A generous Sea Shepherd supporter for more than 15 years, Robert Wintner is well-known in Hawaii for Snorkel Bob's, the largest reef outfitter in the Islands.  He has authored six novels and two story collections.

article_separator_500x1

editorial_100821_1_1_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__001
Potter’s angelfish are heavily oppressed by the aquarium trade. This one is at home on a Maui reef.

The average aquarium hobbyist is a 30-50+ male who spent hundreds or thousands, depending on the size of his tank, stand, lights, filters, pumps, tubing and ornaments. The tentative hobbyist with a ten-gallon tank and one anemone clownfish as seen in Finding Nemo stays in briefly, because anemone clownfish die soon in a small tank.

Topping the tank totem are corporate billionaires like Sumner Redstone (ex-chairman, Viacom and CBS), who compared his wall-to-wall-to-wall aquarium to all of Hawaii. “We went out in a boat (in Hawaii) where you could see what was underneath. They didn’t have a fraction of the fish that are in my living room,” Redstone told Kai Ryssdal of PBS.

Or Michael Dell (Computers), whose mega-tank runs about 8x8x40 and needs a maintenance crew.

When aquarium fish die (99% within a year), tanks need more fish. The fishious circle is relentless: flush & plunk a new fish. Most fish run $50 to $150 retail, with 15¢ to $15 to the collector. The Hawaii average is $4 per fish. Hobbyists may up the ante on a bandit angelfish for $400, or a masked angel for $5,000.

editorial_100821_1_3_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__002
Yellow tangs are 60-80% of the total catch.

Not every home hobbyist is oblivious to reef damage—some are seeing the difference between loving reef fish and loving to keep reef fish in a tank. An aquarium will not forgive bad chemistry, salinity, pH, temperature, predatory balance and other variables. When aquarium fish die, the hobbyist may try something new on the next round of fish, in a killing cycle for reef fish and reefs, a cycle called “sustainable” by the aquarium trade.

Aquarium hunters have oppressed Hawaii reefs for years, with huge discrepancies between reported catch and actual catch. A state agency manages the trade as a “fishery” admitting that the reported catch of 1-2 million fish per year is off by a factor of 2-5 times.

When South Maui Senator Roz Baker held a round table to review aquarium trade regulation, a major Hawaii exporter sat in and corrected the state’s count of 500,000 yellow tangs annual, saying he shipped a million yellow tangs as one of 15 exporters known by the state and 10 more shipping from unmarked warehouses and garages.

Let me, Snorkel Bob, help here: 1-2 x 2-5 = 2-10 million fish per year. If I present these numbers at any public forum, the aquarium hunters guffaw, sanguine that such extraction is not possible.

Last year on Maui, one dealer reported purchasing more fish than all the collectors reported catching. But let’s not bog down in details. 2 million? 5 million? Who’s counting?

editorial_100821_1_5_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__004
Saddleback butterfly, extremely rare, for sale online.

Let’s go to morality. I, Snorkel Bob, frame aquarium collecting as a moral issue. The aquarium trade wants to call it a conservation issue and feels slighted by the moral context. But practicality has been a common cause of immoral behaviors through history. Guilt is most often denied, especially in public—like the crew of Nishin Maru waving signs that say RESEARCH, as the deck flows red with the blood of their cetacean victims.

An aquarium fish dealer on Maui claimed: “Fish are not a finite resource like oil and gold, they are highly reproductive, some releasing millions of eggs multiple times a year. The small fish population has to do with Maui having the wrong type of habitat that certain fish seek out to live in. You go into the desert and you won’t find an alligator.” Yes, we have no alligators on Maui, but we once had an abundance of fish, and it wasn't so long ago.

When State Senator Josh Green (District 3, Kona Coast) unveiled a bill to ban aquarium collecting recently, one aquarium hunter called Senator Green “politically motivated and uneducated.” Another called him “extreme and not warranted.” They cannot grasp the loathsome perception of the general public. They do not share the common morality.

editorial_100821_1_11_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__00a
A young forceps butterfly with dorsal flair.

