments you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email commentfeedback@staradvertiser.com.
Leave a comment

Please login to leave a comment.
bekwell wrote:
Hey, you wanna see our fish. Come to Hawaii, look at them, leave them here and then go home.
on June 29,2014 | 04:12AM
bumba wrote:
"Our" fish?
on June 29,2014 | 04:39AM
skydog1 wrote:
Yes. OUR fish - as in a resource that belongs to EVERYONE in this State. But yet, the aquarium collectors are allowed to take whatever they want for the price of a $50 permit. Of course there are limits and species "whitelists" but there is no enforcement resources provided by DLNR so the collectors take whatever they want. The issue is that this is a "taking" of a resource that belongs to the State for virtually nothing in return. As for the article stating that they use nets - maybe some do, but I have personally witnessed fish collectors poking the reefs with large poles to scare fish into a large vacuum cleaner like device. We are sacrificing a major economic driver for this state (the reefs) in order to benefit a few corrupt politicians and the greedy fish collectors who need to go out and earn an honest living.
on June 29,2014 | 08:37AM
kiragirl wrote:
Yes, they are our fish because we are their guardians. We are the protectors for this earth and its living creatures.
on June 29,2014 | 09:00AM
yhls wrote:
The aquarium industry needs to be shut down. This is long overdue. The aquarium industry is motivated by greed and stupidity. Our corals reefs are an endangered species. These activists are out there fighting for all of us before it's too late. Any organization that says our reefs, whether local or international, are OK, or that there's no problem here, don't fish. Oahu's nearshore reefs are fished out, so much so that the aquarium collectors have moved on to more fertile grounds on the neighbor islands where they are generally free to rape and pillage unless caught by one of these environmental groups.
on June 29,2014 | 06:11AM
islandsun wrote:
True, federal laws need to be established and enforced. Cannot rely on the State.
on June 29,2014 | 07:30AM
yhls wrote:
It's just outrageous that that our precious coral reefs in Hawaii are allowed to be raped by a handful of greedy, uneducated, individuals who look at it like their private aquarium. It's a public resource.
on June 29,2014 | 06:13AM
Gonzalez wrote:
I made a living in the aquarium trade from 1970 to 1982 -- thats before a lot of you readers ever saw the light of day.. EVERY fish I collected had to be recorded and a count sent into the DLNR for record keeping., very regulated, strict rules, It was VERY hard work making 4 dives a day and the dangers from the bends, ocean critters, and the ocean environment itself made it a very difficult way to make a living -- 99 % of you reading this could not do this job -- in your best day.. -- If you environmentalists have such a "burr under your saddle" to stop the Aquarium fish trade, -- why not direct your attention to the REAL problem - Imports from the PI. - Where Chemicals are use in the collecting and REAL damage is done to the reefs -- You don't because Hawaii is an "easy target" -- I have delt with the wacko tree huggers for 40 years -- They use emotion rather than proven science to further their cause. -- Been there -- done that !! Deane Gonzalez -
on June 29,2014 | 06:31AM
false wrote:
And as you can see here in the viewers comments, boys and girls… is the different between scientific facts and wild unfounded emotional arguments. :)
on June 29,2014 | 06:51AM
A_Reader wrote:
"False".....Ask anyone who used to fish 40-50 years ago what it was like then compared to now....I am not a scientist or marine biologist but then again...don't think this is rocket science...need to malama the kai.....oh by the way had choke fish all over Oahu near the shores in 5 feet deep water.
on June 29,2014 | 07:28AM
cojef wrote:
The rape began in the "sugar plantation era" when they drained the swamps and discharged the water out onto the reefs, killing them, which affected all fishery in the area.
on June 29,2014 | 07:53AM
artmurch wrote:
It certainly isn't rocket science; it is biological science and trained professional biologists have data that show that "yellow tang populations have jumped 88 percent in these areas since the regulations went into effect" and that "the population growth has spilled over into areas where fish collecting is allowed." Did you miss that A_Reader?
on June 29,2014 | 08:43AM
A_Reader wrote:
artmurch.....yeah big deal..play on words...."Yellow tang population jumped 88 percent since the regulations went into effect". Now tell me what was the populations of tang along with the general overall population of uku, uhu, palani, kole and kumu just for starters from 50 years before the "88 percent increase since regulations". I will guarantee it is multiple times more than the 88 percent increase. Artmurch, I bet you weren't there to be able to make that observation.
on June 30,2014 | 05:24AM
artmurch wrote:
Indeed! Alas, it seems the percentage of members of the 'unfounded emotional arguments' persuasion is increasing. The resulting loud arrogant ignorance is nauseating and disheartening.
on June 29,2014 | 08:40AM
gmkhawaii wrote:
long ago.......fish that fed the masses were farmed, wasn't really necessary to go and dive and spearfish.......then spearfishing became cool....and more and more people did it including myself. without regulation there was no control, alas the shoreline areas were overfished and supply couldn't keep up with demand......with control measures in place spearfishing as well as rod and reel shoreline fishing can be sustainable again..... and so can the aquarium fish industry......activists are like movie critics, something has to be wrong with it. so the cover all solution is to ban it all together. .... the real solution to all of this?...ban humans!
on June 29,2014 | 08:19AM
KaneoheSJ wrote:
This is just a snapshot of an example of what happens when greed takes over. It happens all over our state and in our country. Just look at the over development that is occurring right now. Pretty soon, maybe in your lifetime, Oahu will become like New York. The rich will have their posh buildings that show no indication of the surrounding buildings which may be decrepit. Money buys everything including what people take for granted as being something which everyone should be able to enjoy. Just look at what happened in Kailua where the rich formed barriers so that everyone else would not be able to enjoy what most residents should be able to. Only when action was take against these offenders were these barriers removed. Greed always takes over and money talks. The gouging of our coral reefs is just a microcosm of what happens in our state. Remember the catfish project where the state actually raised these fishes so that a few can enjoy their "sport" of fishing in Nuuanu? Many greedily took their catch to sell while the rest of us paid for their entertainment. How is that you might ask where we, the unsuspecting, pay for the entertainment of a few? It is called greed. It goes on in our government and in our backyards. It's called lobbying. Lobbying for their project or what have you. And I am sure the aquarium hobbyist industry have their deep pockets to influence what laws are enacted. There is no reason why this industry should be protected as it goes against the preservation of our reefs, our resources. They destroy wherever they go all for the sake of the profit. And if left unregulated, our reefs will be destroyed. Reefs that our tourism industry rely on.
on June 29,2014 | 10:33AM
Latest News/Updates