Rainy Side View: It’s time to abolish aquariums

Now that quarantine restrictions are lifting, it’s time to return to the world.

My guess is you are as tired of reading, as I am of writing, about the pandemic. Besides, it’ll be with us for a while, so for those obsessed, don’t worry. It will pop up again.

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But for now, how about we turn to … fish! My favorite creatures to eat, watch, wear. I have an impressive collection of fish pins in ceramic, wood, plastic, origami, and when I was working, I wore them — one if I was being conservative, five if I was feeling extravagant.

On campus where I taught, I was the “fish teacher,” but as my knowledge and collections are confined to Hawaiian fishes, the only question about North American fish I could answer was: Where do Copper River salmon come from? Which is like asking: Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?

But I couldn’t respond to other inquiries such as: What is steelhead, and where do we go for the best trout fishing? Dunno, but I can teach you to pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, and once you’ve mastered that, we’ll proceed to lauwiliwilinukunuku‘oe‘oe. This should keep inquiring minds and mouths busy for an entire semester.

My kids know that for Christmas, birthdays and Mother’s Day, they can get me anything fishy, so in addition to jewelry, I also have fish plaques, fish prints, fish plates. You name it, I have it.

You could say I have a special affinity for fish, and once retired and back on the island, I became aware of other fish fans bemoaning a depletion of reef fishes.

So I drove to Napo‘opo‘o on Kealakekua Bay, where in childhood, I spent occasional weekends with cousins. One of the pleasures from those memorable days was gazing into the pristine waters off the wharf to watch jostling masses of vibrant reef fish.

But on this recent visit, the viewing was sparse. Where have all the fishies gone? Is this what my fish friends are lamenting?

I am aware of the industry that collects colorful reef fish for aquariums. I recall that in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room in Seattle, I could watch familiar fishes from my part of the world, swimming round and around miniature castles and neon coral in their watery confinement. You’d think I’d be happy to see them, but I wasn’t, convinced they were going bonkers in a small tank with bug-eyed humans tapping on the glass. I was always surprised that I didn’t see yellow and blue tang twitching on the carpet in their attempts to flee.

It’s one thing to snorkel and follow fishes around in their natural habitat but quite another to imprison them in glass cages for our enjoyment.

In fact, I’m opposed to using animals for any kind of entertainment. But before I veer off to condemn the training of elephants for circuses and dogs for Vegas shows, let me just stick to protesting the gathering of fish for purposes other than food.

We can hope that fish brokers will find another trade, but how about we step back to take a wider view: aquariums. Big or small, why do we need them?

Nowadays, if we want to stay dry while watching fish dart in and out of coral caves, we can simply Google them on our iPhones.

Aquariums are so 20th century, and perhaps it’s time to banish them from the planet. If fish poachers have no customers, then maybe we’ll see fishes return to places like Kealakekua Bay.

The abolishment of aquariums. There’s a noble crusade.

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Hope you’ll be joining me.

Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. She welcomes your comments at rainysideview@gmail.com. Her column appears every other Monday.

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