Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Curtail isle aquarium fish collectors

By Robert Wintner


Aquarium collectors drafted their own rules and reviewed them with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to prepare for a public meeting on Nov. 17. One collector said that conservation is not an objective. What is the objective?

DLNR aquatic biologist Alton Miyasaka tried framing the exercise socially: "They're taking a step in trying to make their industry a more respectable and responsible industry."

Why would anyone disrespect aquarium collectors or think them irresponsible?

DLNR plays a role in reef politics, illustrated further by Mr. Miyasaka: "There is no need for regulations, as data indicate that tropical fish are being taken sustainably."

Multiple scientific studies call the aquarium trade a major cause of reef degradation. Those scientists view reef species different than fishery species. DLNR views the aquarium trade as a fishery and therein mismanages the habitat and critters to benefit a very few interests -- including DLNR and a handful of collectors, at the expense of everyone else in Hawaii, including the host culture, tourism, residents and, yes, conservationists.

The Kona Division of Aquatic Resources has received many grants to fund this important topic. While many other topics might achieve grant funding, aquarium collecting is a constant breadwinner, with grant potential on every aspect of the aquarium trade, from fizzing, finning and starving the fish before shipment to mortality rates and "species of concern" (gone) from over-collecting.

Taxpayer and grant funding qualify DLNR's Division of Aquatic Resources as vested, even if no staffers or directors are card-carrying aquarium collectors anymore.

Reporter Rosemarie Bernardo wrote: "Efforts by conservationists to impose a ban on taking tropical fish for aquarium sales failed in the last legislative session."

Legislative efforts reach thousands of people in Hawaii and elsewhere who love reefs. The common reaction: amazement that Hawaii "manages" reef extraction for the aquarium trade.

Hawaii Island's County Council recently passed a resolution urging the Legislature to ban the aquarium trade -- another success riding the momentum of the legislative process. A state senator announced recently that she will introduce another bill to ban the aquarium trade on the Big Island. If this is a failure, it glows.

The big question is whether the aquarium trade will consider banning itself for the greater good of Hawaii, its people and reefs. Could DLNR host a meeting to discuss that possibility? DLNR speaks for the executive branch, so the governor could achieve quickly those rules that would take far longer to establish as laws through the legislative process.

The aquarium trade discussion will continue. With political will, we'll also discuss job retraining and income opportunities for those few people now dependent on a bad business from olden times -- trafficking in wildlife for the pet trade.

Robert Wintner, a Maui resident and owner of Snorkel Bob's, has been involved in the aquarium issue for years.

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