KAHULUI - More than a dozen Mauians demonstrated against Petco on Dairy Road on Wednesday, and they said they will keep protesting until the chain store ends its participation in the aquarium trade.
"This is not a new issue," said Robert Wintner, better known as Snorkel Bob.
The stripping of tropical reefs for pets has been blamed not only for deaths of the fish but for a cascade of environmental consequences.
Protesters including (from right) Marc Walske and Keith Christie hold signs along Dairy Road on Wednesday afternoon as they rally against the taking of Hawaii’s reef fish for the aquarium trade.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Takeo Miyaguchi, a retiree who has fished and dived for decades, said people who don't go in the water don't see it, but the aquarium trade has changed the ocean.
"It's been quite obvious," said Miyaguchi, who nowadays dives for tako mostly on the north shore. He used to fish the south shore, too, but "there's nothing else there."
"The reefs are depleted beyond imagination," he said.
The protesters, described by Wintner as a coalition of formal organizations and informal individuals, believe there is no acceptable way of managing a sustainable aquarium trade.
Petco disagrees. Hawaii sales manager Annette Groscup said in a telephone interview from Honolulu that Petco supports regulated and sustainable trade in aquarium fish and encourages captive breeding.
However, when bred fish are not available, Petco will buy fish from what she called reputable vendors.
Wintner said the Maui protest was sparked by a shopper who noticed a dead yellow tang in a tank.
Groscup said Petco is eliminating the sale of some species of wild-caught reef fish, including yellow tang and yellow kole tang. They should be gone from the stores within a couple of weeks.
Wintner said he believed that the yellow tang being sold on Maui originated in Kona, were sold to a vendor in Los Angeles and then shipped back to Hawaii. Fish cannot stand that kind of treatment, he said.
Groscup said the fish were bought from a vendor in Los Angeles, but she did not know where they came from.
She said Petco carries animals based on research into what customers demand.
Another of the protesters, Mike Moran, said harvesting reef fish for aquariums has unavoidable consequences for the reefs and the oceans, "but even if you don't care about the health of the oceans," the harvest has an impact on the visitor industry.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.