About the Film
The Hawaiian Islands host many exotic fish species, and several now verge on extinction. Generational families and tourists agree, fish populations are a mere vestige, where only recently there were vast schools.
The Hawaii aquarium trade has been taking reef fish for U.S. and global hobby tanks for decades. With no catch limits, no limit on the number of catchers, and no constraints on rare, endemic or vanishing species, the aquarium trade is decimating Hawaii reefs. The reported annual aquarium extraction is about $2 million, though the actual catch includes poaching and is two-to-five times higher, according to Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources.
Reef-based tourism generates $800 million in Hawaii annually. The state of Hawaii calls aquarium collecting, “our most lucrative near shore fishery,” even as nearly all Hawaii residents want aquarium collecting banned.
Resistance is fierce from the multi-billion dollar trade on the mainland, in Europe and in Asia. The trade depends on wildlife, including Hawaii’s, to drive lucrative hardware sales—tanks, stands, lights, filters, pumps and little plastic treasure chests with skeletons.
The Dark Hobby is an entertaining expose on this crisis. At any given moment, 28 million fish are in the aquarium trade pipeline from point of capture to home hobbyist tanks—give or take a million or two, they represent over 1800 species, and less than 40, are capable of being bred in captivity. 99% will die within a year of capture, generating even more demand.
The Dark Hobby takes place in Hawaii. Sadly, aquarium trade collecting and shipping methods are geared to economy, not survival. Reef systems in poorer countries suffer from cyanide use, a poison that stuns fish for easy capture but leads to the early death of fish and reefs. “Net caught” reef wildlife, including Hawaii’s, also suffers stunning mortality with swim bladder piercing at capture, fin cutting for shipment and starvation in transit.
Much reef wildlife arrives at aquarium retailers dead or dying. These same fish live to forty years on a reef. Hawaii’s most colorful reef wildlife fetch $3- $4 each in Hawaii, but retail on the mainland for $40-$150. Tank hardware often runs to thousands of dollars, so ecology becomes incidental to profit. As fish populations diminish, reefs are unbalanced, resulting in algae overgrowth and parasite loading. The food chain is disrupted, with a vital link gone.
Robert Wintner lives on Maui and is a wildlife conservationist focused on reef recovery, beginning with a ban on aquarium collecting. As owner of Snorkel Bob’s shops across Hawaii, his most frequently asked question is, “Where are all the fish?” Snorkel Bob is unbridled and is known for rapier wit. Among his commercial ploys are dressing in drag and marrying his cat. Robert’s stories of fish society and gill-breather engagement make him something other than crazy and reflect his fishy contact.
Rene Umberger works full time to protect these fish and their habitat on the Islands in a non-stop struggle against commercial and political exploitation.
The world is now acutely aware that wildlife is under pressure. The devastation to ocean species is being revealed but hope prevails. While our understanding of marine creatures gains momentum, aquarium extraction continues to ravage reefs worldwide, endangering the very existence of many species, taking them and us a big step closer to a sad end. Yet we hark to an equally simple solution—to redemption and a brand new day.
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