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Aquarium trade still triggers fierce debate, even dividing a fishing village

  • (Video by Cindy Ellen Russell / crussell@staradvertiser.com)

    The yellow tang is the most commonly caught aquarium fish in Hawaii. Milolii villagers have vastly different views on whether to end Hawaii's aquarium trade.

  • KARY JONES-COX / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    Diver Paul Cox swims among a school of threadfin and racoon butterflyfish off Milolii. That area is off-limits to aquarium fish collectors.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Fishermen unload their catch in Milolii after a day at sea.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Pauly Luuwai moved from Oahu to the Big Island to embrace a simpler lifestyle, which includes fishing along the Kona coast.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    These are lures and other gear Pauly Luuwai uses on his fishing boat. He unloads his catch after an outing several miles south of Milolii.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Milolii residents and fishermen Kaimi Kaupiko, left, and his father, Wilfred “Willy” Kaupiko, support a bill at the Legislature that would end commercial collection of Hawaii marine life for aquarium purposes in 2024. The elder Kaupiko blames the trade for harming fishing spots along the Kona coast. “Sure enough, they ruined the … whole area from north to south,” he says. “It’s because when money is involved, that’s when you get greed.”

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Hayden Bishop, 4, was out for a bike ride at the Milolii boat ramp.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The only church in Milolii was built in the 1800s at a different location. Surging seas generated by a large earthquake in 1868 pushed the structure inland, according to historical accounts, and residents moved the building to its current location by rolling it atop coconut tree trunks.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Chelsey Lokalia Kuahuia Faavesi, 29, an aquarium fish collector from Milolii, said the fishery is sustainable because collectors act responsibly and don’t take fish in excess. She opposes legislation that would end the trade. “You’re not trying to stop collecting of fish. To me, it’s like you’re trying to take away something that’s my birthright. I have every right to gather from this ocean.”

Hawaii’s aquarium trade is a small but controversial industry that has supplied millions of colorful tropical fish to saltwater aquariums the world over. Read more

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