Talk of banning the collection of marine aquarium livestock in Hawaii is back again just eight months since Hawaii’s House Bill 580 was reported here on Reef Builders and only six months since we reported on HB580’s failure. Yet it seems the same proponents behind the initial bill are back at it yet again, trying every legislative avenue they can (this time the county level) to ban the collection of marine aquarium fish in Hawaii. News broke only hours ago via a CORAL Magazine newsletter article by Ret Talbot. We really thought we’d see this issue go away at least until 2012.
Personally, I feel the industry really needs to be more proactive at this point, because the opposition is relentlessly trying to shut you down. The worst part is that the opposition to the trade can repeatedly try, and try, and try again, because it only needs to succeed once. Meanwhile, every time this comes up, the marine aquarium industry in Hawaii is back on the line, fighting for its very existence. They need to win once, you need to win every time. It’s already not a fair fight, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try.
I cannot help but think that the hobbyist has a responsibility to stand up and be heard. If you appreciate even having the opportunity to own a sustainably-collected Hawaiian Yellow Tang, guess what, you’re going to have to make your voice heard, and you’re going to have to do it every time someone else tries to take that away from you. According to the closing of Ret’s article, you have until noon (presumably Hawaii-time) on Wednesday, October 5th, to submit testimony either via fax (808-961-8912) or email (email@example.com ). I have already done so in my typical long-winded fashion, but it only takes a moment to share why the hobby is important to you why you believe it the industry that supports it should not be outlawed in the state of Hawaii. I have included my email below as it may offer some jumping off points.
I have heard about Resolution 130 11 only at the 11th hour – it seems a classic attempt to “sneak one by us”. If you read nothing else, please hear this. The never ending calls to ban a small industry in the state of Hawaii are not based on factual information. They stem from emotional arguments made by people claiming often claiming a moral superiority. We do not live in a country that legislates morality, nor allows one industry to pummel another simply to make the bigger industry look good. This resolution should be summarily dismissed, and similar resolutions in the future should be ignored.
As a marine fish breeder who has been actively promoting and encouraging captive propagation of marine fish for over half a decade now (and a marine aquarist for almost 25 years now) I am disheartened to see the relentless attacks being levied at the sustainable marine aquarium fishery in the state of Hawaii. I must encourage the council members responsible for considering Resolution 130 11 to look at the facts. The facts, as determined by Hawaii’s own DAR (the agency responsible for researching and maintaining your fisheries) happen to show that existing management practices are working and in fact, flagship species like the Hawaiian Yellow Tang are in fact on the rise (please see this recent DAR publication – http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/coral/pdfs/6_FISHLIFE_YellowTang.pdf).
As a breeder who researches and attempts to breed fish that have never been bred, I need access to wild caught fish. I’m already disappointed with the “white list” compromise because it has ensured that some endemic species will likely never be afforded the opportunity to be preserved, through captive progagation, if all other reef-preservation efforts fail. I frankly wish that this “white list” solution could be revisited and rethought, and that DAR be empowered to designate quotas for each and every reef fish species of interest in the aquarium trade. Every species should be available at some level that ensures breeders access so that the species has the chance for captive preservation.
Yes, the truth is that the marine aquarium hobbyist cherishes the reefs and the biodiverisity within them. Were it not for this hobby, I would have no connection or concern for the reefs around the world at all. I probably wouldn’t drive a hybrid car, might not care very much about greenhouse gasses, might recycle less, might not cut appart the plastic bands on a 6 pack etc, and really wouldn’t care what’s happening in Hawaii. It is my hobby that makes me more aware of the world beyond my home, my neighborhood, and my state. It is this hobby that gave me a mission to leave the world better than I found it, if that’s possible. As a marine aquarium hobbyist, not a researcher or scientist or commercial entity, I managed to breed and rear the Harlequin Filefish a few years back. I was the first person in the world to do it. I am anxiously awaiting the day that fellow marine fish breeders replicate my success with this species.
Ironically, the Harlequin Filefish is a guady Indo-Pacific reef fish that our hobby and industry had in fact written off as a “cut flower”, doomed to die in captivity. For decades many in fact did get collected and died in short order. The natural diet of this fish is exclusively certain corals, and in fact, research has shown that as coral reefs die off, this species is the first to vanish from the reefs (because it’s food source has died). This is a fish that may well go from common to facing extinction in the wild as climate change, ocean acidification and pollution wipe out its homes.
However, because of my singular efforts, and through the sharing of my discoveries in CORAL Magazine (article attached), the Harlequin Filefish now has a new future. It was not a governmental, academic, or educational institution, it was an experienced private individual, a Marine Aquarium Hobbyist, who sought out the challenge, tackled it, and gave it back to the world. I am not the first, nor will I be the last hobbyist, to make such a game changing discovery. If there had been a ban, an agreement, a white list of some sort, that said this “doomed to die” fish should never be harvested from the wild and sold, I would have never had the opportunity to make this game changing discovery, and I doubt any scientific or academic institution would’ve ever bothered to do what I did. Given the forecasts for reef loss, I think it is fair to say that the Harlequin Filefish’s fate has gone from “doomed in the wild” to “it may survive in the aquarium industry even if nowhere else”. Credit where it is due, the aquarium hobbyist, who gets his fish from the industry, made a game-changing contribution for the fate of this beautiful fish.
