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Scuba divers grapple over collecting fish for aquariums

An environmentalist compares the underwater clash to attempted murder

By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press


A filmed underwater confrontation between an environmentalist who wants to shut down the aquarium fish industry in Hawaii and a collector who gathers the fish and sells them for a living has put a spotlight on a long-running conflict over the business.

The video shot off the west coast of Hawaii island May 8 shows a collector quickly swimming about 30 to 40 feet toward a diver, who is filming the collector, and ripping out the diver's air-supply regulator. A snorkeler watching from above filmed the scene with another camera.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees state waters, said it is investigating "complaints by two parties involved in an incident" but declined to provide further details.

Rene Umberger, whose regulator was ripped out of her mouth, said she followed her training and calmly retrieved the regulator, gave it a gentle first breath to test whether it was functioning and resumed breathing. The regulator was torn, but it wasn't taking in water and was working, she said.

"That's your life-support equipment. Doing something like that to someone — you potentially cause them to die," said Umberger, who leads a Maui-based group called For the Fishes. "I was shocked."

The act could have killed a less experienced diver, said Umberger, who has been a dive instructor for 30 years and has been on more than 10,000 dives. She likened the act to attempted murder.

Umberger said an enforcement officer from the Department of Land and Natural Resources told her the aquarium fish collector had filed a complaint against her for harassment. She hasn't been served with the complaint, Umberger added.

The state hasn't charged the aquarium fish collector with any violation. The activists, who released the video this week, identified the collector as Jay Lovell.

His telephone number isn't listed, and he couldn't be reached for comment. But his brother Jim Lovell, who also collects aquarium fish, said the activists were harassing divers and provoked an incident.

"From what I understand, Jay was getting scared" of what was going on, Jim Lovell said. His brother was trying to do his job, he said.

Makani Christensen, an Oahu scuba spear fisherman who said he spoke to the brothers, said activists are trying to disrupt the work of fishermen.

"The fish go away. You can't work under the stress when you have eight different divers around you," Christensen said.

Fishermen off the Kona Coast, where the incident occurred, account for 75 percent of the aquarium fish caught in Hawaii. Aquarium fish collecting is legal off Kona, but fisherman must avoid certain places and collect only certain species. The incident occurred in Keawa­iki Bay, where collecting is allowed.

Environmentalists say the aquarium fish trade strips coral reefs of fish that eat algae and otherwise support a healthy marine ecosystem.

