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Zebrasoma flavescens (Bennett 1828), (lau'ipala), the Yellow Tang of Hawai’i’;
Revisited, and Revised


By Bob Fenner


Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

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by Robert (Bob) Fenner


Some things have changed since the time of my writing re the Yellow Tang (Fenner 1995) and much has not. The number of collectors and “catch” of this most dominant aquarium fish of the 50th State has more than doubled, and more come from the Big Island/Kona than ever. Marine Protected Areas (MPA)s have proven to protect, and generate more numbers and larger individuals than open/catch areas.

             Laws and the trade (“trop” industry) have changed as well. About a third of the Big Island’s west side, where almost all collection occurs, has been shut down, and there is pending legislation to restrict it on the island of Maui. A few of the collectors from the latter have reportedly moved to Kona. As collectors “come and go” and many are part time, this change will likely add little fishing pressure.

            How many Yellow Tangs is “enough” yields very different answers depending on who is being asked. Is the current catch sustainable? What are the probable sources of recruitment and loss? What can and should be done to assure that there is no long-term negative impact on the Yellow Tang and other targeted species? These are currently hotly-debated topics, with much “empty heat” being tossed about and against the ornamental marine interest. However, not all claims are unjustified.  

A Re-cap of Sorts:

            The physical description, zoo-geography of Hawai’i’ certainly has not changed since my writing in the mid 1990’s. Well, maybe Kilauea Volcano has added a few square kilometers of new land to the Big Island. But the fact of geographic isolation, high (about 25%) endemism for nearshore species, and other pertinent circumstances remain about the same. What has changed is the addition of protected, no-take zones (Marine Protected Areas), and FRAs (Fish Replenishment areas, added since 2000… allowing the taking of any kinds and amount of fish though requiring that they be killed when taken… i.e. for food) with some noted improvements in stocks there and in some near-collateral areas.

            Oh, and Hawaii is still the source of Yellow Tangs, with more of their number than ever coming from the Big Island (Kona… a bit confusing, as this is also the name of the principal town on the west side, aka Kailua sometimes abbreviated Kailua-Kona, as well as the general Polynesian-derived term for the leeward/protected side of any island).

Sources of Yellow Tang Mortality & Salvation:

            As far as I’ve been able to ascertain there is no good concensus detailing actual percentages, preponderance of loss/use due to various factors for this species. E.g. to what degree are lower populations, and recruitment due to factors associated w/ the coral bleaching events of 1996 and 2002? (Jokiel and Brown, 2004). Factors affecting Hawai’i’s coral reefs are complex and suffer from multiple human impacts. As yet there is no high confidence data re the relative importance of any given influence. Decidedly, the ornamental marine trade has and is affecting local populations of targeted species; but, for instance, how much of a role does overall pollution run off, pesticide and fertilizer influx play?

            Between 1999 and 2007, some 27.8 percent of the Kona/West/Lee/Calm side of Big Island was closed to collecting. During this time the total catch and number of active collectors about doubled. That the closed areas have had a discernible impact on the number and size of Yellow Tangs cannot be disputed Tissot and Hallacher (2003) report some five times density improvement in populations in closed areas of what they term “prime targeted sized fish” (5/10 cm.) and some 48 percent higher density of adults of the species than open areas. This latter fact is very important as fishes of increasing size generate tremendously more gametes, and are thus most important in recruitment.

            Further good news was reported in this 2003 paper with spillover of Yellows to MPA surrounding boundary areas. Obviously, having “kapu/taboo” areas to protect substantial populations is extremely important in sustaining species population strength/density.

            Though it’s not popular to bring up, the impact of native/indigenous fishers should not be discounted. There are a sizeable number of folks who fish w/ Hawaiian slings/pole spears, cast nets, fish and line… that catch and mostly consume or sell such as food fish. The numbers and kinds of fishes taken are not well-elucidated and largely unregulated. I assure you though that the number of bigger individual Tangs, particularly Naso lituratus Ctenochaetus strigosus, and Acanthurus achilles is large. Bag limits on these species need to be enforced and catch/recruitment data closely followed due to indigenous fishers impact.

