“Fish-collecting ban reso passes council – Supporters drown out opponents in testimony” was the news out of West Hawaii Today last week. If you thought the most recent proposal to ban marine aquarium fish collection in Hawaii was just going to go away like all the others, well, clearly it’s not.
Hawaii is rapidly becoming the battlegrounds of a “moral” war being waged against the marine aquarium collection industry – not surprisingly being spearheaded by people with vested interests in a) the diving industry and b) finding an easy scapegoat for the problems being claimed on some reefs in Hawaii.
Never mind that the expert testimony and science is on the side of the marine aquarium fishery because that’s not the point the opposition is raising in the first place. They’ll make whatever claim they feel best supports their arguments and elicits an emotional response, completely disregarding the actual facts and science. What is perhaps most alarming is that a) the committee actually heard this nonsense, b) they actually voted 6-2 in favor of the resolution despite hearing expert testimony to the contrary.
I worry that some may have seen this resolution as non-binding, not a proposed law, and decided not to act. 101 people thought it was worth it to show up or support this effort, despite its non-binding status. This passage of this resolution is the first victory, and a stepping stone for further attempts to ban a sustainable fishery in the state of Hawaii solely on emotional, irrational, and moral grounds. Ironically, it’s OK to catch the fish and kill it and eat it, but it’s not okto catch it, give it a predator free environment, try to breed it, and let it live out a life that far surpasses the expected lifespan in the wild? We admit it, even on the moral battle the thinking doesn’t add up.
Clearly, this must serve as a wake-up call to the marine aquarium industry – with a “total of 117 testifiers, 101 supporting the resolution and 16 opposed”, it is going to be very hard to fight off these constant attacks unless the industry becomes much more proactive, transparent, and involved. This is a classic example of whoever shouts the loudest is the one who gets heard. The minority, despite having facts and science behind them, clearly didn’t get a fair hearing from the council (we also suspect it’s hard to stand up for what’s right, or what the science says, when you’re a politician and your constituents are calling for blood – it certainly doesn’t hurt the politician to side with the mob when the decision is only symbolic anyways).
Meanwhile, until captive breeding locks down all these treasured aquarium fish and serves as the ark for these species, we as a hobby and trade need access to wild broodstock. When a fishery that is considered sustainable and possibly a benchmark for the trade can come under attacks like this, it isn’t simply rhetoric to say that we can lose access to wild caught fish, and when that happens, we’ll only have what we can breed. To the folks in the industry who figure breeders will get it done, guess what – breeders need a lot more time and support to make that happen, and they need wild broodstock. A call to all potential and future breeders – this may be a good time to start obtaining broodstock of any Hawaiian-endemic you want to have a chance of seeing in the future. Might as well start trying to breed them before we lose access to them. Thankfully, we all know that quality fish given proper care can last for decades in aquariums.
Only 16 people submitted testimony in opposition to the ban? I was one of those 16 who submitted testimony. Only 15 other people did? If you want thriving and vibrant marine aquarium trade in the future, the answer seems abundantly clear – get organized and fight back. It’s going to take more than a couple aquarium authors speaking out against this madness – it is going to take the industry reaching out to it’s own constituents, and working with governmental management agencies, to not only provide the scientific and economical arguments, but to engage hobbyists to fight just as passionately for their hobby on the emotional and moral grounds being argued.
You can start here – the West Hawaii Today is running a poll regarding the passed resolution to ban ornamental fish collection. Sadly, the poll is skewed so that none of the responses are really “pro fishing”, but the majority of respondents thus far (188) classify the resolution a waste of council time, while another large group (146) respond in a pro-ban worded option that encourages state action, and a tiny group (16) suggest the ban is a good idea, but the council is just not the place.
We have retained the full text of the West Hawaii Today article below for archival and reference purposes.
Fish-collecting ban reso passes councilOctober 5, 2011 – 11:10pm
SUPPORTERS DROWN OUT OPPONENTS IN TESTIMONY
BY NANCY COOK LAUER | WEST HAWAII TODAY
HILO — A nonbinding, but nonetheless controversial, resolution seeking a statewide ban on aquarium fish collecting passed the Hawaii County Council 6-2 Wednesday.
