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Roi Round-up a conservation movement started by fishermen

Viewpoint

The July 4 Maui News article, “Roi, the misunderstood fish,” highlighted a recent discussion hosted via Zoom by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council as part of their monthly speaker series, “Know Your Ocean.” Guest speakers, Alan Friedlander and Russell Sparks, aimed to dispel the myth that roi, a grouper species introduced to Hawaii in the 1950s by the State of Hawaii, is a threat to island marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, a valuable opportunity was missed to include the fisherman’s perspective, particularly from those who have organized the Roi Round-up events that they referred to during their discussion.

The Maui Roi Round-up started in 2008 and was the catalyst for statewide efforts to control roi and minimize the number of prey they are believed to consume, about 146 fish each per year. To put this into perspective, if 100 roi are removed at one Roi Round-up event, spearfishers have potentially prevented nearly 15,000 fish from being eaten by roi in the ensuing year. This figure was determined by scientists, which motivated hundreds of spearfishers to join the Roi Round-up effort over the past 12 years. This event fast became a movement for conservation, mobilizing fishermen, educators, business owners, and the general community to come together to protect our ocean and the many resources it provides, including food. People who never fished a day in their lives became interested in the Roi Round-up effort and wanted to get involved.

Since its first event, the Maui Roi Round-up promoted a holistic view, inviting several marine conservation groups to participate and provide education about the various causes of species decline, not just the invasive roi, to spur interest and action from fishermen to help take better care of our reefs. The Maui Roi Round-up opened the door to the State of Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources, the University of Hawaii and others to participate in the events so that fish samples could be taken to conduct research and collect ciguatera, a neurotoxin sometimes found in roi. Fish that were not taken by scientists were either donated to the Maui Ocean Center to be used as food for the sharks or to local farmers who valued the fish as fertilizer. Fishermen, not scientists, worked to open all of these doors to our community to raise awareness about our declining reefs.

The scientific study referred to by Friedlander and Sparks features just one small area of the island chain, studied for a short period of five years. However, observations over a 10-year timeframe noted by fishermen in another area, Olowalu, yielded vastly different and more positive results.

Although science is valuable, big questions cannot always be answered with a single study. We agree with scientists that roi is not the only cause of the decline in nearshore fish populations, but we do believe that an introduced, invasive fish should not be left unchecked to freely prey upon native species. Roi Round-up is a conservation movement started by fishermen for the health of our reefs. There has never been a precedence for this in the history of our state and its effectiveness remains unmatched. Roi Round-up spearfishers and supporters continue their efforts to control invasive roi today, on their own or as part of an organized event. Science is an important part of protecting our ocean resources, but it should never dismiss the value of the generational knowledge our local fishermen offer.

* Kuhea Asiu is a conservationist, environmental educator and co-organizer of the Maui Roi Round-up. Darrell Tanaka and Brian Yoshikawa are co-organizers of the Maui Roi Round-up and both contributed to this viewpoint. Yoshikawa is a lifelong fisherman and owner of Maui Sporting Goods. Tanaka is a fishermen’s advocate and conservation activist.

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