Returning Label volunteer Leah Langley describes the steps that Hawaii has taken both in 2018 and 2020 in order preserve its diverse marine life.

A Hawaiian court has closed a loophole that has allowed for industry to illegally extract more than half a million marine animals form Hawaii reefs in the last two years.

The campaign for this change has been spearheaded by scuba diver, Rene Umberger, who is all too aware of the deadly nature of aquarium fishing. In 2014, Umberger went on an expedition to document the devastating destruction that fishing activities had caused off the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii. During her trip, she was attacked by a man who was collecting aquarium fish on a nearby reed after he realised that he was being filmed. The man tore Umberger’s breathing device off which cut her air supply whilst she was 50 feet below the water. This event could have been fatal, but luckily Umberger had a 30-year career and over 10,000 dives under her belt; and so she was able to replace her gear and safely surface. This event was just many of those that had been seen during the battle that has been growing over the environmental impact of aquarium fishing.

In 2018, a huge win was secured when the state’s Environmental Court ruled that all recreational permits would be made void, as they were blindly handed out by government regulators to recreational fishers with no questions asked. Around 131 permits became invalid, saving nearly 2,000 fish per permit per year. This ruling came after a Supreme Court investigation found that further aquarium fishing could not be tolerated until the environmental impact has been observed.

In January 2020, conservation groups returned to court to enforce the previous rulings and invalidate a loophole that had been created to allow commercial collection to continue everywhere else except West Hawaii, providing they used alternative gear. This loophole had meant that more than half a million animals had been captured by the aquarium trade in the last two years.

The end of 2020 saw the state Environmental Court rule that all commercial collection requires environmental review, and that all fishing licenses issued for commercial aquarium collection are invalid and illegal until they comply with Hawaii’s environmental review laws. Although the law hasn’t been in place long, Hawaii is already seeing improvements in the local environment. Reefs have become less damaged, and warm-water induced bleaching has also seen a reduction.

Edited by Izzie Naish – News Editor

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