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Industry Forms United Front

PIJAC and the industry rally in support of Hawaii’s stalled fishery.


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As I write, the Hawaii marine ornamental fishery is still paralyzed, and we have no idea when, or if, this state of affairs will end. As many readers of this column will know, the current situation has come about as a result of a Supreme Court ruling requiring a full environmental impact survey to be undertaken by Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The DLNR has always provided abundant evidence that the fishery is responsibly managed and perfectly sustainable. However, it has not carried out the full environmental impact survey that the Supreme Court states is a legal requirement of Hawaii’s Environmental Policy Act (HEPA). Consequently, the DLNR has found itself bound to cease issuing collecting permits until the survey findings are known and the Supreme Court gives it the green light to resume “normal service.”

It is this lack of a survey that has opened the door for the antitrade lobby to obtain the injunction, despite the fact that all the evidence available indicates in the strongest possible terms that the ornamental fishery is perfectly sustainable. In sharp contrast, the activist lobby has not provided substantiated data demonstrating otherwise.

Most in the industry believe that the antitrade movement has nothing to do with sustainability. Laura “Peach” Reid, the chair of the board of directors of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), recently referred to antitrade activists as “radicals [who] won’t stop there; from guppies and tetras to butterflyfish and tangs, they oppose keeping any fish in any aquarium.”

However, Rene Umberger, a leading member of the group whose actions have led to the injunction, said in the comments section of the online publication Amazonas on Nov. 11, 2017, as labeling Reid’s statement as “patently false.”

In response to Reid, Umberger paraphrased a statement made by Bob Fenner: “It's a scare tactic designed to solicit donations so they can, ultimately, protect the bottom line of the trade that considers fish and other wildlife as expendable livestock necessary to drive the lucrative sales of equipment, supplies and fish food.” (According to Fenner, who rebutted Umberger's statement in the comments section of the article, Umberger inaccurately paraphrased his comment.) 

Irrespective of whether one agrees with this or not, the inescapable fact is that an injunction is in place. Clearly, this is something that the industry sees as a totally unfair and unacceptable situation when the available evidence indicates that a prohibition is unjustified. Not surprisingly, therefore, the industry is rallying round and mounting a campaign to get the ruling overturned. However, taking the necessary legal steps to address the complex issue in court requires funding—and lots of it. Encouragingly, considerable sums have already been donated and pledged to the cause.

At the same time, PIJAC is working with Hawaii’s fish collectors to challenge the ruling. It is also holding discussions with state officials regarding the environmental impact survey and has given a number of interviews—most notably, at the Aquatic Experience 2017 held in a Chicago suburb this past November—that have reached countless people via social media. Such widespread mobilization, allied to international coverage and support in trade publications, via trade organizations and blogs, is hugely welcome.

This story obviously has a long way to run. Whenever possible, I will keep our readers updated via this column. While we must always remain optimistic and believe that a just decision will be made in the end, we must be conscious, as PIJAC’s vice president of government affairs, Robert Likins, emphasizes: “Hawaii is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; PIJAC has fought for aquatic hobbyists and professionals in Florida, Michigan, Maine and elsewhere. The number of proposed measures by activists has increased in recent years, highlighting their serious, yet misleading and possibly dangerous, ideology against the safe and healthy keeping of aquatic pets.”


John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the new trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.

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