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June 13, 2012

Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Ending the Commercial Collection of Hawaii's Reef Wildlife for Aquariums

Humane Society International

  • Hundreds of dead yellow tangs, victims of the aquarium trade, are lined up in a parking lot in Hawaii. Teri Leicher

A majority of Hawaii’s residents support ending the commercial collection of reef wildlife for aquariums, according to a new poll. Support was highest on Hawaii’s Big Island, where most of the collection occurs.

The statewide poll, conducted by Honolulu-based Ward Research and commissioned by The Humane Society of the United States and its international arm, Humane Society International, surveyed 669 residents, with 66 percent responding in favor of ending the trade in reef wildlife. Sixty-nine percent of Big Island residents surveyed support ending the practice, the poll found.

“These results support what we and other marine, environmental and native Hawaiian groups have been saying to our state lawmakers for some time: The commercial collection of Hawaii’s cherished reef wildlife is not supported by the majority of Hawaii’s residents nor does it provide any public benefit,” said Inga Gibson, Hawaii state director for The HSUS. “Furthermore, the millions of reef animals collected annually suffer and die at rates that are unacceptable.”

Commercial collectors take an estimated 1.5 million to 3.75 million wild fish and invertebrates from Hawaii’s native reefs annually, most of which go to stocking household marine aquariums. Hawaii is the world’s third-largest supplier of reef wildlife to the U.S. aquarium trade and the largest in the U.S.

“I have seen with my own eyes how these intruders pound and rake our reefs to extinction. These aquarium collectors have no connection or respect to the 'aina, the people, or the ocean,” said Kaimi Kaupiko from the Miloli’i fishing village. “They have destroyed our reefs, killed our fish, and are taking away a cultural practice that we, Kanaka maoli, have practiced since we inhabited the Hawaiian Islands. A ban is needed.”

Most of Hawaii’s reefs, other than a third off West Hawaii, and most reef species other than corals and “live” rock, are open for collection. For almost all of the 260 targeted species, including the rare and endemic ones, there’s no limit on the number, age or size of fish taken.

In the past two years, Maui County has passed strong regulations including a law prohibiting inhumane trade practices like organ piercing, starving and fin clipping. Last year Hawaii, Kaua’i and Maui county governments called for a statewide trade ban on reef wildlife.

Sixty-four percent of poll respondents were born and raised in Hawaii, with the highest percentage of respondents identifying themselves as Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian.

The poll also found:

  • Ranking issues by importance, 40 percent who support ending the trade in reef wildlife were concerned about negative environmental impact to coral reefs, followed by the disrespect of native Hawaiian values of caring for the land and ocean (24 percent), and the cruel and inhumane treatment of reef wildlife (11 percent).
     
  • 88 percent of Big Island residents support laws or regulations that would either prohibit inhumane collection practices such as organ piercing, fin cutting and starvation or restrict and regulate aquarium trade businesses, and 72 percent agreed that only captive-bred fish should be kept in saltwater aquariums, even if this meant the number of species available for purchase was dramatically decreased.
     
  • 98 percent of Hawaii residents do not have a saltwater aquarium.  Findings confirm reports that most wildlife taken from Hawaii’s reefs is shipped out of state for use in aquariums on the mainland. Ward Research noted: ‘It is clear that the majority of residents across the state would support a ban and only a small minority would oppose any type of restriction or regulation.’

The poll follows a study released last October by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing that each American household would be willing to pay $285 annually to protect and preserve Hawaii’s reefs, which are valued at nearly $34 billion.

Numerous organizations and individuals, representing more than 50,000 supporters statewide, advocate for the protection of reef wildlife from the aquarium trade, including The HSUS and HSI, Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, For the Fishes, Maui Tomorrow, Ocean Defenders - Hawaii, PONO, Pacific Whale Foundation and the Snorkel Bob Foundation.

"It's encouraging to see Hawaii’s residents recognize the aquarium trade’s negative impacts to our reefs," said Robert D. Harris, director of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Our reef and ocean ecosystems are all connected. Depleting Hawaii's fish populations for the aquarium trade directly impacts the viability of other species such as seals, sharks, turtles and other fish.” 

Media Contact: Rebecca Basu, 301-258-3152, rbasu@humanesociety.org

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