Another Organization Bashing the Aquarium Industry

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By now, you’ve all heard about Snorkel Bob’s rant about “The Dark Hobby” on Sea Shepherd’s website, but there are others out there bashing the aquarium industry as well. ForTheFishes is another conservation-based website that just doesn’t quite seem to have a grip on what the aquarium hobby and industry are all about. Much like the Robert Wintner rant, this website seems to be factually incorrect on a lot of issues. However, the one big difference between this site and the Wintner article is the ForTheFishes pages actually cite data instead of randomly injecting data that can’t be verified. I’m not saying the data is correct or incorrect, but at least it has been documented.

The thing I noticed with ForTheFishes data is that it appears to support the idea that maybe wildlife collectors aren’t the problem. Just by going on the data provided in their Oahu Collector Reports from 2000-2007, almost 3,000,000 individuals were taken from the reef in that eight year period. Over that same period, just over 4500 individuals died. This equates to just 0.15% of the animals being taken from the Hawaiian reefs died somewhere between the time they were caught and when they were shipped to various wholesalers. This is an extremely tiny number, and you must keep in mind that it isn’t all fish. Hermit crabs were collected in a much greater amount than any other type of animal, and some of the wildlife wasn’t even classified (designated as “Other”).

Continue reading below for data collected from livestock collectors and how this data might be incomplete or, at the very least, inaccurate.

In one year in particular, there was a 10,000 individual increase in the amount of fish and invertebrates sold versus caught. So either the livestock collectors have found a way to bring fish back from the dead, they are breeding them, or the data is incorrect. I’m voting for the latter, but this would mean that maybe other numbers are wrong. Nobody knows exactly how many different fish and invertebrates are taken from the reefs on a yearly basis, and the aquarium industry bashing websites will say the numbers they are reporting are to be considered incomplete because so much of the information goes unreported. In a nutshell, these people don’t really have a clue, but vastly inflate their numbers so as to make their point seem more valid.

Another point I found very interesting, and this is not really related to the argument above but goes to show just how out of touch ForTheFishes and other similar organizations are, is they claim:

up to 24% of the villagers diving for these animals end up paralyzed or dead from their efforts due to decompression illness from breaking diving safety rules

But anyone who has taken any diving classes knows that you can’t get decompression sickness from free diving (e.g. using a snorkel or holding your breath). Most of these villagers don’t have SCUBA equipment, which can be very expensive to own, use and maintain. They are villagers who use nets, and if they’re lucky a mask and fins, to help in catching their fish. They take a breath of air and make repeated dives to catch their daily limit. In order to get decompression sickness, you must take in air while you are at depth and exposed to quite a bit of pressure. When a diver ascends too rapidly at the end of a long dive, the pressure drops rapidly, thus causing gasses to bubble in the blood. These bubbles lead to joint pain, headaches, and quite a bit of other sicknesses. Again, this isn’t very important to the argument above, but if they are wrong about this concept, what else are they wrong about?

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  • Reefkeepr

    Best thing we can all do is steal their thunder – use aragocrete (artificial) reef Rick, buy aquacultured stock, and avoid things that you are neither skilled or equipped to care for! Speak with your wallet and don’t buy from distributors who sell live-caught stock…get involved in coral clubs and exchange crags. Make sure this hobby isn’t regulated out of exisence.

    • agreed 100%. we should be doing most of those things already, but a lot of hobbyists still frequent places like petco for their livestock. those are the ones this message should go out to.

  • Hello Aquanerd – forthefishes here. You should have another look at those xcel files. They are not totaled, but listed as separate years. Hundreds of thousands of animals are taken from Oahu's reefs annually, just as hundreds of thousands are taken from Big Island reefs. Scroll down to the bottom of the pages and you'll find tabs for each individual year.
    FYI, Hawaii aquarium collectors report an average 1% mortality rate before they sell them to the wholesalers who claim up to 2% mortality there. Sea Dwelling Creatures in Los Angeles reports a 5% standard DOA rate for fishes they receive and they stop doing business with those above 5% DOA's.
    The problem with the trade is that we're talking about hundreds of thousands of reef animals dying before they even make it into a hobbyist tank. Everyone knows that beginner hobbyists, in particular, inadvertently kill a lot of fish. This is the sad truth and ultimately why this hobby must stop and shift over to fresh water species where 98% of them are cultured, not caught in the wild. Coral reefs need all the help they can get – marine aquarium keepers are HURTING reefs – not helping them.

