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April 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Help Keep Hawaiian Fish Out of Aquariums

from the April, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Fish life in Hawaiian waters is disappearing. One reason: It’s legal to capture fish for the aquarium trade, so marine species are ending up in exotic aquariums.

Rene Umberger, co-owner of Maui dive shop Octopus Reef, contacted Undercurrent about Save Hawaiian Reefs, a statewide initiative by dive businesses and environmental groups to enact laws against the aquarium trade. “Fish collectors can take unlimited amounts of fish from Hawaii’s reefs as long as they do it outside protected areas. Up to 10 million fish a year are shipped to the U.S. and around the world, and up to 65 percent of wild-caught tropical fish die before reaching the ‘marketplace.’ Most of the rest starve to death or die from stress-related disease within weeks to months. A Hawaiian yellow tang is lucky to survive that long in a tank in someone’s home, but it can live for 30 years in the wild.”

The goal is to pass a fish version of the Wild Bird Conservation Act that Congress passed in 1992 to protect wild-caught birds from similar exploitation. The bill introduced in January passed Hawaii’s Senate unanimously but is waiting for a hearing in the House of Representatives. Umberger says the fishing industry’s big muscle is dampening the bill’s progress but supporters argue that keeping live fish on the reefs is key to the state’s biggest industry – tourism. “The dive and snorkel business is huge,” Umberger says. “We generate $800 million a year for the state, hotels and dining included, because people come here for water activities. The aquarium industry is only worth $3 million.”

For details about the bill and its status, go to If you have relevant comments about Hawaiian reef fish, click on the “Send Testimony” link.

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