tus), Rectangular Triggers (Rhinecanthus rectangulus),
and some Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens).” A few
years later, now certified in SCUBA, he began setting his
sights on other species. “As we got better we began to
venture into deeper waters at Waianae. Waianae was,
and still is, known for its variety.” In addition to the
fishes already mentioned, he also started collecting Potter’s Angels, Longnose Butterflies, Teardrop Butterflies,
Naso Tangs, Achilles Tangs, and Red Lions.
Gradually, Yamaguchi started earning a more regular income from collecting fishes for the marine aquarium
trade. “I dove from shore, one tank a
day, two or three days a week,” he recalls.
“It was still part time, but once I began
using SCUBA gear, all the open-sea fish
were accessible.” In 1974, Yamaguchi
transitioned to selling fishes full-time,
and two years later he was able to save
up $1,000 for a 13-foot Boston Whaler.
“I would fish off this boat for almost 30
years,” he laughs. By 1981, nearly 85% of
the aquarium fishes collected in Hawaii
were being collected by Oahu’s fishers.
“Have you seen fewer fishes around
Oahu since you started collecting for the
marine aquarium trade?” I ask him.
World points out. “We’ve always done it right.” While
they acknowledge they legally have few restrictions on
their catch, they reiterate that the demand itself regulates
the trade. “We deal in about 100 species, and most are
collected to order. “We seldom hold fish for any length
of time,” another says. They point out that even if there
was greater demand, it would be foolish to collect in an
unsustainable manner. “It’s like farming,” one fisher explains. “To be successful, we need to harvest year after
“Yes,” says Yamaguchi, “but I don’t
think it has to do with the collectors.
Especially here on Oahu. The most significant event in my diving career was
Hurricane Iwa [in 1982],” he recalls.
“It hit the west side of Oahu especially
hard. Luxuriant Porites coral stands, which are needed
by Yellow Tangs, were 90% destroyed at Waianae. Live
Porites rubble piles, a major habitat for aquarium fish,
were scattered and buried in sand. To this day, the large
rubble piles remain dispersed and will most likely not
return in my lifetime.”
In reality, Hurricane Iwa added insult to injury for
the aquarium collectors, who were already feeling the
pressure from the combined forces of recession and skyrocketing oil prices. “As if all this wasn’t enough,” Yamaguchi adds, “Hurricane Iniki came along in the early ’90s
and devastated what Iwa missed.” Today, the Oahu fishery accounts for fewer than half of the Hawaiian animals
collected, although Oahu is still central to the trade in
terms of imports from other Indo-Pacific island nations.
As such, the marine aquarium trade in Hawaii plays an
important role in sustainable socioeconomic growth in
developing island nations.
“This has always been a quality fishery,” one of the
fishers gathered around the table at Wayne’s Ocean
the first bay designated as a Marine Protection area and an
important site for ancient Hawaiian islanders. once overfished
for aquarium and food species, the reef here has seen its fish
populations rebound impressively.
year, and it would be foolish to over-harvest one year
and then have nothing left in the future.” Nonetheless
they concede more regulation would make the fishery
easier to defend against accusations of unsustainability, although they disagree on exactly what regulations
would be appropriate.
Disagreement among fishers as to how the fisher
community should respond to critics and work with
state officials has been a consistent problem and has
probably exacerbated the tension between pro-trade
and anti-trade forces. To complicate matters, the two
largest fisheries in Hawaii—Oahu and Big Island—are
radically different in many respects. It is unlikely that
a one-size-fits-all management plan will work for both
islands. “In Oahu, we don’t have a lot of conflict with