Reef fishermen are responding to the scuba diving scuffle - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Reef fishermen are responding to the scuba diving scuffle caught on tape

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KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The fate of the aquarium fish industry is on the line and the fisherman say they are scared of what's ahead.

The open ocean has become quite tight after aquarium fisherman Jay Lovell was caught on camera ripping the regulator out of the mouth of an environmentalist who was recording him about 50 feet underwater.

"I know my brother was very scared and he was panicking. He didn't know what they were doing to his boat up above. There were six or eight people," said Jim Lovell, Jay Lovell's brother.

Jim Lovell has been reef fishing for 35 years. He says he's been harassed by people he calls eco-terrorists who have prevented him from working and called his home.

"My ten year old was eight when she listened to the recording that said daddy is a rapist, you're a f------ reef rapist. I shouldn't have to tell an eight year old girl let alone my daughter what a rapist is," said Lovell.

He fears the Sea Shepherd environmentalists and so do other fishermen in West Hawaii.

"People are afraid, they're very afraid for their boats, they're afraid for their lives in some cases because of the reputation Sea Shepherd has," said Bob Hajek, Big Island Association of Aquarium Fishermen, which he says has about 30 members, 25 of whom are active collectors.

Rene Umberger, the woman attacked in the video, maintains she did nothing wrong. She says she was in the water six minutes and didn't get any closer to the Lovell than about 30 feet. Still she may face harassment charges.

The situation may escalate. Some reef fisherman said they planned to carry bang sticks and defend themselves even though they have been the first to get physical.

Hajek says he met with a group of reef fishermen Tuesday night and is trying to keep tensions from boiling over.

"We told people anyone who had that idea, we told them that is not the way to go and it isn't the way to go but there are a lot of people coming from different angles on ways to handle this," said Hajek. "Remain calm, don't engage the Sea Shepherd people."

"We're scared. This is going to escalate and I don't want anyone, no one wants anyone to get hurt, but I need to survive and make it home to my wife and daughters and I need to get home safe," said Jim Lovell.

The main tool the fishermen plan to get is their own underwater cameras, to show their side of any future confrontations.

"We would like to just see some separation so that we can feel safe going out and doing our job and going to work in the morning," said Lovell.

That job of taking reef fish from the ocean and selling them to put in aquariums around the world is what some have a problem with. Both sides cite drastically different information to support their cause. The State says the industry is sustainable.

A representative from Governor Neil Abercrombie's office attended the meeting with the fishermen, although she says the administration is just observing the situation and has not taken a position.

Related Links:

Scuba diving assault caught on camera off Kona Coast

Conflict between environmentalists and reef fisherman runs deep

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