LAHAINA - It was a fishing tournament with an environmental twist providing a $10,000 benefit for a longtime spear fisherman, Sean "Stody" Stodelle, diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The "Roi Roundup" held Nov. 9 drew 80 divers from Maui and Oahu to waters off Lahaina. They targeted three invasive reef fish - roi, toau and taape, which were introduced to Hawaiian waters in the 1950s. The goal was to reduce the population of introduced predators as a way of protecting indigenous reef fish. The tournament was held as part of International Year of the Reef activities.
Of particular concern is the roi, also known as the blue-spotted grouper, a voracious predator that grows up to 16 inches long and is estimated to eat an average of 146 fish a year. The roundup hauled in 218 roi, which tournament organizers reason saved more than 31,000 reef fish.
COUNTY OF MAUI photo
Fishermen Troy Baker-Sato (from left), John Frostad, John Riglos and Jeremiah Hogan display their haul of invasive reef fish caught during the “Roi Roundup” spearfishing tournament held last month in Lahaina.
Toau and taape, both in the snapper family, feed on young reef fish as well as compete for the crustaceans favored by reef fish such as weke and kumu. Taape, which can form large schools, have displaced other nearshore fishes more popular as food fish.
The tournament was supported by the Maui County and the Office of the Mayor. Other sponsors were Maui Sporting Goods and the Hard Rock Cafe in Lahaina.
"This tournament brought together many from our community who care about the health of our islands' reefs," said Mayor Charmaine Tavares. "Divers, businesses and agencies all played a role in this important event, which was one of the major highlights of this year's IYOR festivities. As more people learn about the destructive forces of invasive species on our reefs, more can be done as we work together to control them."
Tournament coordinator Brian Yoshikawa of Maui Sporting Goods said the days of tournaments with no limits or regard for resource laws were over, in favor of competitions that are purposeful and nondetrimental to the reef or to the ability of future generations to harvest fish to feed their families.
Darrell Tanaka, another coordinator of the fishing tournament and a lifelong fisherman, said the event's conservation twist was a novel idea.
"As a spearfisher, I find this concept of killing fish to save fish rather unique," he said. "We are the only ones that have the ability to help the reefs in this way, so as divers we need to put our abilities to good use."
Several state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers from Maui were on hand to support the event as well.
Enforcement officers Nalu Yen and Nathan Hillen participated in the tournament, while several others assisted with crowd control and checking in the divers with the catches.
"It was a great event, and I am so pleased that our staff was willing to participate in such a worthy cause to protect our coral reefs on their day off," said Randy Awo, the division's Maui branch chief. "Our officers also wanted to be there to support Sean and encourage him to keep fighting to overcome the cancer."
Stodelle, who was diagnosed with brain cancer two months ago, has become well known as a reef conservationist. He promotes diving safety through the Hawaii Skin Diver's Web site.
The Hard Rock Cafe provided support for last month's tournament by serving a continental breakfast for the divers, lunchtime entertainment by Leokane Pryor and Friends and other complimentary or discounted menu items. Dozens of businesses also donated prizes for the event.
A similar invasive species fishing tournament held earlier this year also focused on roi, toau and taape and drew approximately 54 divers. Money raised during that event supported Team Hawaii, a group of three divers who represented Hawaii in the U.S. Spearfishing Championships in Rhode Island in August.
For more information on the International Year of the Reef, visit www.iyor.org or call County of Maui Environmental Coordinator Kuhea Paracuelles at 242-1180, ext. 22.