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HanabataDays wrote:
"Jay was getting scared". That's sure the diametric opposite of what the vid shows clearly. Who I going believe, brah? You or my lyin' maka?
on May 16,2014 | 02:15AM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
The video doesn't show what happened before the incident. The divers were approached by a boat with 8 guys on it, labeled "Sea Shepherd reef defense". They dropped at least 5 people in on top of them while they were underwater - the divers had no way of knowing if their boat was going to be safe, given Sea Shepherd's reputation for vandalizing boats. I would have been scared too, although I wouldn't have responded like that. The assault was wrong, but the activists aren't innocent here either. Two wrongs don't make a right.
on May 16,2014 | 06:22AM
kiragirl wrote:
Okay. Harassment and assault. One a misdemeanor and the other a felony.
on May 16,2014 | 06:58AM
OldDiver wrote:
The film appears to show the diver ripping the regulator out of another divers mouth and then swimming back to continue to capture fish. Doesn't appear to be the actions of a scared fish collector.
on May 16,2014 | 08:46AM
Skyler wrote:
on May 16,2014 | 11:26AM
Anonymous wrote:
Good point kiragirl.
on May 16,2014 | 09:40PM
Larry01 wrote:
Sorry, being near someone vs. physical violence against another person are not equal under the law, or in life.
on May 16,2014 | 08:16AM
sjean wrote:
You were there? Or is this a second-hand retelling? Based on your handle I doubt your objectivity.
on May 16,2014 | 09:20AM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
I know the divers in question, and heard it from them. I don't support what they did but I think both parties are at fault here. Obviously I support fishing (as do many people in Hawaii) and am not happy about people harassing others then they're trying to work, but I still think they went too far. I suppose that's about as objective as you can get for somebody in my position.
on May 16,2014 | 06:26PM
cartwright wrote:
Kona is the last place where a reef robber still makes money. When finished the tourist dollars are gone too. Then all the infrastructure & retail jobs leave. Then the home prices go down.
on May 16,2014 | 06:32AM
wizard417 wrote:
people over fish because of greed and not need, strict regulations need to be put in place and enforced to help save our oceans. my son and his friends went on the submarine nautilus tour off waikiki and said there weren't many or any fish to be seen, how sad is that.
on May 16,2014 | 04:01AM
kiragirl wrote:
Yep. All for the money. Greed. They do not care about anything except money.
on May 16,2014 | 05:50AM
Grimbold wrote:
All the colored fish disappear . Shame for profit.
on May 16,2014 | 06:30AM
paulokada wrote:
True. Live and let live or live and let die with chemical use. All chemicals end up in the ocean including treated sewer chemicals. Our reefs are dying and only the super virus survives. Malama.
on May 16,2014 | 06:57AM
sjean wrote:
Start with DLNR workers on the same Kona coast.
on May 16,2014 | 09:13AM
mfontz wrote:
Sure he was getting scared, just like a robber when he's seen in the middle of a heist. Once again is there really a need to be taking animals from the wild when there is the knowledge to reproduce in captivity? For one it's cheeper to get it from the wild but is the cost to the rest of us worth it? For the fisherman(?) actually poacher would be a better description, the high resale price for saltwater fish makes the job very profitable.
on May 16,2014 | 04:47AM
hunebasami wrote:
Just like the lobster fishermen in New England. The tuna boats. Stop all fishing in the sea. Eat more beef.
on May 16,2014 | 08:15AM
kdang99 wrote:
Hmm, seems to me like Jay is the REAL threat here, a threat to both the fish and Mrs. Umberger.
on May 16,2014 | 05:02AM
hunebasami wrote:
She should join Cox.
on May 16,2014 | 08:16AM
peanutgallery wrote:
Another environmental wacko story! We have no idea, from what's been reported, about what happened before this event. All we have is a film showing one sides' position. Typical.
on May 16,2014 | 05:24AM
bumba wrote:
BS. Doesn't matter what happened "before the incident". He swam over to her and yanked her regulator. Gee, real tough guy.
on May 16,2014 | 05:32AM
hunebasami wrote:
She released his catch. If I destroyed your hard work I hope you are happy that you can't feed your kids. Better then living of the government.
on May 16,2014 | 08:18AM
sjean wrote:
Hard work? Did he hand raise these fish? Dangerous work yes. hard work? hardly.
on May 16,2014 | 09:15AM
kiragirl wrote:
Did she release his caught fish? If true, that is terrible of her. There are other ways of "harassing" them.
on May 16,2014 | 11:26AM
EducatedLocalBoy wrote:
hunebasami, how do you know she released anything? Even if she did release something, J. Lovell doesn't own it until he puts it into his boat.
on May 16,2014 | 03:09PM
Larry01 wrote:
Unless she committed assault against him, it's pretty cut and dry. Sorry, peanut.
on May 16,2014 | 08:17AM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
"These fish that eat algae and otherwise support a healthy marine ecosystem." Leave the fish alone and find another occupation.
on May 16,2014 | 05:44AM
hunebasami wrote:
Maybe your job. You can look for something else to do.
on May 16,2014 | 08:19AM
lastuhu wrote:
Too many hooks, too many spears, too many nets, too many butter knifes
on May 16,2014 | 05:54AM
kiragirl wrote:
Yep. More fishermen than fish.
on May 16,2014 | 06:59AM
hanalei395 wrote:
"too many butter knives" ... and opihi is almost extinct. Also almost gone, limu-kohu, too many picking.
on May 16,2014 | 07:13AM
Slow wrote:
Isn't it time we stop using and killing animals as entertainment? No aquariums, no zoos, no circuses (wasn't shooting Tyke to death in Honolulu a glorious hunters dream come true?), no Sea Life Park, no exotic pets, no fur coats, no white tigers dying alone in tiny Panaewa Zoo...we do not have to live like this any more. Selling yellow tangs and other reef fish for money is revolting. Respect yourself and your home.
on May 16,2014 | 06:00AM
hunebasami wrote:
Yes we can just go to war. Kill each other not important.
on May 16,2014 | 08:20AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Something seems to be missing here. The video is very clear but before I can make judgement on this whole process, I need more information.