    • i'm glad you read our article forthefishes. i did total up all of the information on every tab of the spreadsheet prior to writing the article. i added up the the number of individuals caught and the number of individuals sold for all tabs of the two spreadsheets (which i have done again for this comment). according to your numbers for both areas (big island and oahu) over the 2000-2007 timeframe, 5,841,259 animals were collected. this equals a total of about 730,000 individuals collected from both areas each year. Of those collected, 5,818,460 were sold (or approximately 727,000 annually). The difference in the number caught vs the number sold over that 8 year period is a mere 22,799 individuals (or 0.39%) that weren't accounted for. less than 3000 fish die annually in the collector's hands. so where does the 1% collector mortality rate you are claiming come from, if by your own numbers only 0.39% are unaccounted for?

      • Actually, those aren't my numbers, they are the State's numbers and come from what the collectors report. Of course, none of it is ever verified. Collectors can and do write whatever they want. This is why the previous administrator for aquatic resources in Hawaii estimated that the true catch may be 2 – 5 times higher than reported. Dr.s Tissot and Hallacher who have both studied collecting in Hawaii, extensively, have also referred to under-reporting as being a serious issue here. Dr. Tissot wrote that it may be on an "order of magnitude".

        The 1% figure comes from an industry study as well as various other reports the dept. has provided to me over the years. You and those in the hobby many consider the wasted deaths of these beautiful, long living and essential to coral reef animals meaningless, but I assure you the majority of Hawaii residents and those mainlanders not engaged in the hobby, do not.

        The info on the international collectors with permanent bends injuries and others with deaths comes from a U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Report. In Indonesia, and likely elsewhere, hookahs are commonly used for collecting. Try a search under "aquarium collecting hookah".

        We are not coral reef focused, we are wildlife focused. Just as those who are concerned about wild animals like monkey's, big cats, wolves, parrots, etc. are concerned about the welfare of the animals – not their habitat. Of course, habitat in this case is very important, as well, but when we talk about animals being unsuitable for the trade it is because they are unable to survive in captivity for a considerable proportion of their natural lifespan.

        • the numbers aren\’t accurate any way you look at them. and it\’s purely speculative to say that the actual numbers are 2-5 times what is being reported. i think it would be hard to pass off 25 million fish as only 5 million. someone would have to notice the discrepancy and be able to prove it without a doubt.

          as for the hoookah, i\’m well aware of these devices (used them while working at a public aquarium). but a majority of the divers are not using these. most divers are still using breath holding techniques to get make their dives. i know you can run into various decompression issues when using these devices, but with proper training the issues shouldn\’t exist.

          i\’m all for preserving nature in every form, but attacking an industry that, at its core, promotes aquacultured fish and corals isn\’t the best approach. i\’ll admit, there are a lot of aquarium keepers who give the hobby a terrible name. these hobbyists usually shop at petco and are out of the hobby in less than a year. a lot of livestock gets taken from the reefs every year, but with advanced husbandry techniques and improvements in aquarium technology, keeping fish tanks is becoming easier and easier.

          i don\’t think forthefishes should focus on bringing down a multi-billion dollar industry. rather, it should focus on improving it through sustainable collecting practices, the promotion of aquacultured livestock, and public education. if anything, go after organizations like petco. they are absolutely terrible and probably sell more aquatic livestock than any other individual company.