Among fundamental facts are: 1) campaigns in the Hawaii State Legislature over the last few years showed that nearly all reps and senators want to ban aquarium collecting in Hawaii. All legislative efforts were derailed in the House, where every conservation measure suffers Water & Land Chair Ken Ito’s pledge that no bill will pass unless it is “good for fishing.” Speaker Calvin Say guides Rep Ito, and the matrix goes to (lame duck) Governor Linda Lingle (R) and her Chief Policy Advisor, a former wholesaler for the aquarium trade. This is big money.

The Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR) began in 1956 as the aquarium trade removed coral reefs from Hawaii piece by piece. The trade also “harvested” (hammered & chiseled) live rock—porous substrate habitat for small creatures critical to reef survival and amusing in an aquarium. After 20 YEARS of coral reef reduction to rubble (1978), DLNR began limiting coral extraction by species till 1996, when State law banned all coral and live rock extraction—40 YEARS to protect reef habitat.

Yet we have no protection for the habitués.

Continuing moral and practical dilemma faces the State of Hawaii in the fish kill at Honokohou Harbor on the Big Island. The Kona coast is 135 miles of continuous reef. Once called the Gold Coast for its yellow tangs in the surf, now it’s the gold coast because Charles Schwab and Michael Dell plunked down $50 million on lots there. The new gold rush is for easy pickin’s on aquarium fish with no catch limits. Grossly mismanaged on data spun politically, those reefs are now minus 8 species. “Nobody knows where they went or why.” A typical prospector came over from the mainland, built a holding tank and got out there for his fair share, till his tank failed on 650 yellow tangs and butterflyfish. Oh, darn. He bagged them up for the freezer. Otherwise they’d stink!

editorial_100821_1_4_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__003
Yellow tangs, dead at Honokohou Harbor, Kona, Hawaii.

A few months later, he tossed them into a dumpster at Honokohou Harbor. Why not? The dumpster gets emptied every day to two.

By the grace of Neptune, that bag was not green, it was clear.

That aquarium hunter had no idea where he was or whose kindred spirits he’d killed for chump change. Two women saw the bag and laid each dead fish on the pavement. The media swooped.

While the dramatic effect was huge, the practical meaning was nothing next to a single fish dying in each of the 1.5 million aquarium tanks worldwide.

The legal fallout may be monumental. DLNR manages the aquarium trade as “a fishery,” seeking optimal revenue by extraction. Yet entirely separate laws regulate treatment, feeding and handling of animals caught for the pet trade—wildlife pet trafficking. Aquarium trade “best practices” are inhumane. DLNR’s Honokohou-fish-kill investigation was no more legit than Mr. Fox’s hen house inventory control.

DLNR along with CORAL and Reef Check International call the aquarium trade “important” and “sustainable,” supporting disposable wildlife pet trafficking for the money. “Sustainable” means taking all but a few brood fish so the species won’t collapse—the Kona “fishery” is declining from collapsing butterflyfish populations. DLNR monitors the decline and defends the trade, claiming “no proof” that collecting causes decline.

editorial_100821_1_7_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__006
Chevron tang, $150 online.

Reef Check International and CORAL operate on grants and donations. Reef Check is an apologist/front group for the aquarium trade. Director Eric Cohen is the biggest Hawaii reef fish reseller in the nation. Eric Cohen calls himself a “stakeholder” in Hawaii reefs. Reef Check stridently solicits donations to help “monitor reef health” while urging more aquarium extraction with “sustainable” measures in place. This is “conservation” as a means to mo money. (see www.FortheFishes.org )

In January Hawaii will have a new governor and may have new leadership in the legislature. Grassroots efforts in Maui County cracked down on aquarium extraction in August, 2010 setting critical precedent in Hawaii.

Aquarium collecting in Hawaii has no limit on the catch, no limit on the number of catchers and no constraints on rare or endemic species. 98% of Hawaii reefs can be emptied of every fish by the aquarium trade, and it’s legal. The trade screams bloody murder on any regulation proposed to date, screaming with equal urgency that aquarium collecting MUST REMAIN SUSTAINABLE!

Maui’s Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, the entire legislative delegation, the Mayor and a majority of Maui County residents that may exceed 99% want to keep these so-called “aquarium fish” at home on Maui reefs.

editorial_100821_1_10_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__009The late Ed Lindsay, a Hawaiian and charismatic leader, recalled a tired walk through a hotel lobby in California. Road weary and ready to relax, he stopped short at the aquarium where a Hawaiian cleaner wrasse (hinalea) stared sadly out. Ed said he nearly cried. He felt helpless and angry and determined to let the world know that it is welcome in the land of Aloha, but it can no longer take what belongs here.

