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How can you possibly win this argument?

By Leonard Ho - Posted Nov 21, 2014 09:00 AM
Fish collection for the aquarium trade is a hotly debated topic right now in West Hawaii, where their county council is considering measures to regulate the aquarium trade - from bagging requirements to bans. They've accepted public commentaries. However, when you see such explicit disregard for science, where do we go from here?
How can you possibly win this argument?

Zebrasoma flavescens, the iconic Hawaiian fish

This week's West Hawaii Today article is truly depressing.  Why?  We witness an appalling barefaced rejection of science by the council in charge of determining the fate of the aquarium trade in West Hawaii.

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff:

“The science is one thing, but the fact that these are our public trust resources … I would support a ban too or a moratorium.  Until the state is ready to take some serious measures, all we can do is one little step.”

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter:

“I don’t want to hear about the scientific stuff, because I don’t believe we should be shipping our fish out.  These are our resources that people are taking for free. … What are we doing to our island?”

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille:

“I know it’s not just the aquarium trade (causing fish decline), but you’ve got to start somewhere."

If data shows Hawaiian fish decline, how about you start with coastal development?  Industrial and agricultural pollution?  Tourism operators?  Commercial and recreational fishing?  We have plenty of data to support the negative impacts on coral reefs by any of the aforementioned.  Alas, many on the council openly admit to not wanting to hear about the data.  Somehow building a new resort or golf course and virtually unregulated recreational fishing are above reproach, yet a handful of aquarium net collectors is public enemy number one.

Robert Whitner, founder of of the “Snorkel Bob” dive shops, adds:

“Who owns the reef wildlife on the Big Island.  Does the economic benefit of a few trump reef health and the benefit of the community?”

Dear Bob, no one owns the reef wildlife on the Big Island.  Not aquarists.  Not tourism operators.  Not West Hawaiians. We are all stewards of our shared planet.  The real issue is whether collecting fish for the aquarium trade is sustainable ... whether we are being good stewards.  And that's why the data matters.  That's why the data is the ONLY thing that matters.

The anti-aquarium supporters' modus operandi is clear:

  • Dismiss the data and "poison the well" of experts that disagrees with you
  • Scapegoat the little guys
  • Appeal to emotion
  • Inject circular argument whenever the opportunity arises
  • Then proceed to substitute a scientific discussion with a popularity contest (the finest example of argumentum ad populum)

How are we suppose to have a reasonable and constructive debate with so much logical fallacy brazenly parading out in the open?  When policy-makers approach issues in this manner, there are no real winners.

Ret Tablot writes an excellent article about the data on Hawaii's fishery, which Advanced Aquarist strongly encourages everyone to read ... especially the West Hawaii County Council members.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.

Website: http://www.advancedaquarist.com.

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