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The Aquarium Trade

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

My head is swimming. I just started doing research on colorful reef fish, and my findings are frightening. As a kid, we had a fish tank in our house. I, for some unknown reason, didn’t bother to think about where these fish came from. They were your basic guppies and neons.  As a kid, I gave up eating meat because I love animals. I would not wear fur, and convinced everyone I knew not to wear it either.

One of the best compliments I got was when a friend told me that her mom was going to buy her a rabbit fur coat. She said, “Oh no you can’t. Michele would never speak to me again.” She even convinced her mom not to buy one of these coats for herself.

So, I knew about the fur trade. I knew about factory farming.  How could I not have known about the tropical fish industry?

This is a Mandarin photographed by Snorkel Bob, who for the protection of the fish, will not disclose its location. A fish like this is shy and reclusive. According to Snorkel Bob, it would not last long in someone’s tank.

What opened my eyes is a new book from a man who calls himself Snorkel Bob.  His hardcover book, filled with beautiful photographs of a broad assortment of tropical fish, is called Neptune Speaks. It also includes a DVD of the fish found  mostly in the waters of Hawaii, where Snorkel Bob lives. Snorkel Bob, also known as Robert Wintner, gets a bit preachy at times. Heck, he is angry.  His book exposes the trafficking of fish for the pet trade. He asks, “Why are colorful reef fish still taken in Hawaii with no limit on the catch, no limit on the numbers of catchers, and no constraint on rare, endemic or vanishing species?” His answer is because the trade makes big money.

His book covers the destruction of the reef, how it affects us, and says that “If we don’t stop the destruction of these beautiful creatures, the images in books will be all we have left.

This post is an introduction to what is to come. I plan on writing more articles on this topic.  I have calls into Petco, PetSmart, and HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) regarding the industry, the way these fish are captured, about captive breeding programs, and more. As I said, my head is swimming. The more I dig, the more dismayed I get. Over the next few weeks, I will be doing more reporting on this topic. In the meantime, I urge all of you to not to buy tropical fish.

23 comments to The Aquarium Trade

  • Yvette

    This fish is simply beautiful. And yes, it should stay in the ocean.

  • Ellen

    These beautiful fish don’t last long in a small tank, and no tank is as big as the ocean. Keeping these fish is cruel.

  • Carol

    Thanks Michele, for covering this. I wish other sites would cover all pets like you do! I look forward to your other posts about this trade.

  • Carol

    Thanks Michele, for covering this. I wish other sites would cover all pets like you do! I look forward to your other posts about this trade.

  • Robin

    I would be interested in seeing more on this. Many of us are like you: we just didn’t think about where these fish come from.

  • Jackie

    The more you dig, the more upset you will get, but this is an important story. I always ask where the fish come from when I got to Petco or other store that sells fish. Often the employees don’t know.

  • Rachel

    I am going to look for the book. That is a great way to view these fish–not in a tiny tank.

  • Carleen

    I’m curious to see what you write about captive breeding.

  • Barbara

    I will look for your other stories about this too. It is a subject that gets very little coverage. I guess the aquarium trade and pet stores that sell pets like it that way.

  • Heidi

    We also had tropical fish growing up, and I would not continue that tradition with my kids. We have dogs that come from the pound–not from a mill. It sounds like the aquarium trade is a lot like the puppy mill business–seedy with all of its sights on making a lot of money.

  • Kelly

    Profit over caring: it’s quite sad. These fish can feel pain too!

  • Linda

    It is amazing that this industry, which only advertises in the trade press, is such a multi million dollar industry. Just like puppy mills, it is cruel.

  • Alicia

    If all of us share the news about this, maybe it will have an impact. We have to stop shopping at stores that sell tropical fish, puppies, etc.

  • Chantal

    I also want to see more about this. I will share with my networks.

  • Lisa

    I am going to look for Snorkel Bob’s book.

  • Fran

    I checked out the book on Snorkel Bob’s website. It looks beautiful.

  • Roger

    Many of us in Hawaii hate this trade. It really isn’t regulated.

  • Inez

    Thanks for sharing this because I won’t buy these fish now. I have cats!

  • Inez

    P.S. My cats all come from shelters!

  • Thanks for sharing this information, i truly love your weblog. Keep this good work & enlighten us with your new post. Thanks.

  • Joejoe

    It is actually quite rare to see these fish in a store that are not now raised in captivity. ORA breeds them and has them eating regular fish food. No one buys the wild caught ones anymore because they don’t last long in an aquarium.

  • Hi Joejoe, I’m finding that is not always true.–Michele

  • Thank you Michele for sharing this important information with your readers. Sadly, Joejoe is misinformed. Just a tiny fraction of coral reef wildlife sold for aquariums comes from captive breeding. Marine life is extremely sensitive and only about 100 species can be captive bred. Compare that to the 1800 species that the U.S. aquarium trade imports each year: 11 million wild animals to supply just 700,000 household saltwater aquariums. Across the board, retailers, like Petco purchase and sell wildcaught animals because they are far cheaper than captive bred. Using the mandarinfish as an example, Petco sells the wild ones, even though they are available from captive breeding sources. Worse, mandarinfish are captured with small spears by the aquarium collectors, who hope to miss their body and skewer just the fins. You can see an image of a speared mandarinfish on the Reef Rescue Alliance FB page.