The people behind the never-ending onslaught against a small industry in Hawaii see a scapegoat in what many would perceive to be a luxury. Indeed, I must admit, it certainly seems to be a luxury to buy a fish and put it in a tank to watch it swim, live, eat, mate and generally just be happy. It’s easy to say it’s “wrong” to keep it as a pet, but “right” to eat it, because that’s just the way the world works. So better to outlaw the marine aquarium fishery than to go after the foodfish fishery. Ironic that in terms of shear biomass, tons of actual fish, the aquarium fishery harvests almost nothing compared to sportfishing and commercial fishing.
It is also easy to vilify the aquarium collector by manipulating people with emotional pleas rather than the facts (and I wonder if the same people proposing these bans have eaten any meat of any kind lately). Let’s look at this from the fish’s point of view. Is it better to be harvested from the ocean instantly, killed through suffocation or freezing while alive, and then having your body be eaten? Or is it better to be collected in a net, cared for, kept alive, placed in a safe travel container, and sent to a predator free environment where you may live in relative peace and luxury, your needs attended to by someone else, for however long that may be? And maybe, just maybe, you may even find your way to a fish breeder, who may try to help you have children, the children that may in fact preserve your species? If we really want to frame the harvest of fish for the aquarium hobby as a moral, ethical argument, we have to put ourselves in the position of the FISH. We as people strive to live, fight to live, and cling to life, and we’re also quite eager to accept a life of cushy retirement. If I gave you the choice between being in my stomach like the Ahi Tuna I ate for dinner, or being in my quarantine system receiving prophylactic medications like the 2 juvenile Queen Angelfish that arrived via FedEx this morning, shipped to me by a husband-and-wife team representing a 2nd generation family collecting business in Florida, you’d demand to be the Queen Angelfish.
If if the human race fails to reverse the REAL causes of the problems on the reefs, it is in fact the humble aquarists like myself, and the aquarium industry as a whole, that has the unique capacity and volume to potentialy ark, and save, the corals, invertebrates, and fishes we all share an admiration for. It is easy to attack the and blame the aquarium industry because it is relatively small, and thus, blocking this industry would be a way for people who want to “save the reef” to say “at least we did something” rather than nothing at all. But the sad truth is that even if the aquarium industry was having a negative impact, it is negligable in comparison to everything else. I genuinely believe that for whatever negative impact my participation in this hobby may have on a reef, it has been offset many times over by the knowledge I have discovered and given back, and the fish I have spawned and reared, thousands of miles away from any ocean.
David Hannan, reef diver and film maker from Australia, spoke at this year’s Marine Aquarium Convention of North America, in Des Moines, IA of all places, to an audience perhaps 1000 people. Yes, the North American continental convention for our hobby and industry was only attended by roughly 1000 people. We are not a massive industry and hobby raping and pillaging the reefs. And yet, still, even if only 1000 people heard it, David Hannan sees in us the one remaining hope for the coral reefs he loves. Institutions, be they public aquariums, government programs, or educational facilities, lack the funding, the resources, the time and the space to serve as the “ark” for all our reef life. Only the marine aquarium industry has the raw capacity, and the vested interest, in ensuring that every last bit of reef life that we possibly can, will be arked for our future generations. But we as a group will never answer that call, will never fulfill that role, if we are no longer allowed access to the “raw materials”, the never-before-reared reef fishes, inverts and corals, that it takes to get captive propagation going.
Your own management authorities say the aquarium industry can function sustainably, and says it is already doing so. The state of Florida has a long established policy of management that works well too. And the Marine Aquarium Hobby…what supports the industry, has heard the call that the long term future for reef life is captive propagation. If we look to the freshwater aquarium hobby, we see it already taking on this role. The next time you walk into most any FW fish store, you may see a fish called a “Red Tailed Shark”. That species is extinct in the wild. It wasn’t the aquarium trade, it was damming of native waters that wiped it out. Were it not for the fact that it is a popular aquarium fish, bred in immense numbers in fish farms in Asia, the Red-Tailed Shark would be gone. It exists, because the aquarium hobby exists. The only reason anyone is researching the breeding of fish like the Yellow Tang, is because of the aquarium hobby. I am sure every Hawaiian knows the Yellow Tang, the Huma Huma Triggerfish – these aren’t food fish, but they have monetary value in the aquarium trade. Humankind tends to only preserve that which it values. Banning the aquarium trade ensures you ban a group of people who actually care about the long term wild survivability of the yellow tang in the first place.
So to the council, I’ll close with this. Resolution 130 11, and all those rejected proposals before them, represent emotional thinking and scapegoating. These proposals are not based on the actual hard data (which is contrary to their rhetoric), nor are they based on science, or in seeing the big picture. I would encourage the council, who has rejected countless resolutions like this before, to stop wasting its time with vendictive proposals such as Resolution 130 11. It is time that the state of Hawaii fundamentally reexamine the role that the Marine Aquarium Industry plays in the states valuable natural resources, and looks for ways to promote sustainble harvest and captive propagation within the state to create a vested interest in reef preservation and a long-term plan that ensures that Hawaiians, Americans, and people throughout the world will never be limited to seeing a treasure like the Bandit or Masked Angelfish, or the Yellow Tang, only through pictures in books and the internet. I want my son to grow up in a world where Yellow Tangs, Huma Huma Triggers, and Flame Angelfish still exist. I am doing my part to ensure that by being a proactive Marine Aquarium Hobbyist. It is time to do your part, to be proactive for your own children, and stop the senseless onslaughts at the industry that helps make my personal mission a reality, and a times, a success for us all.
MASNA Marine Aquarist of the Year 2009
Duluth, MN, USA