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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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forthefishes wrote:
Let's not forget the illegal side of the trade - also openly acknowledged by the DLNR as they write of "under and non-reporting", AKA poaching and fraud. Yet, the DLNR press release sees no disconnect when it reports the Oahu trade reports a total of $395,000 annually, providing 40 jobs. In what world does $395K equate to 40 jobs?
on November 13,2011 | 06:44AM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
That is because most of those 40 people are part-timers who don't make much money, not because of bad reporting. Please get you facts straight.
on November 13,2011 | 06:40PM
forthefishes wrote:
Under and non reporting is a well known fact - acknowledged and reported by DLNR. There are a number of wholesalers flying beneath the radar in Honolulu where unreported catch is delivered and sold from. That's poaching and that's fraud.
on November 14,2011 | 08:25AM
wondermn1 wrote:
We need to limit or stop the amount of Tropical fish being taken for a period of 5 years to allow the reef fish to re-populate and expand areas. If you dive along our reefs you see very little of the most beautiful types of reef fish but if you go to the stores you see tons of them in aquariums being sold to the public and flown out of Hawaii. go to Coral fish in Aiea it will give you an Idea of how many are taken daily. Lets protect our enviroment for our children and grandchildren.
on November 13,2011 | 07:14AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
The main impact on reef fish is the non point source pollution wide spread throughout our islands. Golf courses contribute significantly to this pollution through adding fertilizer and pesticides to the environment. The Ala Wai Gold course in particular has been an ecological disaster to the Waikiki reef. This golf course needs to be turned into an eco friendly park for everyone to enjoy...
on November 13,2011 | 08:38AM
forthefishes wrote:
The effects of aquarium collecting has been studied and shown to be a major negative impact to the species they target. NPS pollution does not target aquarium species - aquarium collectors do. NPS pollution like sewage effluent and the structures that carry it to the deep outfalls actually attract fish. See: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps/103/m103p025.pdf On Maui, sewage effluent seeps out onto shallow reefs where combined with sunlight feeds algae which overtakes the reefs (likely facilitated by the absence of herbivores which keep the algae in check). Across the state the species targeted by the trade are disappearing - while others are not.
on November 13,2011 | 11:07AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Um sewage effluent carried to a deep outfall is not NPS pollution. It has a source that can be identified. NPS pollution targets the entire eco system which is inclusive of aquarium type species. Waikiki is already protected by established fishing seasons. That protection, however, has never brought the fish levels back to what they once were due to the damage caused by NPS pollution. I snorkle in various areas in Waikiki on weekends for the past 20 years and have only run into an aquarium collector on 3 or 4 occasions. I realize that there are more than those 3 or 4. I dare say that we are not looking at a huge number and would suggest that their impact to Waikiki is minimal at best...
on November 13,2011 | 12:08PM
islandsun wrote:
DLNR fish enforcement division is a fraud and should be disbanded. They are afraid to do anything. Just go down to magic Island and see all the illegal netters operate.
on November 13,2011 | 09:34AM
tiki886 wrote:
I came to this site www.forthefishes.org by listening to Snorkel Bob on Rick Hamada's radio program. I know this is a different issue but it affects the aquarium trade as well. About 10 years or more ago my buddy introduced me to an individual who was telling stories of his exploits in illegal commercial fishing. This is hearsay but somehow I believe him. The 'menpachi' is a tasty shy fish that only comes out at night and uses the reef to hide so it is difficult to catch even with nets. Catching them with an individual hook is not efficient either. I was told they were using scuba equipment and garbage bags filled with clorox to 'gas' the fishes out of their holes and into the nets. The inedible aquarium fishes were collateral damage and so was the dead coral. The picture of hundreds of yellow tangs on the website reminded me of this anecdotal story. I have no reason to believe this practice has stopped so any new regulation of the aquarium fish trade should address all illegal commercial fishing practices.
