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New Anti-trade Campaign Hits Hawaii

Posted: December 22, 2011, 8:30 p.m., EDT

By John Dawes

Exporters, importers, wholesalers and retailers of Hawaiian ornamental marine fish are, once more, facing the prospect of suffering a major setback, or even a total ban on the collection and sale of fish from Hawaiian waters.

Some months back, I reported on two senate bills relating to the possible banning of marine life collection in Hawaiian waters. Both experienced considerable opposition and were held over until 2012. Now comes news of yet another move by anti-trade interests to ban the marine aquarium trade in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Islands
On September 7, 2011, council member Brenda J. Ford submitted “A Resolution requesting the Legislature of the State of Hawaii to amend Chapter 188, Hawaii Revised Statutes, by adding a new section to be appropriately designated prohibiting the sale of aquatic life for aquarium purposes.”

This resolution was due for discussion on Hawaii’s Big Island by the County Council on Wednesday, October 5 (following the adjournment of an earlier meeting held on September 20). At the time of writing, the results of this meeting had not yet been made public.

Just as with previous moves by anti-trade campaigners to ban collection and sale, this latest proposal makes serious claims. For example, according to the proposal’s supporters, collection for aquarium purposes is devastating the reefs. However, this is rejected by scientists from the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Even some opponents of the trade, such as the LOST FISH Coalition (which stands for Leave Our Shallow Tropical Fish in their Sea Habitat), are against Resolution 130-11. In fact, some environmentalists and biologists are claiming that one of the leading supporters of the resolution, Rene Umberger, is using lies to scare the public into thinking the anti-trade claims are true. According to another anti-trade campaigner, Robert Wintner, the aquarium industry in Hawaii is not a fishery, but, rather, constitutes “trafficking in wildlife…and it’s not sustainable.”

Reportedly, these and other claims are made without scientific evidence or data and, while there havebeen concerns about the targeting of certain species by collectors, the DAR and others agree that significant progress has been made toward sustainability.

For instance, DAR’s Dr. William Walsh points to the fact that West Hawaii’s population of yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens)--the islands’ most popular export--has increased by a little more than 337,000 fish, while the number of Kole tangs, or yelloweye/spotted surgeonfish (Ctenochaetus strigosus, still frequently referred to as Acanthurus strigosus) has increased by “over 1,019,000” fish. Together, these two species account for 91 percent of West Hawaii’s catch of ornamental marines. The State therefore argues that the current situation does not point toward devastation of the reefs and/or unsustainability, with Dr. Walsh being quoted as saying, “the Resolution bluntly states that the aquatic life of the reefs is being devastated by collection…This is simply not true.”

So far, all the moves made to ban the collection of marines in Hawaiian waters were defeated. There is a body of opinion, backed by solid data, which believes that this latest resolution will suffer the same fate.
As I write these lines, we are awaiting further news.

In a lengthy report published online in CORAL magazine, on October 4, 2011, Ret Talbot reveals many of the details of the latest campaign: click here.

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