Hawaiian island may ban aquarium fishing

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The second largest Hawaiian island could ban collection of ornamental reef fish for the aquarium trade.

Until recently the aquarium trade has been largely unregulated but in 2010 Maui County Council passed stricter regulations on the local aquarium trade in 2010. Maui now wants to restrict the trade further.

Senate Bill 580 would prohibit the sale of any aquatic life taken from waters within the state for aquarium purposes, with fines or possible jail time for violators, while other bills have looked at developing a scientific 'white list' of species that can be collected and sold.

There have been a number of unsuccessful attempts over the years to ban or limit aquarium fishing in Hawaii but lawmakers are hopeful that this will be the year that the proposals succeed.

State Senator Roz Baker said: "I think there's just a greater awareness. I think people are taking a fresh look at some of the things we need to do to preserve the reef. People come here to enjoy the marine life, and we need to have healthy and robust numbers of fish in the ocean."

Commercial harvesting of aquarium reef fish in Hawaii increased by nearly 500%, in the period from 1973 to 1999, with a harvest of over 422,000 fishes in 1999. Despite this, only 30% of Hawaii’s coastline has been protected as designated 'Fish Replenishment Areas'.

In addition, it is thought that these are gross underestimates as many collectors do not even file reports of the fish caught. Collection tends to be highly focussed on particular 'popular' species such as Yellow tang, Achilles tang, Longnose butterflyfish, and Moorish idols, with over 80% of the harvested fish being herbivores. A reduction in the number of herbivores can cause an abundance of invasive algae to grow on coral, which can create long-term impacts on the coral reef health.

Robert Wintner, owner of Snorkel Bob's stores in Hawaii and author of "Some Fishes I Have Known", said he was heartened by the renewed interest in legislation on the aquarium industry, and he supported the bill introduced by Maui senators.

"SB 580 is a call for a ban, and a ban is what Hawaii needs," he said. "Hawaii reefs and Hawaii fish populations are in decline. We've known this for years."