Koloa Landing a no-take zone

  • photo submitted by Gordon LaBedz

    This photo shows the wording on the sign now posted at Koloa Landing, advising it’s been set up as a voluntary marine protected area.

  • Photo courtesy of Scott Bacon

    Some local divers say the number of Hawaiian dragon moray eels seen at Koloa Landing has diminished in recent years.

KOLOA — Kauai’s first voluntary marine protected area is now at Koloa Landing, meaning that divers and fishermen have agreed not to remove aquarium fish and eels from the reef.

And while some are hailing it as the first step toward preservation of the area, others say it’s unnecessary.

“The commitment is voluntary and there is no government enforcement,” said Scott Bacon, one of the organizers of the effort, in a news release to TGI.

He continued: “It is for the protection of the reef and the continued education of Kauai’s visitors.”

Now, below a sign dubbing the landing a voluntary marine protected area, is another sign reading:

“The ocean users of Koloa Landing have agreed to not take aquarium fish and eels from this area. We hope you respect this area and leave the aquarium fish, small coral reef fish and eels to swim freely for us to watch.”

The designation comes in the shadow of the state moratorium on commercial aquarium fishing permits. Recreational aquarium fishing doesn’t require a permit, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources.

That’s one of the reasons the designation is useless in the opinion of divers like Ron Tubbs, owner of the Hawaii saltwater aquarium fish company RT Distributors.

“Seems protected areas ­— from aquarium fishermen — do not matter at this point anyway, as all mesh nets are gone,” Tubbs said.

The Koloa Landing Voluntary Marine Protected Area was sparked in March 2016, when Tubbs allegedly took three dragon moray eels, two angelfish, two Achilles tangs, a leaf scorpionfish, a spotted coral blenny and two hermit crabs from Koloa Landing for commercial sale.

“These eels were a rare treat for divers to observe, and it sparked a call to a community meeting to discuss the issue of aquarium taking,” Bacon said in the release.

That meeting was held in the summer of 2017, and members of the fishing and diving community decided to post a sign declaring their agreement that there will be no taking of aquarium fish from the dive site.

That sign was posted earlier this month.

Preserving eels at Koloa Landing is another goal that Tubbs says he thinks is unnecessary, because he says the market isn’t there for the species anymore.

He has fished for moray eels before, and has been named as one of the aquarium fishermen who frequent Koloa Landing, but said the last two eels that he had took months to sell.

“Dragon (moray) eel prices have dropped and the demand is not even there,” Tubbs said. “Dozens of other locations have dragon eels — I know where some are on Oahu now and I won’t even go up and get them,” he said. “If I had one I could not sell it.”

In spite of the arguments against creating a voluntary marine protected area, a variety of fishermen, divers and conservationists jumped on board with the creation of Koloa Landing’s VMPA.

Surfrider Foundation’s Kauai Chapter was involved in the beginning, for instance, when divers and fishermen drummed up the idea to post a sign.

“Ecosystem health is based on all components being present,” said Carl Berg, senior science adviser for Surfrider Foundation’s Kauai Chapter. “You can’t take out one type of fish or eel without shifting the whole dynamic.”

  1. Lance Wagner November 14, 2017 7:17 am Reply

    I’m surprised that it wouldn’t have been mentioned that “I” was the one who suggested posting a sign. Being the sole tropical fish collector “resident” of Kauai taking fish from Koloa Landing was never an issue for me. Nearly 20 years of diving the shores of Kauai I’ve never once taken any fish from that area…. ever.

    1. Ron Tubbs November 16, 2017 11:35 am Reply

      Yes I agree leave the tourist areas to the tourists. One time I took a few eels out of the area for public use not for personal gain and I see others fish and spear fish there with little or no complaints. Even local tourist operations did not object but later some did due to one person making it a big deal. I voluntarily returned the eels back to Koloa the next day because of that right in front of the fish and game warden who was there at my request to prove I put them back. No laws were broken. It was and is not against the law still but I agreed as do others to leave fish and eels there. But because I keep them alive and do not eat them I am the bad guy. I support and always did support the tourist groups there. I am glad people to care so much about conservation but two dragon eels out of 20 one time will make no difference in populations. You will be lucky to see one or two on a dive but believe me they are there and when I dove there I also saw many babies there. Fish populations are low in the area due to the eel abundance. We as aquarium fish divers always keep sustainable and with most fish producing 1 million fry per year that is easy to do. I will gladly bring more eels to that location for the tourist free if there ever is a population issues. They are very common around Kauai and other Islands too. The biggest threat is fishing with hook. Eels die when wrapped up in fishing line and get strangled or caught and cut up for bait. I saw one there while diving that was dying due to fishing line around it head. I cut it loose but I am sure he died. Fishing with poles from shore is there biggest threat and should be the real concern if you are really concerned. Aquarium fishermen get a bad rap but we too really care and love fish too. I wish all to enjoy the wonders and beauty of Hawaii. Viewing one of those eels in a public place would have made thousands happy not just a few lucky divers. The key is to make all ocean user groups happy and if not taking fish from one area does that then great! The oceans belong to all and all users and fishermen need regulated sustainable access.

  2. andy November 14, 2017 12:41 pm Reply

    Really great news- now let’s extend it to the ENTIRE state. Does anyone really care what a fish destroyer like Mr. Tubbs says? Please, Mr. Tubbs, do the whole planet a favor and find another line of work!

  3. manongindashadow November 14, 2017 4:20 pm Reply

    Mr. Tubbs should be fined and spend some jail time. Those animal and fishes weren’t his to take and make money off it.

    1. Ron Tubbs November 16, 2017 11:48 am Reply

      Ocean law and the State Constitutions says the oceans belong to all not one or any one user group. Yes protect the fish populations and yes care about ocean issues. I plan to and support the idea of making it a preserve and will testify to legally close the area but dive shops there fear more regulations if it is a preserve it will limit there access. So voluntarily lets keep it fishing free. Run of in the area and pollution are the biggest concerns I saw while there. Please lets focus on the real ocean issues together for all ocean users. I love the ocean and love the fact you care so much to want to protect it. i dare you to step up all of you to make sure run off from farms and houses up stream do not contain pesticides, dirt and termite chemicals which are very dangerous to all ocean life. The corals in that area are being damaged by just that! Termite tenting chemicals are very fish toxic. Lets all work together to keep the tourist dive groups making money and the tourist happy! I will come over and spend time cleaning up for sure let me know.

  4. Honey-Girl November 14, 2017 6:57 pm Reply

    I don’t get it. So then, what’s next? Are we going to ask commercial local fishermen and divers to stop catching fish that we eat? Is it okay for human consumption but not human fish tank observation? Sounds like a group of zealous people on the south side want some sort of control over what people do for a business. Many people make their living off of what comes from the ocean be it close to shore or in the deeper waters. Don’t blame me, but someone is going to snatch that sign.

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