Activists Fight To Stop Tropical Fish Trade in Hawaii

Jun 30, 2014 11:27 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Conservationists are working to stop the practice of collecting tropical fish in Hawaii waters to be sold for aquariums.

While Hawaii only accounts for about 2 percent of the aquarium trade, with most fish coming from the Philippines and Indonesia, about half a million tropical fish are captured each year to be sent to aquariums around the world, the Associated Press reported.

Aquarium trade removes an estimated 30 million fish from reefs worldwide each year. The fishery off the Big Island, which has been called one of the best-managed in the world, has been the subject of debate after activists launched a campaign against collecting tropical fish for sale.

"In this day and age, where the ocean faces a crisis ... there's absolutely no justification for a fishery for hobby," said Mike Long of Seattle-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is leading the initiative, as quoted by the AP. He said the conservation campaign would spread to the Philippines and Indonesia as well.

The conservation group is known for being aggressive and using violence to get the message across; in one example, Sea Shepherd members threw glass containers of acid at Japanese whaling ships in Antarctica.

Collectors working in Hawaii fisheries use nets to catch fish such as the yellow tang, which is the most commonly captured species and sells for about $4.

While it's banned in the Philippines, some fisherman who collect tropical fish use a method called cyanide fishing, pumping the chemical into the water to make the fish slower and easier to catch.

Sea Shepherd members say the aquarium trade damages coral reefs and disturbs marine life; on the other hand, a coalition of state officials, fishermen and environmentalists believe the advocacy group is wasting its time by putting pressure on the Hawaii fishery.

Regulations on aquarium fisheries are already extensive, while recent data has shown that nearby populations of fish are improving.

"We don't have a problem here anymore," said Tina Owens of the local environmental group Lost Fish Coalition.

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