Coral reef communities form the backbone of Hawaiian history, culture, and economics, yet today an estimated 1.5 to 3.75 million fish and invertebrates are collected from Hawaii's reefs to supply the commercial aquarium trade. The majority of these specimens are shipped to buyers on the U.S. Mainland. The sheer volume of life removed from our reefs is not only astounding, but also adversely impacts the health of coral reef ecosystems. It is estimated, furthermore, that 97% of wildlife collected for the aquarium trade die within their first year of captivity, and undergo brutal practices such as starvation, de-finning and fizzing.
Currently there are few catch limits in place, and those that are present do not address limits to highly targeted species such as yellow tang or kole. There are also no limits on the number of commerical permits issued. For $50 and a HI driver's license, you can obtain a commercial fishing permit and catch as many yellow tang as you desire! This presents a highly unsustainable situation for our reef ecosystems - and instead of exporting Hawaii's reef wildlife, we should be sustainably conserving and managing our marine environments.
And though legally required, the environmental impact of the trade has never been assessed.
The Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources is currently accepting public comments on proposed rules submitted by the aquarium trade on Oahu and Hawai'i island. Unfortunately, these rules:
- Are not science based, but are designed to give the appearance of sustainability.
- Propose meaningless bag limits that do not reduce take because they apply to any number of collectors.
- Do not include a catch verification system or address the rampant underreporting fraud. ·
- Are unenforceable because officers have no rights of inspection without probable cause.
- Keep intact Hawaii position as the world’s third largest supplier of wildlife for U.S. household aquariums, with several times more fish taken from our reefs than from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef on the planet.
We urge the Governor, the State Senate and House, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources to support legislation and rules that protect coral reef wildlife, and ask that a moratorium be placed on collecting until the trade’s environmental, cultural and ethical impacts have been addressed.
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