 “ It is a good thing for folks to scrutinize and ask questions about what’s going on in our fisheries and on our reefs.  These are important to all of us.  A realistic perspective does need to be maintained however.  Let me elaborate.  On Maui in 2009 there were a total of 16,300 aquarium animals caught, representing 82 different species.  Yellow tangs accounted for 69% while Kole was 7% of the catch.  During that same year non-aquarium commercial fishers captured (and killed) 319,491 reef fishes of 75 species.  While yellow tangs weren’t caught to any degree there was considerable overlap in a number of the other species.  To the commercial food catch one can add another 480,000 reef fish taken by recreational/subsistence fishers (extrapolated  from 2006 NOAA Rec Fishing Survey data).  So, in the grand scheme of things, the aquarium take on Maui is literally a drop in the bucket, representing less than 2% of the total mortality of reef animals that year.  This serves to point out that undue focus and hyperbole about aquarium collecting and its impact on the reefs is dangerously shortsighted and counterproductive. We need to think and act holistically.” Dan Polhemus DLNR


Protecting the Resource, Use/s and Disuse including Tourism:

            If the Hawai‘i Senate Bill No. 3225 had passed in 2008 it would have imposed bag limits on certain species of ornamental fish and completely prohibited the collection of others. This action would not result in protection of stocks through collection by the ornamental trade, though bag limits, if enforced, will slow depredation by local food fishers. Such legislation would destabilize the folks involved in the industry itself (valued at $3.2 million in FY2002). For both sources of “take” obviously w/o accurate information as to population structure, recruitment, sources of typical and extraordinary natural mortality, setting bag limits is of limited use; however, it should be re-emphasized that these two fishing groups are at odds in their targeting of fishes by size. Pet-fishers seek medium-sized individuals, and food-fishers, larger-sized specimens. Bigger individual fishes produce vastly greater quantities of gametes, young, and hence should be protected in no-take areas.


            Trop. Collection has been proven to be a significant source of stock reduction, but how much so relative to other sources of mortality is not well understood, nor is more importantly, there sufficient data to calculate optimum and maximum sustainable yield/s. NOR is the only question of the hour. What are sufficient numbers of target species to suit all interests; particularly the sport/dive/tourist industry AND the trop. business?

          Other than enough figuring in a margin for sustainable catch, how many Yellow Tangs is “sufficient” to support the dive/hobby interest? Put another way, how important are Yellow Tangs to the State’s approximately $800 million dollar tourist industry? As more than 70 percent of visitors go to O’ahu, and with more attending Maui and Kauai than the Big Island, where most Z. flavescens are collected, I would think their numbers are relatively unimportant; particularly considering the large size of the Big Island (larger than the other principal Hawaiian Islands combined in surface area).


            Yellow Tangs ARE the Kona Gold… and certainly are important as a draw, and principal identifying species to visitors… snorkelers and divers, to Hawaii. Preserving their numbers in sufficient density for their simple appreciation in the wild should be a priority.



Natural Variability:


            Though most folks conceive as the world’s oceans to be predictable, repititious in their cyclicity, such is not the case. Think on the phenomena of El Nino, La Nina… Yellow Tangs exhibited high recruitment on the east (windward) side of the Big Island in 2008 and very poor recruitment on the west (leeward) side during this year. This effect was reversed in 2009… It should be noted that three of the “heaviest” collectors of “Yellows” do some of their gathering on the east side.


Considerations, Questions:

            Oh, how I’d like to help generate a useful model of the inputs, outputs… with all their probable variability, detailing the population dynamics of this species; indeed entire reef communities.

Production: “Recruitment” entails the addition (by reproduction, migration, settling…) of new individuals to a given locality.  Rates of gamete (sex cell) production are a function of number and importantly, size of reproducing individuals. Seasonality, meteorological events (particularly size of currents, waves), the presence/density of predators among less important other factors. Periodic storms can be most destructive, as the specialized acronurus larval stage of this species can be more than ten weeks long, with much to most pelagic larval fishes being killed or swept far out to sea in bad weather.

