Quantcast

Tuesday, July 29, 2014         

 Print   Email   Comment | View 6 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

Hawaii at center of battle over aquarium fish

By Audrey McAvoy

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:29 p.m. HST, Jun 25, 2014


The waters off the Hawaii 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 the Big 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 spearheading 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 more than 70 percent 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. In Hawaii, small nets are used.

Local collectors may sell one yellow tang — the most commonly caught species on the Big Island's west coast — for about $3 or $4. With middlemen adding costs to store and ship them, the fish may retail for anywhere between $30 and $60.

Long said Sea Shepherd would take the campaign to Indonesia and the Philippines as well, but didn't offer details.

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, the 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 lawsuit, 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 Long called "a very fragile ecosystem out there that is being depleted for the sole benefit of a multi-billion 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 who has studied the fishery for decades. Numbers of goldring surgeonfish, the second most-caught aquarium fish, climbed 57 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.

Arielle Levine, a San Diego State University marine conservation expert who recently co-authored a paper on the success of the no-collection zones, said they're doing "an impressive job" of protecting and increasing fish populations.

Other factors harming the area's coral reefs haven't been as well managed, she said.

Reefs are being smothered when sediment and nutrients like fertilizer wash into the ocean from coastal housing and hotel developments. Algae-eating fish that would prevent excessive plant growth from choking the reefs are heavily fished for food.

Andy Rhyne, an assistant professor at Roger Williams University and New England Aquarium research scientist, said the fishery's management could still be improved but regulations have "really worked."

"This is not a debate or data or science. It's an emotional argument," he said.







 Print   Email   Comment | View 6 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

COMMENTS
(6)
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.
KWAY wrote:
These carpetbaggers come to Hawaii, take fish with zero regard for the environment or conservation and expect us to just sit back and let it happen? Ka'moooon. It's no mystery the ocean is in trouble and yet greedy individual pillage the marine life and reefs for profit. It needs to be regulated.
on June 25,2014 | 07:58PM
hawaiifisherman wrote:
The guys in the fishery aren't greedy carpetbaggers - most of them were born & raised here, and have been fishing all their lives. They care a lot more about the environment than you think - when you depend on the fish population for their livelihood and need to conserve it just as much as anyone else (probably more). The fishery is well regulated, has been studied & monitored since the 1970s, and is still very healthy. Please check your facts & show some aloha.
on June 26,2014 | 06:43AM
lastuhu wrote:
Self absorbed humans gotta have whatever they want. Me me me me. Too many hooks too many nets too many spears too many butter knifes
on June 26,2014 | 04:52AM
Slow wrote:
Tyke the elephant died for our sins. It is time we, the human family, stop looking at animals as a source of entertainment. Imprisoning wild animals is barbaric and cruel. Does anyone really need an aquarium with yellow tangs? Is your ego that needy?
on June 26,2014 | 06:56AM
downtown wrote:
We don't need Sea Shepherd here. They are like the Al Queda of environmentalists. We have pretty much solved this problem ourselves. Go away, Sea Shepherd.
on June 26,2014 | 07:53AM
fiveo wrote:
In principle, I am against the taking of reef fish for aquariums. Why not just raise these type of fish commercially instead. These fish in the wild should be protected.
on June 26,2014 | 10:21AM
IN OTHER NEWS
Breaking News
Blogs
Political Radar
`My side’

Political Radar
‘He reminds me of me’

Bionic Reporter
Needing a new knee

Warrior Beat
Monday musings

Small Talk
Burning money

Political Radar
On policy

Warrior Beat
Apple fallout