Why save the Hawaii Aquarium Fishery
Aquarium Fish Collectors and what we do
by Ron Tubbs, RT Distributors
The September 6, 2017 Hawaii Supreme Court HEPA (Hawaii Environmental Protection Act) ruling has nearly shut down Hawaii’s aquarium fishery. It will take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to get HEPA filings finished even though the studies proved our fishery sustainable long before the courts considered the issue.
Based on the Court ruling, all Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) ocean business permits will be facing HEPA permit requirements. As with the Thirty Meter Telescope, we expect to face legal challenges to the aquarium fishery after completing the HEPA filings.
Resale of aquarium imports will keep the fishery alive but not for long. We need legislation to save the fishery and all DLNR ocean issued-permit businesses.
SB1240, phasing out of the fishery, vetoed by Governor Ige last year, reflected an unscientific nearside approach to Hawaii’s Marine resources. Sustainable practices can be used to increase Hawaii’s businesses with no or little impact to the environment. Instead of shooting itself in the foot with fishing bans on our proven sustainable fisheries the State needs to continue to explore sustainable management and harvest its vast ocean resources to ensure Hawaii’s economic future. Large ocean closures and the forcing of fishers to less sustainable methods are not scientific. FRA and MPA and management areas do work.
It took us five years but working directly with state DLNR resulted in laws to make sure in the future the fishery will always sustainable. Hundreds of restrictions and laws were created to protect Hawaii’s resources. The Kona rules became effective in 2014 and the Oahu rules in 2015. All this done at the prompting of the fishermen. Many commended us for this and we continue to work with many state officials, the Hawaii State Legislature, and researchers worldwide.
It is illegal according to the State of Hawaii Constitution to restrict public access to its ocean resources. The State’s role is to manage and ensure sustainability and DLNR has done that effectively. To close a fishery as some suggest just to benefit their own ocean tourist business is biased and unscientific. Tourism and fisheries can coexist and have for many years.
Hawaii's fish travel the world as our little ambassadors increase awareness to the wonderful amazing fish that exist here in Hawaii. Many consider Hawaii the best vacation destination and Hawaii's fish help increase tourism by making others aware of Hawaii's beauty. Aquariums worldwide educate and empower their owners with an understanding to the world's oceans that no other hobby can provide. The benefits of public and private aquariums are far reaching.
Reef fish are the most efficient breeders in the world. Most produce at least 10 to 20,000 fry per spawning with some doing this 7 times a year. Some produce 1 million fry per spawning daily over many days. They are the most renewable resource on the planet.
The fishery can actually help save the oceans. Our fishers collect marine fish for studies and public aquariums. Fishermen help monitor and provide information about the resource.
Here is a short list of what we do to give back to the oceans we love so much:
- For years fish collectors have provided fish to educate schools across the nation. In Hawaii schools are taken on field trips to local aquarium fish wholesalers or children to ocean field trips by some of our collectors. One program brought live fish to the classrooms for children education. Fish collection for major public aquariums locally and worldwide educate many on ocean ecology.
- I am currently collecting seaweed for a Princeton University Study for run off pollution. My dive partner is a Marine Biologist. Every year we monitor the seaweed in certain areas and take samples for them.
- Rare species are left alone and protected by collectors. Collectors have repopulated fish to areas where populations have declined due to extreme warm summers. Fish population issues are reported to researchers.
- Turtles caught in nets are removed. Hooks and fishing line around turtles are removed. A hook found in a monk seal’s mouth was reported by collectors and NOAA captured the seal and removed the hook. Garbage and nets are removed by many collectors. Some even collect the old bottles found in the ocean. Illegal dumping grounds are reported. Old downed planes and wrecks are reported and identified by researchers.
- Many boat rescues and ocean users have been aided by tropical fish collectors. Ocean abuses have been reported by aquarium collectors. Many aquarium fish collectors are Marine Biologists, Zoologist, and Ichthyologists. Information is shared by most collectors with other researchers to aid in ocean ecology. Black coral infestation of an invasive species was reported for observation. It has since become a mute issue resolving itself on its own. Dive data pictures and video are shared to further research by many aquarium fishermen.
- The recent toxic killing of puffer fish in Hawaii led to a self-imposed ‘no collection’ of all puffers. Researchers were brought samples and taken to normally abundant puffer locations to help with the problem. The population has since recovered and with our help it was determined that it was a natural toxin causing the problem.
- Pregnant reef fish are collected with our help for researchers to aid breeding projects. Ocean food is supplied for captive breeding stocks.
- Trigger fish have been supplied for US Naval ocean propulsion studies.
- Invasive species like Argus groupers and blue line snappers are targeted and eliminated with the help of the tropical fish collectors. These invasive species eat more marine fish than the aquarium fish collectors take for live aquariums.
- DNA samples to study different ecosystems and fish species have been collected and shred with DNA ocean researchers at no cost.
- Aquarium fish collectors have gone on TV shows to speak for ocean ecology and share information to protect our ocean. NOAA researchers and others studying fish are educated in fish collecting techniques for research purposes.
Tourism is too vulnerable to be a sole source for an economic income base for the state. We need to wisely mange--not shut down--our renewable resources. We are running out of non-renewable resources and need to wisely utilize sustainable.
Hawaii can lead the way in ocean resource management (and already was with the aquarium fishery), ocean business development, and decrease its dependence on imported goods. Sea weeds, cultured and wild caught fish and many other ocean resources can supply nutrition and fuels for our state. Clam, lobster, pearl, fish farms, ocean based business could flourish here with the right incentive and help the environment at the same time. Wave or current to power energy and deep cold water cooling of buildings are just a few examples of our ocean resource potentials.
If the aquarium fishery closes then sources for breeding stock, research studies and public aquariums also stops. The importance of the economic impacts to Hawaii and to the nation’s $70B pet industry should not be underestimated. Many jobs have already been affected.
The economical cost to Hawaii of eliminating or not saving the Aquarium Fishery is very far reaching. Local dive shops, pet stores, public aquariums, tourism, boating stores, gas stations and the airlines will suffer major income declines due to the fishery. The airlines alone is estimated to make over 7 million in freight charges per year for fish transport. It could mean potential cut backs in flights and flight choices directly hindering the tourist industry. Ticket prices will rise due to lost freight income.
Fish and Wildlife inspectors, USDA inspectors and veterinarians will also lose big with inspection declines.
The 70 billion dollar pet industry hinges it aquarium supply brands, tanks, foods, filters and many other products on the fishery. Many pet stores especially ones with large salt water sales may and already have gone out of business. It is not the fishery being effected here!
Many agree that the world’s healthiest and highest quality fish come from Hawaii. Aquarium fish populations are on the rise. The Hawaii tropical fish collector has been known as the best for ecologically-friendly collecting for over 50 years. The world’s fishermen and ecologists have looked to Hawaii for development of industry collecting methods.
The scientific and economic cost of eliminating or not saving the aquarium fishery is very far reaching.
Please support Hawaii’s sustainable fisheries. Jesus and George Washington where fishermen!
I am proud to be one too.