            Further development of young is dependent on surviving the early larval stage, drifting over suitable reef, avoiding predation and settling on suitable habitat… of sufficient cover and food availability.

Reduction: “Normal” attrition due to predation is hard to judge and certainly a dynamic phenomenon; with more predation, more and less prey density, sizes playing roles. Extra-normal “bad weather” can decidedly play a role, with Yellow Tangs being virtually eliminated in O’ahu in a previous cyclonic storm incident (and re-transplanted from the Big Island to the south).

            Ornamental marine collection does play a role here, as demonstrated in enough separate studies as to make this a surety. With about half the catch of tropicals being accounted for in just Yellow Tangs, and there not being effective controls as to catch limits, there is reason for caution; but with some 35.2 percent of the west coast protected from Yellow Tang collection, one can hope that there is sufficient protection from trop. over-fishing.

            What and how much harm is due to sewage influx (much of volcanic Kona is percolate/non-treated), pesticide and fertilizer run-off? In some other islands (parts of O’ahu and Maui), there have been damning correlations w/ incidence of tumors and turtles.

            Do indigenous fishers account for an appreciable decrease in Yellow Tangs? This has not been my experience, though other Acanthurids do figure as important local food and game fishes. The only occasions I’ve encountered where Z. flavescens was being pole-speared were random, of incidental nature, with a few animals killed, and left in the sea.


Other Questions: Does removal of such largely herbivorous fishes such as the Yellow Tang have a deleterious effect on reefs due to algal proliferation. So far, studies have not borne this out, though I would note anecdotally, that many of my fave dive sites on the four principal tourist islands in Hawaii have much more Cyanobacteria, blue green algal cover than in previous years. This last is not consumed in any appreciable quantity by Zebrasoma species. (Tissot and Hallacher 2003)

How much coral damage can be attributed to collection practices? All Yellow Tangs (though not all Tangs) and the bulk of other reef fishes collected in Hawaii are driven into carefully placed fence/barrier nets that have a leaded “bottom line”… placement and removal of these nets, along with tapping of “chaser poles”, and incidental diver contact does produce breakage. Again, there is little data supporting that this damage is appreciable. The vast majority of collectors are excellent divers in my experience, and respectful of the source of their incomes. (Tissot and Hallacher 2003)


In Closing, Some Suggestions:

                        I encourage the consideration of a change in policy in regulating the trop. (collecting) industry in Hawaii, to limit the number of licenses, licensees much the same as the Abalone/Haliotid industry in California, where licenses, when they become available through death or choice, are lotteried for life… and overall catch limits by season/year. Some collectors have moved to the Big Islands west coast with the fishery being closed in Maui, and it may be that there is too much fishing pressure to support them all. Licenses should be limited to a calculated and ongoing-measured level of “likely economic take limit” per licensee… with licenses being “raffled” off in years warranted. Indigenous/food fishers should be licensed, and made accountable for bag limits, assuring sufficient large-size specimens survive. Cost of licenses should cover fees for patrol and assessment of stocks, and the fishery closed annually once overall catch limits are reached.

            Do I know how many “Yellows” there are, what their replacement rate likely is, and how much variability we should allow for? Have I a clue as to how many fishers/licenses should be let out? How might I be aware of what the catch limit ought to be? I do not know these things, but there are folks (see the brief biblio. below) who have more than a/the beginning of such understanding. The usual egregious spiel inserted here re the necessity of more and continuing research, balance in managing this precious resource.

Hawai’i is still a beautiful place to visit above and below water. I am hopeful that reason will prevail in the effective management of the natural resources there, including Yellow Tangs. It would be a great shame to have the market shut down entirely for lack of intelligent, working agreement/practices amongst all stakeholders (citizens, trop. collectors, dive/tourist operators…) and the agencies of self-governance (DAR, DNLR especially). Hawaii can serve as a wonderful model for a sustainable fishery and useful tourist attraction. A hu’i hou and mahalo,  Bob Fenner.


