Aquariums are supposed to be a relaxing, enjoyable hobby, one which teaches people on the surface the beauty and magic of the reef life below. But alas, tensions are rising to a fever pitch as opposite sides of the debate over ornamental marine fish collection met underwater in what culminated as an attack on one person’s air supply. Earlier this week about 50 ft underwater, Renee Umberger, one of the principal opponents of the aquarium fish collection trade in Hawaii, got into a confrontation with Jay Lovell, a reef fish collector of many years.
The altercation was documented on two video cameras, with the provided clips conveniently only showing Mr. Lovell bee lining for Ms. Umberger and removing the regulator and air supply from her mouth, and swimming away. We have to believe there was some escalation to this kerfuffle underwater prior to the drastic action taken by Mr. Lovell; his brother was quoted as saying “I know my brother was very scared and he was panicking. He didn’t know what they were doing to his boat up above. There were six or eight people.”
There has been a lot of provocation of reef fisherman by the anti-aquarium group, in myriad of ways, and Umberger’s filming and approaching of reef fisherman at work is enough to possibly warrant harassment charges against her. Meanwhile, it is unclear what actions could be taken against Mr. Lovell for his aggressive response, attempted murder being highly unlikely, perhaps falling on the lesser side of reckless endangerment.
Despite reams of evidence from ecologists, scientists, and the state’s own regulatory bodies stating that commercial collection of marine fish in Hawaii is sustainable and all of the regulations that have been rolled out, Umberger, Snorkel Bob, and their ilk still insist on targeting this small industry for persecution. Meanwhile they have no problem with sport fishing and commercial food fishing which remove large ecologically significant reef fish that are much more important for overall well being of the entire reef ecosystem.
Despite the science, the regulations, and all of the oversight, Umberger and Wintner’s crusade against the marine aquarium fishery is not likely to calm down anytime soon since they recently partnered up with Sea Shepherd to form their self-appointed Reef Defense group. While we are partly sympathetic about Sea Shepherd’s defense of highly endangered whale species from harvesting by a few nations, their aggressive and violent tactics don’t help their cause, even if it helps their Whale Wars ratings.
There has already been innumerable battles in the courts over the marine aquarium trade in Hawaii, on a nearly annual basis, with the State of Hawaii consistently sticking to the data provided by science, and rolling out countless regulations, quotas, no-take zones and even a white list of collectable species of reef fish. Irregardless of the State of Hawaii’s close oversight of the collection of its ornamental reef fish, its opponents are on a moral and ethical crusade and this confrontation is only likely to add fuel to the fire. [Hawaii News]