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March 2000 Vol. 15, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hawaiian Collection

from the March, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While marine advocates and Hawaiis tropical fish collectors have been at each others throats for decades, it hasnt seemed to matter. Despite 20-year studies indicating that the practice has substantial impact on fish populations, and despite public comment that was 93.5% in favor of a partial ban, fish collecting has been de rigueur. From the human point of view, this isnt major industry as of 1999, there were only about 50 commercial aquarium permits for west Hawaii but the annual take of those who held them was estimated to be at least 225,000 critters. This amounts to a whopping 4,500 fish per operator, many of them rarities such as lionfish, Tinkers angelfish, and flame angels.

The grassroots movement to limit collecting began garnering serious attention after a 1995 Kona town meeting on the issue attended by over 230 people. The Hawaii legislature organized a community study group shortly thereafter, and in July, 1998, after circulating petitions and holding meetings galore, fish advocates tasted victory. Act 306 of the Hawaii legislature designated a minimum of 30% of west Hawaii coastal waters as Fish Replenishment Areas, effective December 31, 1999. Currently nine separate areas from Upolu Point (North Kohala) to Ka Lae (Kau) have been declared off-limits to collectors, an area comprising 35.2% of west Hawaiian coast.

The process is just beginning. Proponent Lisa Choquette of Dive Makai notes that its far too soon to evaluate what impact the ban will have on fish populations. In previously shut down areas that are substantially depleted, it has taken about 5 years for a noticeable difference, she says. Its been a long, nasty fight, but slowly the tide is turning for the fish!!

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