Special Thanks To:  Chris Buerner of Quality Marine (par excellence marine livestock wholesaler in Los Angeles) and Tony Nahacky (long-time collector in Hawaii and Fiji, with early experiences in the retail end of the trade) for their kind review, added input.


Selected Bibliography/Further Reading:

Birkeland, C. and A.M. Friedlander. 2002. The importance of refuges for reef fish replenishment in Hawaii. The Hawaii Audubon Society. 19 pp.

Chapin, Brandon C. 2010. Pers. Comm.. Letter re Hawai‘i Senate Bill No. 3225


Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly 2005 A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111.

Fenner, Robert. Collecting Marines the Aloha Way. http://wetwebmedia.com/collhiway.htm

Fenner, Robert. Written/completed in 8/95, ran in FAMA 11/01: What Cost Kona Gold, Yellow Tangs, Zebrasoma flavescens?

Alan Friedlander, Greta Aeby, Eric Brown, Athline Clark, Steve Coles, Steve Dollar, Cindy Hunter, Paul Jokiel, Jennifer Smith, Bill Walsh, Ivor Williams, Wendy Wiltse 2005.  The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Main Hawaiian Islands. ccma.nos.noaa.gov/ecosystems/coralreef/coral_report_2005/


Jokiel, P.L. and E.K. Brown. 2004. Global warming, regional trends and inshore environmental conditions influence coral bleaching in Hawaii. Global Change Biology 10: 1627-1641


B.N. Tissot and L.E. Hallacher. 2003. Effects of aquarium collectors on coral reef fishes in Kona, Hawaii. Conservation Biology 17(6): 1759-1768.

B.N. Tissot, W.J. Walsh and L.E. Hallacher. 2004. Evaluating effectiveness of a marine protected area network in West Hawaii to increase productivity of an aquarium fishery. Pacific Science 58: 175-188.


William J. Walsh. 1987. Patterns in recruitment and spawning in Hawaiian reef fishes. Env. Biol. of Fishes 18(4):257-276.


I.D.Williams, W.J. Walsh, J.T. Claisse, B.N. Tissot and K.A. Stamoulis 2009. Impacts of a Hawaiian marine protected area network on the abundance and fishery sustainability of the yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens. Biological Conservation Volume 142, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 1066-1073


This article is not included in your organization's subscription. However, you may be able to access this article under your organization's agreement with Elsevier.

The following is an ongoing dialogue twixt Dave Dart, a long-time (and excellent) marine livestock collector on Hawaii's Big Island (Kona) and RMF:     12/19/14

The Humane Society of the United States     12/19/14
This lobbying group is pushing to ban AQ collecting not only in Hawaii, but everywhere. They like to hit hot topics with publicity for their money coffers. They probably will be coming at you in the future if they already haven't. David Dart 808-936-5821
<Dave, as you and I talked on the phone re the HSUS is largely a money-making scam. You stated some four cents out of a dollar actually go to shelters et al., I've heard it's more like one cent. As I mentioned, interested/concerned folks should volunteer at local efforts and/or direct their giving to them. Oh, want to ask: would you mind if I archive our corr. on WWM? Am hoping for influence in the direction of reason. Bob Fenner>

Re: The Humane Society of the United States
Yes by all means. David
<Again, I thank you for your efforts on all's behalf. The public, environment, industry and hobby are all well-served thus. Bob Fenner>
The Humane Society of the United States

CC Bill 318
The county council sure assumes a lot in the first few paragraphs. David
<Yes; from the get-go... Am wondering if you know who exactly is in favor of shutting down the trop. trade there? As the points in this Bill are unfounded, non-factual, it's obvious that whomever is promoting it really just wants to see the industry fail. Bob Fenner>
Re: CC Bill 318
It's a shut down bill plain and simple. SB and Umberger failed to get the state to act so now they are hitting on the CC with the support of the US Humane Society. They just believe in putting fish in captivity. D.
<Imagine you meant, "just don't" above. I do concur. B>

BILL NO. 318






SECTION 1. Findings. The Council finds that numerous factors including prolonged starvation, keeping aquarium life in less than one gallon of water for transport purposes, and carrying aquarium life in certain manners cause stress to aquarium life and contribute to their mortality rate.

