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VIDEO: Feathers Ruffled
in Maui Reef Fish Demonstration

Updated 08:14 AM HST, December 29, 2011
Posted 03:48 PM HST, December 28, 2011

By Wendy Osher

Upwards of 30 protesters held signs along Dairy Road in Kahului today over a three hour period, in a demonstration against a nearby tenant for the sale of reef fish.

“Today we’re demonstrating against Petco,” said Rene Umberger, environmental enthusiast with forthefishes.org and organizer of today’s event.  “We learned last week that one of their baby yellow tangs had died,” a claim store officials could not confirm when asked about the alleged finding today.

“We’ve been asking them to please not sell coral reef wildlife because it cannot survive in captivity,” said Umberger.  According to the organization’s website, between capture and retail, up to 40% of Hawaii’s Yellow Tangs will die before reaching the hobbyist.

Reef Fish demonstration. Photo by Wendy Osher.

“We believe there’s enough captive bred wildlife available for sale, that there’s no reason for them to be selling animals taken from the world’s coral reefs,” said Umberger.

Store officials meantime, said the company carries primarily freshwater fish throughout it’s five Hawaii locations.

“When the Maui store opened in August 2010, we opened only with freshwater fish,” said Annette Groscup, Marketing Manager for Petco, but she said, “based on local customer demand, we did, just this past October (of 2011), add a small assortment of marine fish.”

Groscup said Petco as a corporation is committed to responsible and sustainable practices throughout its supply chain, which includes three O’ahu locations, and one store each on Maui and the Big Island.   “We do sell captive bred fish whenever possible; and if not, then we partner with our vendors who we believe practice responsible and sustainable practices,” said Groscup.

Reef fish demonstration. Photo by Wendy Osher.

She said that the demand for saltwater fish is what initially prompted the sale of the species in company stores.  “We listen to their demands for product, as well as the concerns that they bring up,” she said, and that is why, “we have recently decided through our customer feedback, that we would no longer carry some native Hawaiian species–specifically Yellow Tangs.”

According to Groscup, the process is already in place to discontinue the supply.  “Within the next couple of weeks, those fish will be gone completely from our stores,” said Groscup.

The Petco company is the founding sponsor of an initiative called Rising Tide, which promotes and develops additional captive breeding opporunities for marine fish. The program, Groscup said, means more marine fish can be available that are captive bred.

Demonstrator, Oriana Kalama, a member of the grass-roots non-profit agency, Ocean Defender Hawaii, said the problem extends beyond Hawaii’s shores.

“What’s happening is, is that our tropical reef fish are being taken from our waters, (and) sent to the mainland.”  Kalama claims 45% of all the fish that are in the mainland pet shops come from Hawaii.  “They are our fish,” she said.

“Our oceans are becoming a desert,” said Kalama who has lived her for 25 years.   “It did not look like it looks right now… We are the guardians of the land and the sea; we are not the perpetrators, we are not the takers.  We have forgotten our job and it’s time to remember,” she said.

Maui County recently passed two bills pertain to the collection of tropical reef fish.

“We don’t have collectors on Maui anymore because the two laws that we passed in 2010 and 2011, chased the collectors away and so they moved to the Big Island, or they shut down their operations here,” said Umberger.

One of the bills, Umberger said, required collectors to have a county permit in addition to a state permit; and they had to adhere to animal cruelty laws.

“Unfortunately, the animal cruelty bill currently does not apply to the retailers.  That part of the bill was adjusted at the end and it excluded the pet shops.  So they are not breaking any laws right now, but they are breaking what we believe are moral laws regarding using animals in an unethical way–taking animals and selling them when they are doomed to die very early on,” said Umberger.

Umberger said organizers plan on returning for another demonstration next week to reinforce thier belief that reef fish should not be taken from Hawaiian waters.

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Editor's Note:Maui Now is an open forum and we welcome any views. However, please apply your sense of aloha when posting comments - remarks that are unnecessarily offensive will be blocked.

