MASNA Investigates the Marine Aquarium Trade in Hawai’i and the Latest Resolution Seeking a Statewide Ban on All Aquarium Collection

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Hawai'i Reef by Ret TalbotThe Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) is a non-profit organization composed of local area marine aquarium societies, individual marine aquarists, and corporate partner or sponsor memberships. The benefits for club membership are pretty well understood by most—access to speaker and vendor directories, networking opportunities through the Society Directory, dedicated club space in the forums, banner advertising, the potential to host a MACNA, and more—but many individual aquarists wonder “Why should I become member?” This week’s series of blog posts from the Big Island of Hawai’i is, in my way of thinking, one very good reason, but I’m getting ahead of myself…  

The marine aquarium fishery in Hawai’i is the most important marine aquarium fishery in the United States. The Big Island of Hawai’i (called Hawai’i) is home to the largest slice of the State’s marine aquarium trade both in terms of animals collected and economic value (we’ll get into the numbers in a future post), but the marine aquarium fishery here is once again facing serious opposition. I have been following the ongoing story of efforts to better manage the aquarium fishery in Hawai’i in the face of such opposition for more than a year for CORAL Magazine (see my article “Postcards from Hawaii” in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue), and I am now back on island to research the recent passage of Hawai’i County Council Resolution 130-11, which seeks to ban the marine aquarium trade statewide. This current trip is a joint effort between CORAL Magazine and MASNA intended to provide aquarists with the most up-to-date information about the controversy surrounding the fishery and its implications for the trade here in Hawai’i, nationwide and even internationally. 
…and that’s one of the most compelling reasons I think every marine aquarists should be a member of MASNA. Marine aquarium fisheries (and the trade in general) are increasingly being looked at with skepticism and outright animosity by anti-trade forces ranging from large organizational forces like Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd and the Humane Society of the United States to individuals like Robert Wintner (a.k.a Snorkel Bob). Some of the opposition to the trade is based on the question of sustainability (e.g., is the marine aquarium fishery in Hawai’i, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, etc., being managed in a sustainable manner?) and some of the opposition is based on a moral argument (e.g., it is wrong to take reef fishes off the reef and place them in an aquarium). Understanding the motives behind the various attacks on the trade, and reconciling those motives with the data, is very difficult for most aquarists to do on their own. 
MASNA’s commitment to its educational mission and a sustainable future for the marine environment can assist the individual MASNA member in understanding the issues by providing authoritative, well-researched and balanced information about the trade. The fact that your membership dues of $20 a year allows for MASNA to help put someone on the ground to research the issues that matter most and report back to aquarists is, at least in my way of thinking, money well spent. 
Most aquarists I have met while traveling the country discussing fishery sustainability want to support a sustainable marine aquarium trade, but the fact of the matter is most aquarists have probably unwittingly purchased an animal that originated in an unsustainable fishery—a fishery whose net effect is to do damage to a reef ecosystem. There is no fundamental reason why a commercial marine aquarium fishery cannot be managed in as sustainable a manner as a well-managed food fishery. These are the fisheries upon which the marine aquarium trade of the future must rely (along with continued advances in captive breeding!), and MASNA is committed to helping aquarists get the information they need to use their purchasing power to support a sustainable industry. 
So stay tuned to the MASNA blog this week for a series of posts about what is going on in Hawai’i, why it matters to the trade nationally and what aquarists can do to support a sustainable marine aquarium trade.