Therefore, to reduce mortalities and improve the welfare of aquarium life held within  Hawai` i County to be sold as pets, the Council acknowledges and affirms the need to prohibit certain practices that increase stress and contribute to mortality.

Accordingly, to ensure the improved welfare of aquarium life held within Hawai` i County to be sold as pets and to prevent cutting short the normal lifespan of aquatic life, the Council must prohibit prolonged starvation, require a minimum water volume for transport purposes, and prohibit carrying or causing aquarium life to be carried in a manner that is likely to result in injury or death to the aquarium life.

SECTION 2. Chapter 4, article 1, section 4- 1 of the Hawai` i County Code 1983 ( 2005 Edition, as amended), is amended by amending the definition of" animals" to read as follows:

Animals," unless provided otherwise, include but are not limited to those animals that are customary and usual pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, honeybees, and other beasts which are maintained on the premises of a dwelling unit and kept by the resident of a dwelling unit solely for personal enjoyment and companionship, such as, without limitation, for a hobby, for legal sporting activities and for guarding of property; animals exclude aviary game birds [ and fish] as defined in the Hawai` i Revised Statutes.

Animal shall further mean any " animal," " farm animal," or " poultry" as those terms are defined in [ section 1. 31.] this section."

SECTION 3. Chapter 4, article 4 of the Hawai`i County Code 1983 ( 2005 Edition, as amended), is amended by adding a new section to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:

Section 4- . Treatment of aquarium life to be sold for aquarium use.

a) As used in this section, unless the context clearly requires otherwise:

Aquarium life" means any type of saltwater fish, mollusk, crustacean, arthropod, invertebrate, or other animal harvested for aquarium use from Hawai`' s marine environment.

Aquarium use" means to hold aquarium life alive in a state of captivity as pets, or for public exhibition or display, or for sale for these purposes.

Sell" means to transfer, prescribe, give, or deliver to another, or to leave, barter, or exchange with another, or to agree to do the same to another for consideration."

b) Any person who sells aquarium life for aquarium use is prohibited from treating aquarium life in an inhumane manner. For the purposes of this section, inhumane treatment of aquarium life includes:

1) Intentionally or knowingly withholding food from aquarium life for more than twenty- four hours;

2) Transporting or causing to be transported within the County aquarium life in less than one gallon of water per each aquarium life with intent to move the aquarium life outside of the County; or

3) Intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently carrying or causing to be carried in or upon any vehicle or other conveyance aquarium life within the County in a manner that is likely to result in the injury or death of the aquarium life.

c) This section shall not apply:

1) To any person exercising those rights customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural, and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua' a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, as protected by article XII, section 7, of the Hawai` i State Constitution;

2) To any government or nonprofit agency that specializes in the holding of aquarium life in a state of captivity within the County for education or scientific study, provided that the educational activity or scientific study shall not involve the sale of aquarium life; or

3) To any person possessing aquarium life for the purpose of transit through any port or airport within the County, provided that the aquarium life remains within the boundaries of the airport or port at all times while in the County.

d) Any person convicted of a violation of this section shall be guilty of a petty misdemeanor and shall be subject to a fine of not more than $ 1, 000, or imprisoned of not more than thirty days, or both.

e) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit lawful fishing, including the lawful harvesting of aquatic life to be used for bait for fishing, for human consumption, or for sale for human consumption."

