What Would Happen if the Hawaiian Fishery Shut Down?

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Yellow Tang and Wrasses Hiding Under Corals

In light of the recent conversations centered around the Hawaiian aquarium fishery, including an upcoming episode of MASNA Live, we’re curious as to what would happen to the hobby if the anti-aquarium activists succeeded in their goals and the entire state of Hawaii was closed off to our industry. While most of those in the aquarium hobby don’t worry that this worse case scenario could ever happen, the two non-binding resolutions banning aquarium collection in the state and the traction the anti-aquarium movement seems to be gaining in the public arena do have some concerned, myself included. We have reasonable doubts that a full, legal ban on aquarium collection will ever happen. However, if a ban were enacted, the events could set off a domino effect that could have severe consequences. We foresee a handful of things potentially happening, all of which are described below.

In the long term, the hobby would survive the closing of Hawaiian reefs and would likely shift its dependence on wild-caught fish to other areas. Fish found only in Hawaii would virtually disappear from the hobby, but fish like the yellow tang would still be available as they also come from different parts of the world. Of course, fish like the yellow tang would see a price jump, but they would still be available. While closing off the reefs may seem like a benefit to Hawaii and something that would quiet the anti-aquarium activists, the overall effects could be very dangerous. For one, other reefs and fish populations could become depleted due to an unchanging intake of fish by a continually growing industry coupled with a decrease in the overall number of fish available. This impact wouldn’t be noticed for a few years, but as the hobby expanded, the growing pains would eventually be seen on reefs worldwide.

Trio of Yellow Tangs

Another long term byproduct of closing off Hawaii would be the development of a black market for Hawaiian endemic species. Unlike a well managed state regulated fishery, a black market fishery would be far more difficult to regulate. Illegal collectors would be able to capture and export vast numbers of fish and stay under the radar. Because of the inability to regulate this market, there’s no telling what it would do to local populations of fish. Perhaps the black market would be small enough that it wouldn’t impact fish populations, but it might also grow out of control and could result in more fish being taken than what is currently being collected now. For those doubting a black market would develop, let’s just look at human nature. Certain fish and corals are a must have in the aquarium hobby for one reason or another. And some aquarium hobbyists will pay any amount of money, no matter how stupid, to get their hands on a particular item. A great example of this is the Rhizotrochus typus, which is a coral that is illegal to collect and import into the US. Despite these heavy restrictions, you can still find these corals popping up on the pages of online vendors every once in a while. Because of this, we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that an unregulated black market would develop.

A scarier scenario that could result from Hawaiian lawmakers closing off the reefs is other island governments following suit. If other countries decided to emulate Hawaii and kick out the aquarium collectors, then we could see a severe breakdown in the supply chain. The hobby would virtually crater in on itself and we would have to depend on nothing but what’s already available in fish stores across the nation and what breeders are able to churn out. The hobby would limp along for a few years, probably surviving on coral propagation for the most part. Fortunately, this doomsday scenario will probably never happen, at least for every collection area. The major exports of certain countries is fish for the aquarium industry.

These are just a few of the scenarios that we speculate could happen, and we’re sure there are many different possibilities. Have any other scenarios we overlooked? Let us know in the comments below.

close hawaii – black market, depletion of other reefs, domino effect,

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  • Nrbelk

    Which common fish besides the yellow tang would we see affected?  I usually see the yellow tang as the main show case but I’m not familiar enough with Hawaiian fish to know what other fish are usually from Hawaii.

  • I enjoy playing devils advocate, so I’m going to jump on that side, whether I fully believe it or not, and give you one more alternative. It could very well be good for our industry. The way I see it, Hawaii offers little that SHOULD be taken out of the ocean. I looked at the link Clint posted, and there’s not much on there that is commonly demanded in the industry. There were however several very notable species missing from that site such as moorish idols and humu humu triggers which makes me wonder what else could be missing. Back to my point though, it’s possible that an entire area shutting its doors to us could teach us to be more careful in the future as far as which species we import. It’s been known for a long time that moorish idols don’t do well in captivity and yet demand is still there for them. Potter’s angels are also one of the tougher dwarf angels out there, and really don’t belong in the hands of the majority of us. Perhaps if we act more responsibly  there won’t be as much future demand for species that don’t fare well, and less repercussions for what we take.

    Again, I’m not saying I fully subscribe to this, but it’s true, and we should look how we can act more responsibly at all times.Does anyone else have more information about species that come from Hawaii? I tried to search for more, but didn’t find much.