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Activists Fight to Shut Down Hawaii's Tropical Fish Aquarium Trade

Jun 30, 2014 12:55 PM EDT
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Activists with the Sea Shepard Conservation Society have launched a campaign to put an end to Hawaii's tropical fish trade, which involves the annual buying and selling of these fish for aquariums.

Scientists say the aquarium fishery off the Big Island is among the best managed in the world, but protesters argue that this practice, ranging from Hawaii to the Philippines, is destroying coral reefs where these fish flourish.

"In this day and age, where the ocean faces a crisis ... there's absolutely no justification for a fishery for hobby," Mike Long of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said, according to the Associated Press.

Almost 30 million fish are scooped up from reefs around the world, scientists estimate, and Hawaii accounts for only two percent, with the bulk coming from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Some fishermen in these countries pump cyanide into the water to make fish slow and easier to catch - though this practice, as well as the use of certain fishing equipment that is harmful to coral reefs and other marine habitats, is illegal in the Philippines. This toxin leeches into the surrounding environment, poisoning other species of plants and animals while also significantly shortening the lifespan of captured fish.

The Seattle-based conservation group, which is spearheading the campaign, as well as local activists, has long pushed to stop this tropical fish trade, sometimes going to great lengths to do so.

In May, a Sea Shepherd diver recording the collection of fish for the aquarium trade was attacked by a collector 50 feet underwater.

"As they filmed from a distance, one of the collectors noticed the camera from afar and quickly 'rushed' diver Rene Umberger without warning and pulled the air regulator from her mouth. This device is what provides oxygen from a diver's air tank, and forcibly removing it from a diver's mouth can become deadly in a matter of seconds," Sea Shepard wrote on their website.

Aside from this incident, today collecting is prohibited on 35 percent of the Hawaii coast, but Sea Shepard hopes to bring their movement against harvesting of aquarium fish to the Philippines and Indonesia as well.

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