Emily Munday's Testimony‏
November 17, 2012
Re: Testimony in Opposition to Bill 318
Aloha County Council Members,
I am writing in opposition to Bill 318 regarding the treatment of aquarium life.
For my master’s research at Washington State University, I studied the West Hawaii aquarium trade from 2010-2012. Part of my study focused on holding and transport of live yellow tang in the West Hawaii aquarium trade.

My research on fish holding and transport indicated that the practices implemented by Hawaiian fish exporters do not cause mortality in yellow tang. In June of 2012, I collaborated with fishers and exporters in Kona, and caught 60 yellow tang from the reef, held them in a working export facility, and shipped them from Kona, HI to Portland, OR. The fish were then transported to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR where they resided for 6 months. My study shows 100% survival rate of these tangs during collection, holding in the export facility, air transport, and after a 6-month holding period. In fact, the fish have now become part of an exhibit at the Hatfield Marine Science Center about sustainability in the aquarium trade and I have received no reports of mortality after 2.5 years.

In addition, I now would like to specifically address Sections 4b1 and 4b2:

Section 4b1 would prohibit the withholding of food from aquarium life for 24h. In my study, fish were withheld food for 96h in the export facility, and an additional 35h during transport. Withholding food serves a very important purpose for fish transport. Withholding food prevents fish from fouling their bags. If they are unable to “clean out” their system prior to transport, they will foul their bags, creating a buildup of ammonia, which is toxic to fish. Therefore, withholding food is a best practice to be used prior to shipping fish and any regulation prohibiting food withholding is uninformed and would be detrimental to fish health.

Section 4b2 would prohibit transport of fish in less than one gallon of water. In my study, aquarium exporters used the standard volume of water to transport the tang, and discussed above, no mortality occurred. The requirement of a gallon of water for fish transport is unnecessary and unfounded.

I would like to speak to the sustainability of the Hawaii aquarium trade. The exhibit I helped create at the Hatfield explains the practices of the Hawaii aquarium trade, and how Hawaii’s trade differs from other areas of the world. If we take a global perspective, Bill 318 is damaging to the ocean. This is because the demand for aquarium fish is not decreasing, and such a bill would simply shift the demand for aquarium fish from Hawaii where they are collected using nondestructive methods, to places like the Philippines where fishers regularly use cyanide to stun and capture fish and have a tremendously negative impact on reefs there. Though this might seem like just a local or state issue, the reality is that the aquarium trade is a global trade and Hawaii contributes a sustainably sourced product to aquarium fish hobbyists.

Thank you for hearing my testimony.
Emily S. Munday, M.S.

Walsh Testimony
<And Bill's here. B>
Aloha County Council Members,

My name is Dr. William Walsh and I am submitting testimony in opposition to Bill 318 relating to the treatment of aquarium life which is scheduled for hearing by the Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability on Nov. 18, 2014.

In my capacity as the West Hawai’i Aquatic Biologist for the Division of Aquatic Resources I have been involved in the management and biological monitoring of the West Hawai’i aquarium fishery for over 15 years. While this bill may be well intended in terms of reducing mortalities in the aquarium fishery it actuality is neither necessary nor will it be beneficial. In all likelihood it would prove detrimental to the treatment of aquarium life.

There are no studies, reports or empirical evidence indicating that current shipping practices in the Hawai’i aquarium industry are causing undue levels of shipping mortality. Two studies which have examined shipping mortality in Hawai’i (based on survey interviews) reported low levels of mortality ranging from 0.75-2% (Dierking, 2005) to 2-3% (van Poollen and Obara, 1984). In a 2012 study by Washington State University Graduate Student, Emily Munday, 60 Yellow Tang caught in West Hawai’i, held in an export facility, then shipped from Kona to Portland Oregon and subsequently held in captivity for nearly 6 months showed a 100% survival rate.

Scientific studies which have indeed found high levels of mortality among aquarium fishes have typically been conducted in remote areas with poor handling capabilities often involving the use of toxic collecting chemicals such as cyanide. That is clearly not the case in Hawai’i. As noted by a report from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) “Where organisms are collected, stored and handled by adequately trained individuals, and transported in suitable conditions, estimated levels of fish mortality have been as low as a few percent” (Wabnitz et al. 2002). All indications are that this is the case in Hawai’i.

