HONOLULU, Hawaii – During a Wednesday House Committee hearing on Oahu, Rene Umberger recalled the story of an underwater altercation between herself and a reef fish collector she was filming in the waters off Kona that made national headlines last year.
The video, which is said to show fisherman Jay Lovell swimming towards Umberger and allegedly ripping the breathing regulator out of her mouth, went viral in May 2014. Umberger managed to survive the incident, and now Lovell faces charges of terroristic threatening.
Umberger went before the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources, & Hawaiian Affairs in order to oppose HB511, prohibiting the harassment of persons who are marine fishing and aquarium fishing. The bill garnered heavy testimony, for and against. The aquarium fish collectors say Umberger and organizations like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society terrorize fishermen with their tactics out on the water.
Umberger also submitted written testimony:
Aloha Honorable Chair Ing, Vice-Chair Lowen, and Committee Members,
My name is Rene Umberger and as the founder of For the Fishes and co-founder of the Reef Rescue Alliance, I’m testifying in opposition to HB511. Harassment laws already exist in Hawaii and apply equally on land and water. Under HRS 711-1106 illegal harassment is described in a number of ways, and includes striking, shoving or kicking a person with intent to harass, and challenging or taunting in a manner likely to provoke an immediate violent response. Harassment is a petty misdemeanor, which is a crime. HB511 would essentially criminalize affecting the behavior of fish. HB511 would effectively serve to block public scrutiny of the aquarium trade’s destructive and illegal activities. It’s no wonder trade members have began lobbying for this bill. They are well aware that photo and video documentation of their activities by swimmers, snorkelers and divers has determined that crimes were being committed. Investigations for coral destruction, poaching and more have resulted. I urge you to hold HB511 because it is unnecessary and amounts to state sanctioned censorship.
Mahalo, Rene Umberger.