Along with the common clownfish, yellow tangs are one of the most iconic and familiar reef fish, on the reef and in our home aquariums. Because of this status there is a lot of attention paid to this species; it’s why we all rejoiced when Zebrasoma flavescens was finally bred in captivity, but it’s also why aquarium groups love to put this fish in the spotlight.
A common eye-popping statistic that is popularly thrown out in opposition to aquarium collection in Hawaii is that somewhere around 300,000 to 500,000 yellow tangs are collected every year. This number might seem very large, but there’s only a small fraction of the yellow tang habitat where this fish is even collected.
Furthermore, collection and fishing is prohibited over 70% of the yellow tang’s natural range. Roughly stated, more than 90% of yellow tangs never see a collecting net, a human, or a boat in their life. By every metric, the aquarium fish collection industry in Hawaii is one of the most thoroughly studied, and most sustainable in the world, and it’s a pity that it comes under so much fire from detractors.
Meanwhile, snorkeling outfits can and do cause a great deal more damage than fish collection. Also, Hawaii is one of the few states where there is no license required for recreational fishing so if you wanted to you could go out and spear a thousand yellow tangs in a day, no questions asked. We’re still stunned that to this day, we can catch and kill just about all the fish they want – measured in billions of tons per year. But the moment you want to catch a fish and keep it alive, it’s a an issue.
All of these points are neatly summarized in a portion of Dr. Luiz Rocha’s MACNA talk which was uploaded to YouTube recently. Click the video to watch the expert speak for himself but there’s no doubt about it, yellow tangs are not something the aquarium hobby should feel guilty about, this fish is under very little pressure, from the aquarium hobby anyway.