I’ll leave it to others actually involved in handling and shipping aquarium fishes to point out why the provisions of this bill would actually harm fish being shipped. The key is relatively simple; keeping the shipping water unfouled and well oxygenated – not a specific volume and certainly not requiring that the fish be fed before shipping.

In conclusion I would like to share with you some of the results of our latest monitoring efforts as they relate to the issue at hand. Two species, the Yellow Tang and Kole make up over 93% of all aquarium fish caught in West Hawai’i. Since the no-aquarium collecting Fish Replenishment Areas (FRAs) were established in 1999 (protecting 35% of the coastline), the numbers of Yellow Tang have increased in the FRAs by almost 65% while not significantly decreasing in the remaining Open Areas. In the 30’-60’ depth range alone, the numbers of Yellow Tang in West Hawai’i have increased by 1.3 million fish. Similarly Kole populations have increased not only in the FRAs (by 24%) but also in the Open Areas as well (by 28%). Kole populations in the same depth range have increased by over 2 million fish! Clearly resource management efforts are working in West Hawai’i.
Mahalo for your attention and I look forward to your continuing support.

Dierking, J. 2002. Socio-Economic study of the aquarium fish industry in West Hawaii. Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting (CEEC). 20 pp.
Poollen, W.H. van, and Obara, A.M (1984). Hawaii’s marine aquarium fish industry profile.
Studies on Marine Economics No. 3. Sea Ocean Resources Office Contribution No.
14. Grant College Program, State of Hawaii, Department of Planning and Economic

Wabnitz, C., Taylor, M., Green, E. and T Razak. 2003. From Ocean to Aquarium- The global trade in marine ornamental species. UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Center, Cambridge, UK. 64 pp

Final Testimony from AZA on Hawai'i County Bill 318
Dave- Here’s the testimony Dr. Carlson presented.
Final Testimony from AZA on Hawai'i County Bill 318
Just submitted by AZA. I will deliver this testimony tomorrow.

8403 Colesville Road, Suite 710

Silver Spring, MD 20910-3314

301-562-0777 tel  301-562-0888 fax










November 17, 2014

Dear Honorable Members of the Hawai’i County Council: 

On behalf of the 228 accredited member institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), I would like to take this opportunity to express our serious concerns regarding County of Hawai’i Bill 318 that would purportedly improve the welfare of aquarium life within Hawai’i County by prohibiting appropriate fasting for transported animals and establishing an arbitrary minimum water volume for transport purposes.  We respectfully submit that if this bill were to pass, it would become impossible to ship fish and aquatic invertebrates in a safe and humane manner and thus, greatly impact the ability of accredited aquariums and zoos to educate and inspire millions of visitors with compelling exhibits that showcase the natural beauty of marine life and habitats, including coral reefs and coral reef fishes. 

AZA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of accredited zoos and aquariums in the areas of animal care and husbandry, conservation, education, science and recreation.  With over 185 million visitors to 228 accredited zoos and aquariums, AZA’s focus on connecting people and animals provides a critical link to helping animals in their native habitats.

AZA zoos and aquariums are committed to conserving the world’s oceans for future generations of Americans and people around the globe. We do this by educating our audiences about issues related to ocean health, and encourage them to join us in reducing threats to fragile ocean ecosystems and wildlife. This is very important as a recent National Research Council study found that people learn as much as 90% of their science in informal settings such as accredited zoos and aquariums.  We strongly believe that our message of respect, wonder and appreciation of the natural world contributes significantly to coral reef conservation and management.  

There are very few fish species that cannot be safely fasted.  For nearly all species, a two or more day fast is routinely done to clear the gut of food so the transport bag will not be fouled.  Fouling leads to toxic levels of ammonia, and reduced concentrations of oxygen.  Furthermore, non-fasted fishes have higher oxygen demands thus exacerbating the problem.  The provisions of this bill will not improve the standards for animal welfare; rather they will have the opposite effect leading to higher rates of mortality. 

