Maui Passes Bill Prohibiting Harmful Aquarium Trade Practices

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According to the anti-aquarium group For the Fishes, the Maui County Council committee has passed a bill that would prohibit what it calls harmful trade practices involving saltwater fish collected for the aquarium industry. The bill, originally proposed by council member Mike Molina, expands Maui county’s laws on animal cruelty. The new regulations are designed to stop intentional starvation of fish prior to shipping, cutting of fish fins, and piercing the swim bladders of fish taken from deep waters, along with a few other things. While these new regulations, discussed in a bit more detail below, might appear to be very beneficial to any fish collected from Hawaiian waters, they may actually do more harm than good.

On a side note, I do not think this is the same aquarium related legislation we discussed a couple of days ago, as that bill focused more on white listing certain fish for the aquarium trade while outright banning others.

Continue reading below for our take on some of the proposed cruel practices in the aquarium fish trade.

When fish are collected from very deep waters and brought to the surface, their swim bladders are frequently pierced to let out expanding air. While appearing quite violent, the fish can very easily recover from this and go on to live for many years in captivity. Additionally, if the swim bladder is not properly degassed, it could expand to the point where it extrudes from the fish’s mouth, or even rupture. If this happens, the fish could die. Piercing the swim bladder of deepwater fish is actually beneficial to the fish’s long term health, and its banning could cause greater issues than it hopes to resolve.

Another targeted “harmful practice” of the bill is how fish are to be fed prior to being shipped out. Currently, many collectors and wholesalers do not feed their fish prior to shipping. The reason for this is the wholesalers and collectors don’t want the fish excreting waste in the bags. If a fish is fed a healthy amount of food, it will poop in the bag at some point. And given the small confines of the bag, as well as the lack of water flow, the poop will release ammonia and other harmful substances into the water. These substances will lead to more fish death than if the fish weren’t fed for a couple of days prior to shipping.

Yet another targeted behavior, and the last that I will discuss in this article, is fin cutting. I have actually never encountered this on a personal level, but it is apparently a commonly used technique. Supposedly, many people who ship fish are cutting their fins to prevent bags from being torn by the fish’s movements. Obviously, if the bag is punctured during shipping, the water will leak out and the fish will die. I do not support this kind of behavior if it is happening, as cutting tissue can lead to infections, especially if the fish is already stressed. Again, I have never seen intentional cutting of fins, and I’ve worked in both aquarium stores and public aquariums for some time.

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  • I don't quite see how not feeding a fish would be for the better. If the fish dies in transit due to ammonia from their own waste, it seems a bit more cruel than then not being fed prior to shipment….

  • When fish are brought up from more than about 33 ft. they need to be "decompressed" or they suffer from barotrauma. Aq. industry best practices manual developed by LA based Sea Dwelling Creatures and ReefCheck's Dr. Hodgson, recommends AGAINST venting and instead doing staged decompression. A recent published research paper looked at all studies on venting fish and recommends that venting be prohibited. Staged decompression prevents barotrauma injury.

    Fish are starved for 2 – 10 days prior to shipping (based on size) in order to purge them so that the SMALLEST POSSIBLE WATER/OXYGEN FILLED BAG can be used for shipping, saving $$. Shipping in more water/more oxygen will reduce shipping related mortalities. Wholesalers and retailers may accept that 9% or more will be dead within 3 days of each shipment, but society will not.

    Same best practices referred to above recommends shipping fish with sharp spines in layered bags with heavy material between. Cutting spines is about saving $$.

    A collector for the aquarium trade, a seller of aquarium fish, a veterinarian, local and state humane society representatives, reef advocates, and locals thoroughly vetted the bill and unanimously recommended it to the Maui County Council.

  • ForThePeople

    I live on Maui and operate an aquarium maintenance business and have battled both Snorkel Bob and Renee Umberger (for the fishes) for years.
    FYI – They aren't referring to fin trimming, but rather spine trimming, primarily on tangs, but for the reasons you mentioned. The spines do grow back.