Ninety percent of Hawaii’s residents support legislation that would protect Hawaii’s threatened reefs through sustainability measures and caps on permits to capture reef wildlife for aquariums, according to a new poll. Support was also high for ending this practice altogether.

The statewide poll, conducted by Honolulu-based QMark Research and commissioned by For the Fishes, The Humane Society of the United States and its international arm, Humane Society International, surveyed 476 residents, with 90 percent responding in favor of a bill aimed at regulating the aquarium trade that would require sustainability measures and cap permits at current levels. That bill, SB1240, passed the state legislature as a compromise measure with strong support and requires Governor David Ige’s signature to become law.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources is tasked with protecting Hawaii’s reefs from activities, especially those of a commercial nature, that may “disturb, degrade, or alter the marine environment.” DLNR has long held the position that no take or permit limits are necessary to protect reefs. That position is in sharp contrast to the growing concerns of the vast majority of Hawaii residents who cited environmental impacts as the most important issue related to the aquarium trade. Compared to a similar poll conducted five years ago, which showed 66 percent supported ending the trade, results from this poll show a 17-point surge of public awareness and support for ending the trade, to 83 percent.

“These poll results confirm what humane, marine, environmental and native Hawaiian groups have long conveyed to state elected officials: The commercial collection of Hawaii’s cherished reef wildlife is not supported by the vast majority of Hawaii’s residents,” said Keith Dane, Hawaii policy advisor for The HSUS. “This natural resource belongs to us all, but the aquarium trade only benefits a relative handful of Hawaii residents and a much larger number of outside interests.”

In 2014 and 2015 Hawaii experienced unprecedented coral bleaching and subsequent coral die-offs. DLNRs recently released Coral Bleaching Recovery Plan identified herbivore management as “critical to post-bleaching coral recovery in Hawaii.” These fish are valuable in the wild because they keep algae from overgrowing recovering corals. Parrotfishes and surgeonfishes, in particular, are widely acknowledged for their importance in reef resilience and recovery. The herbivores most frequently captured for aquariums are yellow tangs and kole, which represent at least 93 percent of all fish captured and sold by the trade.

Catch reports filed with DLNR document that at least 700,000 fish, hermit crabs and other reef creatures are captured and sold for personal aquariums outside Hawaii each year. Because reported take isn’t verifiable, conservative estimates of actual take are well over one million animals, annually. Hawaii is the world’s third-largest supplier of reef wildlife to the U.S. aquarium trade. Nearly three times more fish are taken from Hawaii’s reefs than from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef though its area is 300 times larger than Hawaii’s. Decades of this intense pressure has depleted populations of Hawaii’s most beautiful and important reef species and put Hawaii’s reefs at risk.

“Hawaii residents are obviously well-informed, solution-oriented, and counting on Governor Ige to do the right thing” said Rene Umberger, executive director of For the Fishes. “Experts agree that herbivore populations are key to coral reef health, and it’s no coincidence that the herbivores taken for aquariums are missing from our reefs by the millions. SB1240 recognizes the true value of this marine life and we hope the Governor will heed the wishes of his constituents and sign this important legislation.”

The poll also found that 82 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.

Note: Statewide poll conducted by QMark Research in May 2017, with 476 samples and a confidence level of 95 percent (margin of error + - 4.58 percent).

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