          • The multi-billion dollar aquarium trade relies upon wildlife to fuel those dollars and given the mortalities associated from reef to retail to hobby tank, it is unethical. Even if the majority of animals were surviving for years or decades as they do in the wild, their care and quality of life would need to be seriously looked at. Only when the supply of wild caught marine life ends will the trade, at it's core, promote aquacultured animals. Otherwise there is no incentive to spend the $$ on research to ramp up for commercial production. That's our way of "promoting" aquacultured livestock. But more than that, we advocate for all marine hobbyists to switch to fresh water systems.
            Every time the notion or goal of "sustainable collection" is raised, I hope that "ethical use" is paired with it, because that is the core of the issue. For instance, even if Hawaii's targeted wild populations were at their 1980 levels, instead of down by half and more, the issue remaining would be how these animals fare after undergoing all the trauma involved with capture on the reef, barotrauma, starvation, shipping, exposure to chemicals and extreme temperature fluctuations, etc… and finally the inadequate care from industry and hobbyists. If wild mammals, birds and reptiles kept in captivity died at the same rates, society wouldn't tolerate it. But because longevity studies are in their infancy for marine life, people conveniently assume that the fish must have these extremely short lifespans. But now studies are proving that isn't the case. Since Yellow Tangs commonly live for decades in the wild, with an average of 11 years on a protected Hawaii reef, this would also be the case in captivity if they were being cared for properly. Up until now, the hobby could claim ignorance. This is no longer the case.

    • reefling

      sea dwelling creatures does not report a standard 5% DOA. It was actually much lower. They said that they sometimes have new collectors try to tighten the learning curve on shipping these creatures. They have the opportunity to get DOA down near zero or they are dropped. Consecutive shipments with more than 5% DOA and they quit doing business with those collectors. It was in the youtube video by lafishguys. They "visit a fish wholesaler"

      • great comment! just reinforces the notion that the information is getting skewed.

      • Yes, Eric Cohen does report 5% DOA as the standard. He reported it to me, in fact. It's an industry standard – not just theirs. Anything above 5% is an issue. You should have another look at the lafishguys video…

  • Hmm… I should start a website about poor vegetables being pulled from the ground…. possibly one about the oxygen people destroy with every breathe and other things that naturally regenerate.

  • Narny The Great

    I think destroying a complete industry is absurd.

    Fresh water species have their own problems too… Its called over population and inbreeding.

    I can start out with 3 fresh water fish and soon have 1000 fish… what do you think happens to those fish? You hope they get new homes, but more than likely they don't, they get tossed down water drains and/or put back into the wild. Neither of these options are good. And if you don't believe this happens then you should take a great big look at the risks headed towards the Great Lakes from the Mississippi. They have BIG problems on their hands.

    You people are all the same. Instead of being a part of the solution you want to add to the problem.

    Your numbers are misleading if not flat out wrong. You quote numbers to validate what you are doing and promoting and self important and then when someone points out that they are really not as bad as you make them out to be you then try to hide behind the statement "Those aren't our numbers" I call BS. You cant have it both ways. Its either one or the other. Either the numbers you gave are a fair representation or they aren't. I from what I just read they are not. So then what else are you saying that's full of carp might I ask?

    And then you do the most insulting thing of all, you say with NO PROOF whats so ever that the actual numbers are far worse. Well, how do you know? You have no numbers or information to prove that fact. You are guessing.

    My point is this, you see a potential problem… I get that, but instead of attacking an industry or the hobbyists who are apart of it… help educate those people while you are looking for the hard evidence you are so desperately making up and or slanting to suit your purposes.

    • Underreporting happens and it's significant in Hawaii. But beyond that Hawaii's yellow tang populations where the collectors go are now 45% lower than they were 10 years ago when collectors were given rules to follow. That's 45% worse today than their already reduced populations which in 1999 were 47% lower than in protected areas. That's called unsustainable.

      • you claim under-reporting happens…where's the evidence?

        as for tang populations reducing, has anyone ever stopped to think that perhaps the fish have simply gone elsewhere? i am sure the industry has had an impact, i will not doubt it. but have populations in other areas increased? i never hear it being talked about. all i ever here is there is a decrease where these fish are being collected from.

        also, since you are so adamant about protecting reef fish, will you ever oppose the tourism industry? it is harmful to wild reefs. it leads to declines in numbers too. how about pollution? nutrient runoff from developed lands? i never here forthefishes go after anything other than the aquarium industry. which leads me to think you are on the snorkel bob bandwagon and are in fact supportive of the tourism industry and potentially an apologizer for it.

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