The Controversy

A few activists have been pushing for a ban on fish collection in Hawai’i since the 1970s. But the science and hard data show fish collection is sustainable. 

In fact, the leading critic of fish collection even acknowledged in 2017: “This year, the numbers [of reef fish] are just exceptional… It really is unlike anything anyone has ever seen.” See the video here

Simply put, sustainable management works. 

An important consideration is: What would happen if fish collection was banned? Then you would simply see fish collected in other parts of the world where there are fewer regulations to protect wildlife and reefs. In Hawaii, collectors must use nets because this tool has minimal impact. The same may not be true elsewhere.

In the words of Dr. Bruce Carlson, former head of Hawai’i’s Division of Aquatic Resources at the Department of Land and Natural Resources: 

“Hawaii has a well-managed, intensively studied, sustainable aquarium fishery–lauded as one of the best-managed coral reef fisheries in the world.”

Why Aquarium Collection Is Worth Preserving

There is plenty of data showing that aquarium fish collection is not harmful to fish populations or the reefs in which they live. But it’s worth exploring the many ways in which aquarium fish collection is a net benefit to Hawai’i and beyond.

Health Benefits

We know that aquariums look cool and can be fun to stare at, but if you don’t know better, you may think the benefits end there. But the benefits are much deeper than that.

Several studies have shown that aquariums can have lasting health benefits. A 2015 study published in Science and Behavior found strong evidence that aquariums can lower blood pressure and heart rates while boosting moods. This is one of many reasons aquariums are common in dentist offices and hospitals where patients may be experiencing anxiety before a procedure.

“The team found that viewing aquarium displays led to noticeable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate, and that higher numbers of fish helped to hold people’s attention for longer and improve their moods.”

This research has been further confirmed by a 2019 study published in PLOS. Those researchers noted, “The findings of this review provide tentative support that interacting with fish in aquariums may be beneficial for psychological and physiological well-being among humans.”

Aquariums have even been shown to benefit those suffering from severe illnesses, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Research published by Purdue University in 1999 noted that aquariums with brightly colored fish helped calm Alzheimer’s patients to help them focus on eating, a skill that wanes as the disease progresses.

“Nursing Professor Nancy Edwards tracked 60 individuals who resided in specialized Alzheimer’s units in three Indiana nursing homes. She found that patients who were exposed to the fish tanks appeared to be more relaxed and alert, and they ate up to 21 percent more food than they had before the introduction of the fish tanks. The average increase in food consumption was 17.2 percent.”

Fish are great pets for individuals who prefer calm, quiet, predictable companionship. Fish can also be classified as emotional support animals.

Environmental Benefits

It can be difficult to care about issues that you don’t see every day. And unless you live in Hawaii or other coastal areas, coral reefs and the animals who live in them can be difficult to consider. By seeing an aquarium, people are reminded of the importance of protecting coral reefs to ensure future generations can enjoy their wonder.

Many aquarium projects directly contribute funds to research and protect coral reefs. In 2018, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums reported spending approximately $25.1 million on research efforts that impacted nearly 600 species and subspecies.

The Reef Conservation Society, for example, has its Tanks in Schools program which places aquariums in classrooms to raise awareness while also using funds to maintain and protect reefs. The nation’s largest aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium, uses portions of its revenue to fund research and reef protection efforts. That way, people living near Georgia can see the fish and support the reefs without adding to Hawaii’s booming population of tourists.

Economic Benefits

Aquarium Fish Collection results in $3.2 million annually. While it is only a fraction when compared to Hawaii’s $100 million seafood fishing industry, it is still an important source of jobs and economic opportunity for Hawaii.