Just over a week ago, Hawaiian fish collector Matt Ross was diving in Oahu looking to catch a regular fare of Hawaiian reef fish when he stumbled upon one of Hawaii’s most esteemed fish, the masked angelfish, Genicanthus personatus. Within a few short days, the little masked angelfish was at House of Fins in Greenwich, Connecticut and being conditioned for life in the home of its future owner. Matt Ross and others have helped us piece together the story of how this exciting rare marine fish has come to the United States, the full account of which is chronicled below.
The masked angelfish is a common reef fish in the Hawaiian Islands overall but its preference for cooler water means that it only occurs at inaccessible depths in the main Hawaiian Islands and it occurs progressively shallower as you travel westward to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The collection of reef fish as well as most activity is all but prohibited in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands so if collectors want to find and catch the highly sought-after masked angelfish they leave it to lady luck or they press their luck going deep.
The odd specimen of masked angelfish is occasionally caught in areas where it is rare. Rufus Kimura has captured a couple specimens of Genicanthus personatus in his day including a tiny little personatus angelfish that looked like a black and white bumble bee. Another diver Rob Lower has also caught a personatus angelfish in Oahu within the limits of safe diving at 300 feet but sadly, subsequent attempts to capture more masked angelfish cost Rob his life. Needless to say, there is a lot of lore and excitement associated with the sightings and capture of masked angelfish which happens like a bolt of white lightning.
On May 8th, 2011 Matt Ross was undertaking a fairly routine dive in Oahu, searching for potter’s angelfish to fill a weekly order. Down at around 100 feet in a rubble zone where potter’s angelfish are known to occur, Matt caught a glimpse of a something that was out of place; a stark white fish with black trim which he instantly recognized, both as an exciting opportunity and a lucrative catch. The most significant part of the fish’s capture is that the depth at which it was discovered required no extra special decompression period, which is precisely why the fish arrived at House of Fins a mere few days after being removed from the ocean looking as perky and relaxed as many other reef fish that are caught at intermediate depth.
As far as anyone can tell, the reason for this medium personatus angelfish being in relatively shallow water is an absolute fluke. The distribution and settling of fish larvae is a very complicated one and scientists are only just beginning to tease out the relationship between larval duration of reef fish and settlement cues. Matt does remember the area being somewhat cool in the previous year but hardly enough to be causative to the occurence of this lone masked angelfish. We would like to thank Matt Ross for sharing the details of his exquisite find of the small masked angelfish, and Matt Ross would like to thank Wayne Sugiyama from Wayne’s Ocean World who is the go-to facility for the handling of singularly rare reef fish and who held and shipped the fish to House of Fins.