The Hawaiian cleaner wrasse, found nowhere else in the world, cleans parasites from other fish. Its absence exposes reefs to parasite infestation. Captive Hawaiian cleaners starve to death in 30 days—you can buy one on line today for $50. It left $4 in Hawaii.

Featherduster worms bore into coral heads, then stick out their dusters to filter-feed. Aquarium hunters “collect” featherdusters by smashing the coral. The aquarium trade response: “But we don’t take featherdusters anymore!” Because they’re gone, leaving coral rubble behind. They took 67,000 in ’03. 16,000 in ’09.

Next came hermit crabs:

Hermits change shells, but with hundreds of thousands of hermits strip-mined by the aquarium trade, many reefs are vulnerable to collapse. In Kane’ohe Bay on Oahu they took 300,000 to sell for 11¢ each—indifferent to the hermits role as a lynchpin species integral to reef survival. The aquarium trade protests that it doesn’t take hermits (so much) anymore—because the hermits too are nearly gone.

Neither hermit crabs nor eels of any species require any permit for collection. With emphasis now on huge tanks in Hong Kong and Kona, demand is up for adult eels. Capture is quick, with a short piece of plastic pipe closed and baited at one end. Adult brood eels are now leaving Hawaii with no limit, no count and no future.

The Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International (HSUS/HSI) state that reef fish have complex needs and are not suited for captivity. Reef animals in confinement live far short of their natural potential. Yellow tangs can live 40 years on a reef, but tank stress most often kills them in a year—if capture and transport doesn’t kill them first. Yellow tangs are herbivores who graze on algae dawn to dusk. Algae suffocation is a primary threat to Hawaii reefs. Millions of yellow tangs ship out annually.

HSUS/HSI call Hawaii’s approval of animal abuse for wildlife pet trafficking appalling. Fizzing is puncturing the fish’s air bladder with a hypodermic needle to compensate barotrauma on rapid ascent (bulging eye death).

editorial_100821_1_9_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__008editorial_100821_1_6_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__005editorial_100821_1_8_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__007

Also speaking out is a new book by me, Snorkel Bob, from Skyhorse Publications, NY.

Some Fishes I Have Known is 300 photos on 200 pages—up-close family portraits of a few gill breathers in social interaction, communion and yes, friendship with an old familiar. The narrative may change minds. A few aquarium hobbyists may see the light and hear our beloved 41st President of the United States of America, Ronald W. Reagan, who cried out, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this aquarium!”

The promotional tour will reach millions, bringing this topic to the surface. All photos here are by me, Snorkel Bob, from Some Fishes I Have Known, except for one.

What can you do? If you see an aquarium, ask that it be taken down for the sake of the reefs, the fish and us.

editorial_100821_1_2_The_Dark_Hobby_Stop_the_Devastating_Impact_of_Home_Aquaria__010