Regarding the minimum water volume requirement, there are no published reports or scientific studies that we are aware of that support the proposed one-gallon per each “aquarium life” standard as specified in the bill.  This is an arbitrary and capricious “standard” which appears to be designed solely to eliminate all wild fish collections in the County.  If animal welfare is the true intent of this bill, it would be extended to cover the welfare of aquacultured aquarium life.  Those animals will continue to be shipped using recognized industry standards including fasting and appropriate water volumes for each species.  Passage of this legislation, will not only limit a fully sustainable trade, but would prevent the normal and ethical transport between zoological facilities under the best standards of practical care….including Hawaii-based zoos, aquariums and research institutions.  

The AZA community views itself as potential partners with the State of Hawai’i and its counties. We have the well-documented ability to speak to hundreds of millions of visitors annually about marine conservation needs. AZA accredited institutions agree that a common-sense regulatory approach that governs the humane take, the humane after-capture husbandry and humane and ethical transport of coral reef species in a fully sustainable manner, is a positive step in enhancing the coral reef fishery populations throughout the State. It is also important that legislation affecting this industry follow the best-methods standards established over decades of proven techniques and research.


Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on these important decisions. 




Steven G. Olson                                             Bruce Carlson

Vice President, Federal Relations                  Director Emeritus

Association of Zoos and Aquariums               Waikiki Aquarium

Robert (Bob) Fenner's input re Bill 318 provisions‏
December 19, 2014
Re Bill 318

Aloha County Council Members,

I am writing in opposition to Bill 318 regarding two elements concerning treatment of aquarium life.

I am a long-time investigator, academic and writer on issues of natural history, and use of native aquatic life. I am the author of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, as well as more than a dozen other printed works on aquatic life, and several hundred articles in the field. My position paper on live yellow tang use in the West Hawaii aquarium trade can be found archived on my site: http://wetwebmedia.com/YTangUpdateArt.htm

My involvement in the ornamental marine trade spans the last fifty some years, mostly here in the USA. Further, I have owned properties in West Hawaii, and been involved in observing collecting, holding and shipping practices of fishes and invertebrates here.

The points I would like to specifically address are Sections 4b1 and 4b2 of Bill 318:

Section 4b1: It is a well-established world-wide practice to "clean out" livestock to be shipped a few days ahead of its bagging and transport. This practice greatly increases the preservation of health of aquatic livestock that otherwise is greatly stressed by the addition of noxious metabolites (principally their primary excretory product ammonia). The number one cause of loss of captive aquatics through all history is actually this "metabolite build-up". As stated, all aquatic biota produce ammonia, continuously, with more being present with increased feeding and subsequent wastes in the bag. Feeding fishes and invertebrates so soon (a day prior) to their shipment results in much higher incidental mortality; hence, the universal technique of ceasing feeding for a few days ahead, especially with fishes like Tangs (Acanthuroids) that produce copious amounts of wastes due to their mostly algal and aufwuchs diet.

Section 4b2 Calls for shipping fishes in not less than one gallon of water. This practice is not only unwarranted; as again, the trade and science have determined that less water, using the space in the bag for more oxygen), is the best practice for assuring health in transit. More water not only introduces higher transport cost per fish, but gives the animals too much space to move about during transport. I urge you to read re the natural history of these fishes; at night time they "lay down" in nooks, crannies changing color a bit... to avoid predators. Similarly, livestock is purposely bagged, boxed in Styrofoam and cardboard boxes and taped shut for thermal insulation as well as to induce the "sleep phase" behavior. More water and room sloshing about will only damage this life in transit.

If you would like my input on these or other ornamental aquatics, fisheries issues, I will gladly consult as an independent fisheries biologist.
Robert (Bob) Fenner
858 397 XXXX

Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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