on November 13,2011 | 12:25PM
tiki886 wrote:
The mass killing of these yellow tangs you see on this website represents a huge financial loss to the aquarium trade. It looks more like collateral damage. Too bad no one took the time to do a toxicology on the cause of death for these fishes.
on November 13,2011 | 12:30PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Yes this is a true story but not done by the commercial industry in Hawaii. It is unfortunately done by individuals here and is more common in remote areas where they will not get caught (neighbor islands). This was made illegal a long time ago. The commercial industry in the Philippines will still do this even though its illegal there as well. They also use chlorine tablets.
on November 13,2011 | 01:22PM
tiki886 wrote:
You're right. I remember now i was told it was swimming pool chlorine powder which is mixed with salt water to avoid detection of clorox fumes during transport. Having said that, how do you think 'menpachi' get to market when it is difficult to catch one by one?
on November 13,2011 | 02:03PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Not sure how they are caught now - we use to go to the jettie at the enterance to the military cabin side of Bellows on the evening of a full moon. Menpachi for some reason would swarm at that location at that time and so it was fairly easy to fill a bucket after a few hours of dunking our lines. In Wailupe they were easy to spear along the outside reef up until they started building Waialae Iki. Each phase of that development would kill the reef with sediment and it would take bout 4 years for the Menpachi and everything else to come back. As I remember there were about four phases of that development beginning in the late 60's and running into the 80's..
on November 13,2011 | 02:37PM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
So we should believe this guy, whose claim to fame is that he owns a snorkeling business, instead of DLNR scientists? Mr. Wintner is trying to pick on a small group of fishermen in order to promote his own personal agenda. The fact that the aquarium fishery is sustainable and doesn't hurt the ocean has been proven many times over.
on November 13,2011 | 06:46PM
forthefishes wrote:
You should believe him and the DLNR scientists who have written that the aquarium trade is threatening many of Hawaii's endemic species with extinction, is a major cause of coral reef degradation on Oahu, has collected species to the point of population collapse. You should also believe the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force which wrote that the aquarium trade in Hawaii is severely over-harvesting fish.
on November 14,2011 | 06:49AM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
None of those statements are correct. I know enough about fisheries biology, and am familiar with the papers you are quoting, to know that you are putting things out of context. Never once has any DLNR scientist written that any endemic species is directly threatened with extinction due to fishing - that is physically impossible especially since 80% of Hawaiian waters are fully protected by the NWHI reserve. The "population collapse" referred to here was a period after Hurricane Iwa when the reef was destroyed by the storm. Since that time, the reef has recovered and so has the fishery, which is now healthy and has been so for many years. Nor is the fishery cited as a "major cause of reef degradation". The paper you are quoting lists it as a fishing impact, but "reef degradation" is something completely different. When DLNR says that the fishery is sustainable, they have their facts straight and are not lying.
on November 14,2011 | 08:54AM
forthefishes wrote:
All of those statements are correct and not being "put" or taken out of context. You should read Hawaii's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy which lists aquarium collecting as the sole threat to many endemic species. You should read the 1976 - 2003 History of the Aquarium Trade documenting that the populations collapsed because of collecting pressure after the hurricanes. You also have not had a very good look at the collection reports which continue to confirm that the harvest is a shadow of its pre-collapse numbers - not even close. You should also see the DLNR 1998 State of the Reefs Report (not a paper a 40 page bound report): it states aquarium fishing a Major cause of coral reef degradation. "Unsustainable" was the exact word used by a DLNR fisheries biologist last year in regards to Yellow Tang take. I could go on, but will give it a rest already!
on November 30,2011 | 12:19PM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
Also, the statement from the original article that the rules "are not to appease conservationists" doesn't mean that it's not about conservation. What Mr. Fernley meant was that the only thing that would satisfy folks like Mr. Wintner is a complete ban. Therefore, it's not possible to appease them. The true purpose of creating fishing regulations is to conserve the resource while still being able to use it.
on November 13,2011 | 07:36PM
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