You may remember the incident which took place last year when a diver, who was apparently catching tropical reef fish in Hawaii, assaulted another diver who was trying to take his picture. The video, which is said to show fisherman Jay Lovell swimming towards Rene Umberger and allegedly ripping the breathing regulator out of her mouth, went viral in May 2014.
Finally, 9 months later, the court has ruled on the matter.
Jay Lovell, an aquarium fisherman of 30 years, received a deferred six-month prison sentence on one charge of second-degree terroristic threatening. He must also obtain an anger management assessment, per the terms of a plea agreement forged between the prosecutors and Lovell’s defense attorney. If Lovell stays out of trouble for one year, he will not have to serve the time and the incident can be expunged from his record.
Fish collecting is legal in certain areas of Hawaii, with a permit and subject to restrictions. Nevertheless, it is unpopular with conservationists. Rene Umberger is known in Hawaii for her years of advocacy against aquarium fish collection, even where the state has legalized the practice. This has put her at odds with local fishermen who rely on the aquarium industry for a living.
Umberger and five other divers with underwater cameras were filming Lovell harvesting fish in about 50 feet of water off the Kona coast when Lovell ripped the scuba regulator out of Umberger’s mouth, an act that was captured on video and received national attention. Last year, Umberger said she felt Lovell could have killed her by ripping off her regulator, because she was at a depth of about 50 feet (15 meters) and might have suffered an embolism if she had panicked and surfaced too quickly. Umberger is an experienced diver and was able to recover her regulator and return to the surface safely.
About a third of the West Hawaii coastline is protected under fish replenishment areas which were created 15 years ago. During this time, the aquarium favorite yellow tang increased by 64.5 percent in protected areas, according to a recent report to the Legislature by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Populations of the tang increased by 58 percent in waters from 30 to 60 feet deep all along the coastline, according to the same study.
The recorded annual aquarium fishing catch increased 22 percent since 2000, creating a $2.3 million industry in 2014.