on May 16,2014 | 06:06AM
Skyler wrote:
Didn't look like anyone had a spear gun pointed at him, so coming over & ripping out her regulator seemed like the wrong thing to do.
on May 16,2014 | 11:28AM
Bdpapa wrote:
it was wrong, but I think there is much more to this story.
on May 16,2014 | 12:16PM
leino wrote:
Man was put on this planet to hunt, gather, kill, plunder and turn anything it can into food &/or money ... right ... or do significant parts of this amazing world belong to all of us to respect, value and enjoy. In many cases the mixed use [differing values] don't work out so well. The harvesters take so much that it throws the balance off and many connected life forms suffer. The takers do not replenish and our collective natural treasury is being sadly depleted ... for a few people's gain. We need sustainable laws and regulations. At the very least we need more no take preserves for regeneration.
on May 16,2014 | 06:07AM
9ronboz wrote:
Lovell's action cannot be condoned, but the activist like Green Peace have no business disrupting legitimate operation. Take legal action, not harassment.
on May 16,2014 | 07:17AM
Masami wrote:
One of the first lessons in scuba diving involves what to do if your regulator gets dislodged while diving. You either calmly put it back in your mouth or if out of air you buddy breathe. She's really milking this incident which she MAY have provoked. If the guy really attempted to murder her he would've held on to her regulator and prevented her from gaining access to it. I'M NOT CONDONING what he did yet it seems she's partly responsible for escalating the incident into what occurred. Go picket the saltwater aquarium shops or the Legislature but don't harrass someone doing legal activities.
on May 16,2014 | 07:25AM
Bdpapa wrote:
I agree!
on May 16,2014 | 08:29AM
sjean wrote:
I believe that's called the stink-eye defense.
on May 16,2014 | 09:16AM
Skyler wrote:
Being in the water filming wasn't physical harassment; ripping out someone's regulator was. You are condoning it, so stop making excuses for the man.
on May 16,2014 | 11:32AM
bluemoki wrote:
This story is very one-sided in favor of the fish collector. The diver was taking photos of the coral as part of research on the damage and decline of coral reefs. She was not trying to make beef with the guy and what he was doing. HE was the obvious aggressor here, not the other way around.
on May 16,2014 | 07:31AM
hywnsytl wrote:
For anyone to blame the woman filming the harvesting of an almost empty ecosystem is ridiculous. Anyone can film you at work if your job is on public land. Fisherman do not own the ocean, or have exclusive rights to be there alone. I think this guy actually filing a complaint against someone he assaulted will get the public to pressure the legislature to ban taking fish for non eating purposes as a profession. Maybe those brothers should just fish for the invasive species?
on May 16,2014 | 07:52AM
s_and_b wrote:
saw all i needed to see - so will a jury - throw the AH in jail
on May 16,2014 | 08:37AM
islandsun wrote:
These fish collectors should be banned period. Overfishing and overharvesting all because of greed.
on May 16,2014 | 09:42AM
Masami wrote:
The first sentence of the story "A filmed underwater confrontation between an environmentalist who wants to shut down the aquarium fish industry in Hawaii and a collector who gathers the fish and sells them for a living has put a spotlight on a long-running conflict over the business." And another sentence in the story "The incident occurred in Keawa­iki Bay, where collecting is allowed." DISCUSS.............
on May 16,2014 | 09:49AM
CKMSurf wrote:
I commercial fish, since the 80s in fact, and I know how difficult it's getting to make money from the sea. My thought is assault is never justified. This guy should go to jail, but knowing DLNR, they are not set up for that. They like to give out fines and not dirty their pretty hands. Ex. Commercial fleet vessels going to prohibited waters have officers waiting at the dock to hand out fines because they're being tracked by GPS transponder. Is their catch and boat gone? No. It becomes another tax as opposed to an outright prohibition. If you are serious about conservation, go after the DLNR and get the regs changed so they actually enforce law as opposed to taxing a catch. Get them to seize the boat and catch and you will see commercial fishers behaving. Maybe it will make life better for those fishers that obey the rules as well as promote conservation.
on May 16,2014 | 10:08AM
Tako_Tom wrote:
Arrest the bully . Charge him with a felony assault .DLNR or State A G must do something and not let the bully get away with it .The video had everything they needed.
on May 16,2014 | 10:13AM
username_required wrote:
Public waters. She has a right to film. What he does for a living is not against the law. No different than filming a police officer or anybody else doing their job on the street.
on May 16,2014 | 12:19PM
wave1 wrote:
For those "experts" that say it was safe for the fish hunter to pull the reg out of her mouth- I say BS. He was charging towards her. She had no idea if he was going to pull out her reg or stick her with a knife. So if someone is charging you, even a trained diver may panic and hyper ventilate. After he yanks your reg, you need lungs with air to clear the the main or spare reg, or your buddies prior to breathing, less you risk breathing water and drowning. What this man did could easily have killed the woman. He needs to be charge with somthing.
on May 16,2014 | 02:14PM
wave1 wrote:
The other thing about this aquarium fish collection trade is even if the fish make it to an aquarium alive, most will live less than a year due to poor conditions- what a freakin waste. I would rather these fish collectors turn to real fishing- at least the fish does not go to waste.
on May 16,2014 | 02:37PM
iwanaknow wrote:
Boycott the aquarium fish industry (even if it means never shopping at a Wal-Mart store until you see more fish in the waters). Withhold s e x from men and women over this issue and watch what happens........call me crazy if you want.............We live in crazy times! so it takes crazy methods to catch the Public Eye.
on May 16,2014 | 03:35PM
WalkoffBalk wrote:
There's gold fish in dem dea seal hills.
on May 16,2014 | 09:12PM
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