Tropical fish found dumped in Big Island trash container
By Carolyn Lucas
West Hawaii Today
Residents, environmentalists and commercial tropical fish collectors are outraged by the discovery of 610 fish in a trash bin at Honokohau Small Boat Harbor.
Tipped off by a fisherman, employees from the state Division of Aquatic Resources' Kailua-Kona office went diving in a Dumpster near a launch ramp Monday. They retrieved two bags of dead fish.
Of the 610 fish counted, 551 were yellow tang — a species that represents more than 80 percent of the aquarium catch in West Hawaii waters. The remaining 59 fish comprised six other species, including butterflyfish and surgeonfish. All of the fish had no outward signs of illness or injury, said Bill Walsh, state aquatic biologist.
Nearly half of the yellow tang were "recruits," very small individuals newly settled on the reef. Recruits usually start settling in the summer and by December are larger in size, which leads the Division of Aquatic Resources to believe these yellow tangs were not collected recently. Still the state agency doesn't know who is responsible or exactly why the fish were dumped.
While not illegal, the dumping was deemed a travesty or a shame by many who called Stephens Media on Thursday. Some said the license of the person responsible should be taken away. Others demanded that local tropical fish collectors develop and enforce a stringent code of conduct.
"Locally, there have been concerns about the aquarium industry," Walsh said. "This includes issues with inconsistent, poor and absent reporting by some collectors and wholesalers. There's also the renegade element or lack of responsibility from a number of collectors who are systematically poaching fish in marine protected areas. ... Many people feel we are granting (tropical fish collectors and exporters) a tremendous privilege by allowing them to make hundreds of thousands of dollars on our reefs and we're getting nothing in return."
Ron Tubbs of R.T. Distributors, said the local tropical fish collectors he knows are "extremely upset" by the fish dumping and hope it never happens again.
"This is an isolated incident due to some kind of mistake that rarely happens," he said. "Mechanical pumps fail, big surf make for difficult and dangerous catch returns, live wells on boats can malfunction, and pipes leak along with other malfunctions, which could have possibly been the cause of this huge loss."
Tubbs said the Hawaii Tropical Fish Association and others are trying to find the person responsible.
"I am positive the huge loss of fish was not intentional. Fish collectors love the ocean and the fish. This is why we all got into the fish business," Tubbs said. "We work very hard to keep all fish live and very healthy. Nearly all fish collected arrive to the hobbyist alive. If care is not taken, collectors do not get paid."
Randy Fernley, owner of Coral Fish Hawaii on Oahu and a Hawaii Tropical Fish Association executive member, has been collecting fish in Hawaii for more than 25 years. He said his fellow association members do follow a code of conduct. The dumping, he said, hinders the progress and hurts everyone in the industry.
"Whoever did this doesn't deserve to be in business," he said. "We understand the shock and dismay. Something needs to be done and the association will do everything it can to help resolve this."