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Protect Maui's Reef Fish

A new law would rein in the pet fish trade

  • bluestripe butterfly fish

    Photos by Snorkel Bob, Himself, from his new book, Some Fishes I Have Known (Skyhorse, N.Y.)

Update: On Jan. 21, 2011, the bill to protect reef wildlife was passed unanimously!

Things are looking up for the fish who swim in the reefs around Maui County, Hawaii, but we can't stop now.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International commend the Maui County Council for unanimously passing an unprecedented and critically important law regulating the collection and handling of reef fish for the pet aquarium trade this August. The trade affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of animals across Hawaii, and more than 17,000 animals per year in Maui County alone.

A dangerous trade

The global trade in live wild animals as pets—including wild ocean fish for display in home aquaria—involves billions of animals every year. This thriving industry threatens the survival of wild populations and the health of our reefs. And it only continues because of consumer demand for these rare and beautiful animals. Hawaii and Florida are the only states that allow coral reef fish to be captured and traded both domestically and internationally.

Update: The Maui City Council passed the bill prohibiting cruel practices in collecting reef wildlife.

Keeping track of deaths

But the law just passed by the Maui County Council will begin to put the brakes on the live fish trade. Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, those who collect reef fish for commercial sale must acquire a county permit and report the number, species, and location of fish collected.

Most importantly, commercial collectors must also report species mortality rates (how many of each species have died). This information will be essential to assessing and evaluating the care these animals receive. Reducing mortalities means fewer fish will be taken from Maui’s reefs, which will help protect the population of individual species as well as the health of Hawaii’s reefs.

Clamping down on cruelty

On January 21, 2011, the Maui County Council passed a second, equally important landmark measure, to prohibit cruel practices common to the aquarium pet trade, such as the intentional starvation of fish before transport, the trimming of fins, and the piercing of organs. Sadly, these practices lead to higher mortality rates and thus higher collection rates of these dwindling reef species.

What you can do

Contact the Maui County Council and say thank you for protecting Hawaii's reef fish.

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