VIDEO: Diver Attacked While Filming Reef Fish Collector

May 13, 2014, 3:15 PM HST · Updated May 13, 3:23 PM
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By Wendy Osher

A Maui woman who heads a non-profit group aimed at banning the aquarium trade was reportedly attacked while documenting another diver collecting reef fish off the Kona Coast last week.

Rene Umberger from the environmental group, For the Fishes, was documenting an aquarium trade wildlife collection operation as part of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Operation Reef Defense on Thursday, May 8, when a diver with the operation pulled the air regulator from her mouth at 50 feet below the surface.

Diver has air supply pulled 50 feet below the surface, image courtesy Sea Shepherd.

Diver has air supply pulled 50 feet below the surface, image courtesy Sea Shepherd.

The incident is captured on video provided by Sea Shepherd, a non-profit conservation organization, and shows just how heated the argument has become over the collection of reef species for sale.

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Umberger was able to get her regulator back into her mouth for air, but Sea Shepherd issued a statement saying the incident could have been deadly for a less experienced diver.

According to a statement issued by Sea Shepherd, Umberger was filming when she came across two other divers “poking coral and collecting fish.”

As the Sea Shepherd divers filmed from a distance, the statement said, “one of the collectors noticed the camera from afar and quickly rushed diver Rene Umberger without warning and pulled the air regulator from her mouth. This device is what provides oxygen from a diver’s air tank, and forcibly removing it from a diver’s mouth can become deadly in a matter of seconds.”

Diver has air supply pulled 50 feet below the surface, image courtesy Sea Shepherd.

Diver has air supply pulled 50 feet below the surface, image courtesy Sea Shepherd.

“Fortunately, Rene was able to put her air regulator back in place, despite some damage that was done to it, and the divers continued to document the incident,” the statement said.

According to Sea Shepherd representatives, the fish collector could be seen on the video making threatening gestures after the incident.

“This violent assault is nothing short of attempted murder. The fish trafficker responsible should be charged and held responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” said Sea Shepherd USA administrative director, Susan Hartland in a press release.

Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson, said the organization is “committed to exposing the destruction caused by the lucrative global aquarium trade.”

The Maui-based group, For the Fishes, claims the industry had led to a drastic decline in the populations of reef fish in unprotected areas, has caused coral reef degradation, and depleted populations of some species.

According to a Hawaii News Now report, the collection of reef fish is legal if a diver has proper permits and abides by regulations set forth by the state. The incident is reportedly under investigation.

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