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Member Since 29 May 2008
Offline Last Active Feb 17 2012 09:40 AM

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In Topic: help needed to end tropical aquarium fish collection in hawaii

02 August 2011 - 12:14 PM

Just found this thread. Although I cannot add much to the compelling facts that have already been issued, I would like to share my opinion. I am a dive/snorkel boat captain in Oahu and have only worked here over the past 7 years. Despite the fact that my experience does not span the breadth of some others on this blog, I have been on the water more days than many. And, even in that short time, I have noticed a change in the presence of fish on the reef. Now... I understand that Oahu is probably the most overfished and decimated ecosystem in the hawaiian islands, but as I watch swarms of spearfisherman, aquarium collectors, and fisherman standing shoulder to shoulder on the shoreline, I can't help but be disheartened. Like others on this thread, I too have never seen the Hawaiian Lionfish and only once have I seen a harlequin shrimp. The only black coral I have ever seen was on Lanai and I get giddy if i see and Uhu over 2 lbs.

As for the aquarium collectors specifically, I have had an experience with a certain enterprising man that causes me to question the morality of the trade. As a scuba boat operator, we try to find a variety of dive sites to entertain our guests. In the interest of preserving the reef, we set moorings at each location that we find interesting, to avoid anchoring. There was one aquarium collector that would watch us, to determine where our new dive sites were. Once he found the new one, he would tie off to our mooring and collect fish for weeks. He would do this until he had removed all the more valuable fish from our new site. He followed us like this for several sites until we finally gave up. He used us to find the better fish populations, knowing that we were looking for the same thing he was. I feel partially responsible for opening an avenue for him to further deplete the fish stock. And further remorseful after seeing the volume that he removed from each site.

Now, I am sure that I can accredit some of my concerns of depleting fish stock to the ebb and flow of fish populations, but watching these guys hover over my favorite dive sites, plucking all of my little buddies out of the water is enough to make me want some action against them. But this issue is not restricted to aquarium collectors. Spearfishermen, rod and reel fishermen and even scuba divers do more than their fair share to contribute to the depletion of undersea ecosystems. I wish I could only count on my hands and feet the number of times I have had to ask a scuba diver to toss back a live cowry or beg them to stop kicking the reef.

Ultimately, my point is that aquarium collectors are certainly a problem, but there is a wide swath of individuals that collectively contribute to the depletion of this ecosystem to a far greater extent that any collector could. This is why I believe in the expansion AND ENFORCEMENT of marine preserves. It holds everyone accountable for the stewardship of the site, instead of only regulating those that we perceive as the problem. I watched marine preserves work in the Channel Islands at Anacapa. Life has a chance to recover in these areas and spill to their surroundings. It doesn't have to be a preserve the size of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, just a few safeharbors at along the coast where populations can flourish.

Another issue here is that the Hawaiian population holds a certain sense of entitlement (rightly so) to access the resource of the sea. There are very few out here that support regulation or licensing of a practice that they have passed down since before western contact. Arguably, aquarium collecting is not an ancient Hawaiian practice, but it represents a resource that their ancestors passed to them. I believe that this group exudes a much better attitude (at least on this island) about small marine preserves than they do about fishing licenses. Especially when you can point to the success of Hanauma Bay, this ecological protection method is slightly better received.

In addition, some feel that the unprotected areas have better fishing due to their proximity to a thriving reef. As a fisherman, I support a certain degree of regulation on fishing. However, I believe that these laws only keep the honest people honest and are difficult to enforce.

Ultimately, shutting down an area to any harvesting is the only way to effectively protect the life that resides.

Sorry for the long winded rant... just one captain's humble opinion.