What? Canned cat food on the reef?! We came upon this diving one morning at Kahe Point recently. Obviously it had been used to attract fish – perhaps by spear fisherman. Despite increased public awareness against feeding, we also still frequently see tour group operators attracting fish by feeding, especially at Kahe Point and Makai Pier. Just look online too and you’ll see countless vacation pictures and videos of otherwise well-meaning tourists feeding pet food, hot dogs, baloney, peas, potatoes, bread, and cheez whiz to reef fishes.
Feeding fish is detrimental to the environment and people alike! To begin with, reef fishes have complex dietary requirements. Most are unable to properly digest our handouts and they can be fatal to them. Ecologically, feeding disrupts natural foraging patterns, alters behaviors and distributions, and increases susceptibility to predation. If normal foraging patterns cease, fish can become malnourished, stressed, or even die. Competition for handouts can interfere with natural instincts and behaviors for survival and cohabitation with other species, leading to increased risk of predation. As fish swarm for a handout, species that normally do not interact are drawn away from their natural habitats to compete for food. Feeding can cause a reduction in grazing by herbivorous fishes as well as increase nutrients in the water, putting corals at increased risk from algal overgrowth. Feeding can also lead to decreased wariness of humans, posing an increased danger to people from fish bites even when there is no food in the water. This is especially worrisome for sharks, which in contrast to most reef fishes, have large home ranges and cover much greater distances in their daily search for food. Fish accustomed to feeding tend to rush out looking for a handout and often act aggressively. Before the 1999 ban on fish feeding at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, several large herbivores that thrived on the artificial food supply, including nenue (rudder fish) and pualu (surgeonfish), came to dominate the inshore reef. These fishes are normally found further out and normally do not bite people, but they had become conditioned to aggressively compete for handouts. As a result, not only was the ecology of the reef disturbed, but lifeguards were treating 4-5 visitors a day for fish bites.
Presently on Oahu, fish feeding is banned only in Hanauma Bay, and it is unlawful to conduct any activity related to the feeding of sharks in state waters (except for traditional Hawaiian cultural or religious practices, provided the feeding is not part of a commercial activity). One group actively educating local businesses and visitors about the dangers of fish feeding is the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). Through their “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign they have been effective, especially on Maui, in getting Hawaii businesses to exemplify sustainable behavior by not allowing or encouraging guests to feed fish while on tours.
So please don’t feed the fish, support fish-friendly establishments displaying the CORAL decal, and help educate our well-meaning tourists if you happen to see them feeding our fish!
Alevizon, B. 2000. A case for regulation of the feeding of fishes and other marine wildlife by divers and snorkelers. http://ebookbrowse.com/a-case-for-regulation-of-the-feeding-of-fishes-and-other-marine-wildlife-by-divers-and-snorkelers-doc-d126672607
Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources: http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/admin_rules.html
CORAL: Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding Campaign: http://www.coral.org/fishfriendly
Orams, M.B. 2002. Feeding wildlife as a tourism attraction: a review of issues and impacts. Tourism Management. 23(3): 281–293. http://ckwri.tamuk.edu/fileadmin/user_upload/PHOTOS/Deer-Research_Program/Class_files/Feeding_wildlife_as_a_tourism_attraction_a_review_Orams.pdf
Roberts, D. 2006. Marine fish feeding: why the FWC thinks it’s bad for everyone. Florida Fishing Weekly. http://myfwc.com/research/about/outreach/science-behind-management/marine-fish-feeding/