By Wendy Osher
A second protest in as many weeks was held today on Maui as ocean advocates seek protection for Hawaii’s reef fish and coral reef wildlife.
Although Petco announced plans to stop selling certain species of reef fish captured in Hawaii at its island stores, environmental enthusiast, Rene Umberger, said it was a step in the right direction, but not enough.
“They’re selling them online, and they’re selling them in an unknown number of their 900-plus stores on the mainland,” said Umberger of the range of species from Hawaii’s reefs. “What we really want Petco to do, is to do the right thing–to stand behind their values and only sell captive-bred wildlife,” said Umberger who is with forthefishes.org and organizer of today’s event.
Store officials maintain thier previous stance that the Petco 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.
Store officials had already initiated a process to remove some native Hawaiian species from their island stores, including Yellow Tang and Yellow Kole. They could not, however, speak to plans for the store’s mainland counterparts.
Both species are identified as surgeon fishes, among the species that are responsible for keeping reefs clean from algae, according to Umberger.
Protesters say the followup demonstration is to reinforce their belief that reef fish should not be taken from Hawaiian waters for sale. The initial protest grew out of claims that a baby yellow tang from the Kahului store had died; a claim store officials could not confirm when asked about the alleged finding last week.
“I think the main issue with keeping wild reef life as pets is that you have to create a completely artificial environment for them, said Umberger.
“Animals that are taken from the wild are very, very stressed out by the process of capture, holding, and shipping, and that makes them easily susceptible to disease. They die from a delayed reaction to the injuries and stress,” Umberger claims.
Petco officials could not corroborate the claims. “As far as surviving the trip to the Mainland, I’d leave that up to the experts, said Annette Groscup, Market Manager for Petco Hawaii stores.
“As far as the difficulty in maintaining fish, they are different. Every fish, whether we’re talking about salt water fish, or freshwater fish, every fish is different and does have different care requirements,” said Groscup.
“We realize it is a sensitive issue and we do listen to our customer’s feedback, which is why we had already started the process of removing those Native Hawaiian species from our assortments,” she said.
Still, Umberger said she and other protesters are looking for more and are encouraging the company to be a leader in “doing what is right for the reefs” by only selling captive-bred wildlife.
Groscup said that when the Maui store opened in August 2010, it only carried freshwater fish. Based on requests from our customers, the store added a small assortment of freshwater fish in October of 2011.
“We do utilize captive bred fish whenever possible. If captive bred fish aren’t available, then we do partner with vendors that we believe practice responsible and sustainable methods in collecting of those fish,” Groscup reiterated.
The demonstrators held a similar protest last week at the same location outside of Petco along Dairy Road in Kahului.