The vote followed almost four hours of public testimony and rafts of emails, with a total of 117 testifiers, 101 supporting the resolution and 16 opposed, according to a tally by North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago.
Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, one of the dissenters, said the council was “overstepping” its authority, since the West Hawaii Fishery Council and state agencies were already working on reef protections. Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi joined Yagong in opposition.
“We never told the rest of the state how to run their counties,” Yagong said. “I certainly don’t dare tell the councils on Kauai or Oahu or Maui what they should do with their county.”
The resolution is likely to have little impact on the state Legislature, which this year killed several bills dealing with the issue, including one by Sen. Josh Green, D-North and South Kohala, North and South Kona. Green told West Hawaii Today on Wednesday that his bill sought a compromise where aquarium collection would be phased out rather than banned outright.
“I lean toward more restrictions on behalf of the environment,” Green said. “But I’m open to doing it in a fair way. I’m not going to cut anyone’s legs out from under them.”
At the council meeting, dozens of recreational divers and environmentalists once again squared off against the aquarium fish collecting industry.
“There is no good coming from the aquarium trade,” said Kaimi Kaupiko, a resident of Milolii, the last Hawaiian fishing village on the Big Island. “Our way of life is being hampered every day by these collectors.”
Kaupiko said the reefs have been “devastated” over the years.
But William Walsh, a biologist with the state Division of Aquatic Resources, said West Hawaii aquarium fish stocks have actually increased over the past 12 years. He said during that time, yellow tang in the 30-feet to 60-feet prime reef habitat increased by 337,000 and kole populations increased by more than 1 million fish. Those two species make up 91 percent of the West Hawaii aquarium catch, he said.
“We have a pretty good idea of what’s going on out there on the reefs although people on both sides of the issue often don’t like to hear the details,” Walsh said in emailed testimony. “The coral reef community is complex and dynamic and species wax and wane even without human interference.”
“There has been a use conflict between the fisherman and the dive charter industries and their supporters for decades,” said Kona fish collector Jim Lovell. “The fisherman has been regulated off of nearly all the Kona Coast to the dive charters’ benefit and still they want to see us banned.”
Supporters of the resolution spoke of a diminishment of fish on the reef, the need to increase the fisheries for the benefit of the tourism industry, and the cruel way aquarium fish have fins trimmed and bladders punctured for ease of collecting and transport.
“We don’t let people walk into a national forest and cut down a tree for any reason, much less sell it,” said David Amack, in testimony emailed from Maui. “How is this any different?”
“I know that permits for fish collecting bring in much needed money to the state,” said Volcano resident Bob Belcher. “However, it is a small amount when compared to the amount of money brought into the state by tourists who enjoy the ocean around our islands.”
Opponents of the resolution, however, point to data showing aquarium fish stock has actually increased over the years. They also pointed to stresses from septic tanks, fresh water seepage into the ocean and overdevelopment as contributing factors if there had been decreases in fish stock.
“I love the ocean and the beautiful fish and I have a personal interest to make sure our ocean and beautiful fish are here for years to come,” said Julie Klaz, of the Big Island Aquarium Collectors Association, speaking in opposition to the bill.
Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, who voted against the bill in committee, changed his vote to a positive one Wednesday, saying he has grave concerns about how the state is monitoring and protecting the reef. Hoffmann also took Lovell to task publicly for lobbying Hoffmann without telling him in advance about upcoming negative publicity.
A Sept. 23 West Hawaii Today article quoted a dive instructor who had photos apparently backing her accusation that Lovell dropped anchor on a coral reef. The dive instructor was charged with harassment, but the charge was dropped, without prejudice.
Lovell said he can’t comment because there is another court case pending, but added, “I am not the one being prosecuted,” and blamed the newspaper for what he claimed was inaccurate information. He declined to say what was inaccurate, however.