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  • http://www.ferlopez.com/ FerLopez

    Selling LIFE for profit is the moral issue here, regardless of wether the fish is taken from the reef or bred in captivity. Also, customers don’t demand, they may request at the most, and they can be educated at the least. Shame on you PETCO, shame on you …

    • Anonymous

      No FerLopez, you are right morally, but wrong if you want to save the reefs. Walk then crawl brobra.

      • FerLopez

        Taking from the reefs is wrong by all means and must stop. Petco’s argument that they sell captive bred fish primarily doesn’t make it any better from a moral point of view. Everything is connected. But yes, one step at a time I guess. Thanks for the comment.

  • Dakine

    It sounds like PETCO has been very responsive as a corporation.  Why continue the protest?  Their response seems very reasonable and seem to have corrected the situation.

    • FerLopez

      Petco agreed to stop selling fish collected in Hawaii, but they will continue selling fish collected in other reefs. Aquarium collection must stop globally. Let’s stop the problem, not transfer it somewhere else. Petco could make similar profits selling teddy bears and HD digital aquariums in DVDs and stop trafficking with life. Remember, there was a time when slavery was normal practice too.

      • Dakine

        Based on your point of view, where does it end?  All pet stores closed?  No more hamsters to be bought.  No goldfish?  No pets..?  Fresh water fish?  Or is it just the reefs you are concerned about?

      • Stevenleonghawaii

        This is fish you talking about. Yea, the kine we eat with our poi. And no bro, I ain’t goin’ eat no digital aku!
        Slavery? Wow! Maybe you gotta protest Walmart, Safeway, Foodland etc. because they selling can tuna.

  • Hawaiiansupaman

    Why aren’t they protesting about the pigs, deer, goats and other invasive species that are destroying the aina and negatively impacting the coral reefs? 

    Why aren’t they protesting the negative impact humans have on the island?  Where do they think our sewage and runoff goes? 

    Saving yellow tangs and the coral reef is good but look in the mirror to see who is really responsible for destroying our precious home.     

    • Steven Leong


  • Stevenleonghawaii

    LET THE KIDS OF HAWAII RAISE AND STUDY SALT WATER FISH IN THEIR AQUARIUMS! Why is it that most of the aquaculture business here are owned by mainland people. It’s because they have the background and resources to have reef aquariums! This background helps them in college and later into the aquaculture field. 

    Why do mainland people think they can come here and dictate what we can and cannot do with OUR resources? Locals have been catching fish for years, and they haven’t depleted the reefs … run offs, global warming, and reef destruction have. Each fish lays over a thousand eggs in it’s life. Multiply this by the billions of fish spread out through the Northern Hawaiian Islands. These eggs float in the current and are carried throughout all the Hawaiian Islands! Let um stop us from catching Hinaleas  today, and going be O’oama and Akule tomorrow! We did it when we was young, LET OUR KIDS BE ABLE TO DO IT TOO!

  • The808state

    The SUPA FERRY killin our reefs!

  • The808state

    The SUPA FERRY killin our reefs!

    • Dakine

      Awesome! :)

  • Isakofyork001

    i would like to know how many corals “snorkel bob” and his customers destroy every year.  every saltwater hobbist knows that petco and petsmart aren’t good places to buy saltwater fish.  hobbist are the best for the saltwater fish and corals, we try to perserve the enviroment and keep the corals and fish alive.  it’s a fact that some corals that are still around are in peoples tanks, becasue of mother nature.  coral is more delicate then most fish.  true hobbist know how hardy what there doing in this trade.

  • Reef keeper

    This is trash.  Do you folks EAT FISH??  Do you protest at Red Lobster??  LOTS OF FISH DIE THERE!! OMG what dumbasses.  Land development and farming are the largest threats to your local reefs.  Global warming is the biggest threat to reef overall.  Grow up and use your brain. 

  • Guest1122

    So it’s okay to catch a fish, then cut it’s head off and eat it?  What about the snakes? dogs? hamsters? cats?  Is it okay to catch them and kill them and eat them nice and fresh?  Such a double standard.

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