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.
“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.
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.