Sea Shepherd
Why Just One NYC screening Q&A
Why Just One NYC screening Q&A
On December 16, 2016, the New York City chapter hosted the premiere of Why Just One? Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s first full length, in-house documentary. The sold-out event was Captain Paul Watson's his first New York appearance at a Sea Shepherd event since returning to the United States...
Sea Shepherd vs Poachers in the Gulf of California
Sea Shepherd vs Poachers in the Gulf of California
Six fishing boats engaged in illegal activities were spotted by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, ending in their arrest by the Mexican Navy.
Ghost Nets Go; Vaquitas Stay
Ghost Nets Go; Vaquitas Stay
Sea Shepherd and the M/V Farley Mowat break down how illegal underwater nets in the Sea of Cortez are snagged, pulled, cut and bundled. Footage also includes freeing and releasing live animals from the nets and cataloging those who unfortunately did not make it.
Sam Simon arrives in Mexico for Operation Milagro III
Sam Simon arrives in Mexico for Operation Milagro III
The Sam Simon has arrived in Mexico to join the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society-led campaign, Operation Milagro III. A partnership between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican authorities, Operation Milagro III intercepts, intervenes and interrupts any illegal activities found in the Vaquita refuge in the...
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
**If you cannot see the captions on this video, just click on CC on the lower right corner of video settings on the video ** #Breaking #SeaShepherd helps scientists learn more about #rare Beaked whales! Did you know that Cuvier's Beaked whales hold the record for the deepest mammalian dive? Watch t...
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III to save the near extinct vaquita marina porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. The M/V Farley Mowat is back on active duty with the M/V Sam Simon joining the Milagro campaign for the first ti...
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
The Farley Mowat Sea Shepherd crew is called out to investigate a dead Brydes whale in the Gulf of California on November 5th, 2016 while patrolling the vaquita refuge. To help the Sea Shepherd crew to continue its work in the Sea of Cortez, including protecting the near-extinct vaquita marina porpo...
Entanglement in the South
Entanglement in the South
Operation Guardian Angel - In and around Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Gulf of California, countless marine species are entrapped in nets with little or no hope of rescue. Rosalia Tellez works for CONANP, a department of the Mexican government that acts as park rangers to enforce laws and assist in ...
Good and Bad Days
Good and Bad Days
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers over the course of two days. The first day Sea Shepherd locates and removes a long line from the sea; fortunately no animals were caught in the net. However, the next day volunteers find a sea lion that has been caught and died in a fisherman's net.
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Virus Hunter saw the vessel RV Martin Sheen under the leadership of Alexandra Morton, head up the coast of British Columbia Canada to expose open pen Atlantic salmon farms and the impact they are having on wild Pacific salmon and the the surrounding eco-systems.
Illegal Totoaba Nets
Illegal Totoaba Nets
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers through the process of locating, retrieving and disposing of illegal nets in the Gulf of California.
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
August 12th 2016: Early Thursday morning the R/V Martin Sheen assisted Melissa Willie, a band councilor of the Musgamagw Dza’wada’enuxw nation, in hand delivering a letter to three farms expressing the nations disapproval of the industry. Sea Shepherd crew alongside independent biologist Alexand...
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
Ross McCall travels to the Faroe Islands to explore the truths behind the centuries old tradition of the brutal Pilot Whale drives.
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board, actor/activist Pamela Anderson, cautions viewers about the dangers of eating farmed salmon.
Why Just One?  Indiegogo Video
Why Just One? Indiegogo Video
Support Sea Shepherd's documentary by sharing and backing our Indiegogo campaign here: http://bit.ly/1OfvER6
Milagro Summary - English
Milagro Summary - English
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Milagro II has come to an end. Milagro is its campaign to fight the looming extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. With an estimate of less than 100 surviving vaquita, Sea Shepherd ships the R/V Martin Sheen...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Watch the crew of the Farley Mowat capture footage of illegal fishing activity with a night vision drone and pull up a totoaba net in the dead of night. This is the final vlog of Operation Milagro II!
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project is dedicated to collect samples from whales in the Gulf of California to measure levels of toxins in whales in order to determine the levels of toxins in the Gulf of California itself. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Never before seen footage. Sea Shepherd catches critically endangered totoaba poacher in the act. The Sea Shepherd crew filmed these totoaba poachers as they were checking one of their illegal nets in the protected vaquita habitat. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the wor...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Watch‬ the routine of our crew doing valuable work in the ‪Sea of Cortez‬. We have been very effective at removing illegal fishing gear from the ‪‎vaquita‬ porpoise's habitat. So much so, that now, most of the time we remove nets and lines that are mostly empty, our favorite thing to do....
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
The Sea Shepherd crew has found 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks in the month of march of 2016. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org/milagro2
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
While patrolling the waters of the upper Gulf of California the Sea Shepherd crew found a dead vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the whole world. The crew also found a Great White Shark caught in an illegal gillnet.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
This week, the crew of ‪Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The M/V Farley Mowat and The RV Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass long line from the critically endangered ‪vaquita porpoise habitat. The totoaba fish is also critically endangered. Watch all episodes at: http...
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd crew rescued a whale entangled in an illegal totoaba gillnet in the Gulf of California. Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in Mexico's Gulf of California on OPERATION MILAGRO. Our goal is to save the vaquita porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal. The vaquita are caught as a r...
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
You might know Gregg Lowe from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now watch him explain Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro and understand why we must save the #VaquitaMarina - The most endangered cetacean in the world. Help us save the vaquita at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/donate-now/vaquita-appeal...