A group wants to reopen waters around the Big Island for commercial aquariumfishing, raising questions about the environmental impact of the multimillion-dollar industry.

Efforts to reopen waters off the western coast of Hawaii island for commercialaquarium fishing stalled this month after the state Department of Land andNatural Resources rejected a plan from 10 Big Island fishers.

Between 1976 and 2018, more than 8.6 million fish were taken from West Hawaiiwaters for use in aquariums around the world, before a 2017 state SupremeCourt ruling against the practice in the region. Now, aquarium fishers areturning to waters off the eastern side of the Big Island and Oahu for theirstock.

The latest episode of “Are We Doomed?” — Civil Beat’s Q-and-A podcast aboutthe environment in Hawaii — takes a look at ways aquariums could stocktropical fish without hurting Hawaii’s environment.

The 10 commercial aquarium fishers in West Hawaii were represented by the PetIndustry Joint Advisory Council, an industry group that spent two years andhundreds of thousands of dollars preparing the environmental impact statementthe land board unanimously voted down.

Bob Likins, the group’s vice president, said in an email that he wasdisappointed by the land board’s decision and that the group “will continue tosupport sustainable fishery practices, and use of the best availablescientific information in guiding management decisions.”

Likins declined an interview request to discuss his plans for sustainablefishing practices, but in documents submitted to the state land board, thegroup cites research finding that catching 5% to 25% of the tropical fishpopulation in West Hawaii could be sustainable.

Its proposal, however, would have allowed an unlimited number of fish to becaught. DLNR chair Suzanne Case said this was one of the main reasons theenvironmental review was rejected.

Rene Umberger, executive director of For The Fishes, a Maui-based nonprofit,thinks a sustainable plan would probably only allow for one company to collectaquarium fish.

“If by sustainable you mean historic natural abundance, then there could be nocollecting because those reefs have far less fish than their naturalabundance,” she said.

And in the face of climate change, coral reefs will need more herbivorous fishto remain healthy than in previous decades.

When coral is stressed by high ocean temperatures, it can expel the helpfulalgae living in its tissues. The coral “bleaches” and turns white but isn’tdead, just more vulnerable and unhealthy.

“If you have a healthy population of herbivores, including aquarium fish, thatcan keep the algae down, it gives the corals a chance to recover and thenhopefully rebound,” said Case. “That’s potentially a game changer for thereef.”

Case said another reason the land board rejected the West Hawaii environmentalimpact statement was because it didn’t “adequately project” how climate changecould impact the reef.

“It’s one thing to understand what the environmental impacts are right nowunder current conditions, but as we know, climate change is causing rapidchanges in our reefs … and it’s changing so rapidly that you can’t really usetoday’s projections to understand the impact of taking out an undetermined andpotentially unlimited number of fish from the ecosystem,” she said.

The yellow tang, a popular aquarium fish, is of particular concern. A studyfrom the Division of Aquatic Resources found aquarium fishing decreased yellowtang populations by about 60% a year since 1999.

“This was never designed to be sustainable,” said Kealoha Pisciotta of BigIsland-based ocean protection nonprofit Kai Palaoa.

“When you take the herbivores, it affects the reefs below and then up the foodchain, the bigger predators,” she said. “Which then affects our people’sability to fish and feed their families.”

Marine researcher Craig Downs, of Haereticus Environmental Laboratories, saidclimate change is just one of “1,000 cuts” killing Hawaii’s coral reefs.

“Sewage pollution, sunscreen pollution, recreational fishing, subsistencefishing, aquarium fishing, snorkeler/swimmer intrusion, sediment run-off frompoor development and construction practices,” he wrote in an email. “It’s thetragedy of the commons.”

Downs instead advocated for a robust domestic breeding program for tropicalaquarium fish.

“Hawaii and U.S. NOAA should make serious investments in developingtechnologies and companies that could culture these products in Hawaii,” hesaid. “Such efforts would only require a ‘take’ of about 10-30 individuals ayear to keep breeding stocks from degenerating from genetic inbreeding.”

He pointed to groups in the Florida Keys that started as commercial aquariumfishers and evolved into coral reef advocates after their seed stockdisappeared from the waters.

In the meantime, aquarium hobbyists and dentist offices that want to enjoysalt water fish without harming Hawaii’s environment can use apps like TankWatch.

“It’s a free educational app that teaches hobbyists which fish are availableat a moderate to regular level that are captive bred, and which fish are onlycoming from the wild and should be avoided at all costs,” Umberger said.

Source: Claire Caulfield Honolulu Cival Beat

Image: Yellow tang, seen here off the west side of the Big Island, are one ofthe most targeted species by the aquarium industry.

Previous Covid-19’s effect on our Industry

Next Alien frog invasion wreaks havoc on natural habitat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *