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The future of our hobby

Discussion in 'General Reefkeeping Discussion' started by scchase, Sep 4, 2014.

  1. scchase

    scchase Marlin Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    The following article is an important look at the future of the marine aquarium hobby. I regularly hear information that is blatantly wrong in regards to my hobby and the reefs in general passed along as fact. I also truly believe that my hobby can not only be neutral in its impacts on the reefs in the world but has the potential to eventually become a beneficial force. This situation has already occurred with some freshwater fish where the only populations of species that exist are in hobbyists tanks. These fish were not made extinct in the wild due to hobbyists but rather due to factors such as environmental degradation, introduced invasive species, and pollution. Only through the interest of millions of aquarists have these species been saved from complete extinction and perhaps someday reintroduction into their native habitats. Sadly with reefs being filled in for parking lots, runways, and industrialization they may be in danger for extinction in the wild as well. Gone are the days that all species imported for the aquarium hobby are a genetic dead end. Numerous species of fish are being reared in captivity for the first time in the past few years further reducing the impact of my hobby on wild animals. Things that were considered impossible 20 years ago are now regular occurrences, such as keeping Acropora in captivity, but these successes are not being spoken about outside the hobby, instead environmental groups with narrow agendas have been able to direct the conversation and use bad and outdated data to influence the general public in their favor.

    I did not write this and there are several minor inaccuracies but we all need to be aware of what is happening on larger scale:

    Back from MACNA, and we’re sort of easing into the post-conference tasks ahead, getting ready for the busy “coral season.”

    And guess what?

    The hobby is in trouble. Again.

    Yeah, really. It’s not “in a few years…” It’s not “At some point in the near future…” It’s not “Eventually…”

    It’s right now.

    The Reef Hobby- An Endangered Species?-sunset-coral-reef.jpg

    Don't believe me? Take a look:

    NOAA Lists 20 New Corals as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act. :: NOAA Fisheries

    The U.S. Government has enacted legislation that can seriously impact- or even end- the reef hobby as we know it. Protections for 15 Indo Pacific species have been afforded, meaning that they will be listed as threatened. Species listed include members of the genus Acropora, Euphyllia, and others.

    The collection, importation, and distribution of these corals is essentially illegal. And this is just the beginning. According to some observers, this listing might extend to the genus level, meaning that trade in all Acropora, for example, could be considered off limits-banned entirely, or at best, severely restricted. In other words, the legislation is so sweeping that, regardless of how the corals were sourced, they could be off limits to commerce.

    Look, I am all for passing legislation that protects the reefs, up to and including bans on legitimately endangered species. But the implication that these, or any species, was severely affected solely because of the ornamental aquarium trade is biased, inaccurate, and downright unfair. The problem here is that this opens the door to far more sweeping, far more restrictive general bans.

    It means that even maricultured, aquacultured, and otherwise captive-propagated corals could be illegal to sell or purchase. They would be treated in the same sweeping manner as if you were trying to sell White Tigers or some other endangered animals. Under this type of ban, the club frag swap would be as illegal as a bunch of drug dealers swapping samples of crack. Yep.

    This is the real deal. The end of the line for our innocence. It's the sum of all fears… All of the corals that we frag, propagate, and, yes- treasure, could be, in theory, removed from our hobby altogether. For that matter, our hobby could be removed altogether.

    Despite the apparently reviewing enormous amounts of scientific data, government legislators came to the conclusion that the aquarium trade is more damaging to the reefs than say, recreational yachting, tuna fishing, agricultural runoff, bilge pumping, and “eco tourism.”

    Despite the fact that the reef aquarium hobby and associated coral propagation industry is absolutely saturated with conscientious purveyors who have worked to grow out thousands of coral frags in their facilities over the years so that wild collection would become unnecessary.

    Is it the final countdown? Time to party “like it’s 1999?"

    Who knows for sure at this point?

    What we do know is that this legislation represents the biggest threat to the hobby yet.

    A celebration must be in order for “Snorkel Bob”, “For the Fishes”, and the other “reef hugger” pseudo-“environmentalist” groups, their reactionary, ill-informed masses, and their ridiculously perverted, largely mis-directed agendas. Through their highly publicized, over-the-top, ridiculously exaggerated and hyper-inflated “data” showing the “egregious" amount of damage the aquarium trade has done to the coral reefs, they may have dealt a decisive blow to a largely responsible, multi-million dollar industry that employs tens of thousands of people worldwide.

    Hmm…The aquarium industry causes more damage to corals than a bunch of ignorant, sunblock-smeared tourists flailing about wildly with their rented swim fins over delicate coral reefs, after being delivered by boats with diesel-powered engines and bilge pumps, could do? Apparently so. The mind boggles…

    A vivid memory of mine from MACNA in Dallas was when none other than Jean-Michel Cousteau, who, after walking the show floor filled with dozens of coral vendors offering propagated frags, and manufacturers hawking highly advanced equipment for coral care, literally muttered to himself, “I had no idea…”

    Why is that? Because we- and that includes many of us in the reef keeping world- hobbyists, vendors, manufacturers- the whole ball of wax- have done a not-so-good job of letting the rest of the non-aquarium-keeping world know that we’re actually a bunch of really cool people who definitely give a darn about the state of the world’s reefs, probably more than the very people, loud though they may be, who are trying to shut down the hobby forever.

    Yeah, we got a beat down from a bunch of people who have no clue whatsoever about what the hobby and industry are really like; our ethos, values, and how minimal our impact really is compared to virtually every other threat to the reefs, and to corals in particular.

    We are the proverbial “low hanging fruit”- the easiest of the potential targets…Our lobbying power is, apparently, the weakest of all of the apparent groups associated with damage to coral reefs.

    So, to a reefer- ALL corals will truly become “LE”- won’t they?

    We flat out screwed up. I know I did.

    Yes, this is our wake up call. I’m giving all of us the proverbial “b- - - - slap.” And I’m starting with myself.

    Instead of writing an article about how the reef hobby is virtually the stewards of the reefs for an airline magazine, National Geographic, or the New York Times, I have been writing pieces about aquascaping and why you should grow macro algae in your sump. I’ve been lecturing about nutrient control and export at MACNA, instead of urging my fellow reefers to become empowered and rally behind those fighting the external threats facing the hobby.

    We go nuts on forums and argue about the merits of ULNS, zeolites, what protein skimmer is the best, and which version of the @$@#$%# Acropora is the “real deal”, when, in reality, we all need to be just devoting a fraction of that time telling the non-reefing world about all of the cool stuff we do with corals. Most speakers and authors, such as myself, give a mere passing reference to the problems facing our industry during our talks, and don’t effectively use our “influence” and notoriety to let the outside world know that WE are the true conservationists here.

    We don’t “vote with our pocketbooks” enough, making a loud enough tussle to discourage those within our industry from supporting non-sustainable livestock operations and suppliers.

    And what did we do to stop this stuff as a hobby and industry?

    Not a whole lot, actually. Yeah, I’m calling us all out again: Hobbyists, industry people too. "STARS" OF AQUARIUM-BASED TV SHOWS!! Where are you guys when you could really do some good at reaching a broader audience than virtually anyone else in the aquatics field at the moment? You think that just because you build aquariums for ignorant masses that the potential ban doesn't affect YOU?



    We collectively bury our head in the sand year after year, hoping that “they” in some industry lobby that we have made little effort to learn about (PIJAC) can maneuver to stop these bills from being implemented, without our support, save an occasional "attaboy" or nod to an industry advocate like Ret Talbot. We hear the talks at conferences, but we continue to believe that these things are the vague and pointless ramblings of a few “Chicken Littles”, claiming that the sky is falling.

    Guess what? The sky IS falling. It actually fell. We screwed around too long, and now the Clownfish are coming home to the anemone for good. The “environmentalists”, in their zealous, unfocused frenzy to get some progress by taking out ANY available target, are mobilized and winning this battle.

    How serious is it this time? Well, at MACNA, I had occasion to talk to two of the guys leading the charge for the industry against this threat, ORA’s Dustin Dorton, and Live Aquaria’s Kevin Kohen. Both of these guys were visibly disturbed by the NOAA ruling, and when guys of this caliber get shaken, it’s time for all of us to take it very seriously.

    Am I overreacting here? I don't think so- not this time.

    Okay, I’ve pointed out what we did wrong. It’s time to talk about what we can do to help.

    First, individual hobbyists can spark wider discussions about these topics on the message boards…We need to really let everyone know what’s going on. We need to encourage individuals, clubs, stores, vendors, and anyone associated with the hobby/industry to send monetary donations to the PIJAC (Pet Industry Join Advisory Council):

    PIJAC Marine Ornamental Defense Fund 1146 19th Street NW, Suite 350 Washington, D.C. 20036

    You can call them at 202-452-1525x1020, or find out more information at PIJAC.org/marine

    All monies collected will be used to help pay the cost for PIJAC’s legal team fight this legislation, and will go directly to protecting the marine ornamentals hobby.

    If you think that you can’t get your friends to donate easily, I suggest a grassroots Facebook campaign similar to that used for the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”- perhaps the PIJAC “Salt Bucket Challenge”, whatever…call out your friends, fellow vendors, industry and non-industry types! Something. Anything.

    Second, clubs can have frag swap events and raffles to donate a portion of the proceeds to this fund. Even more important, clubs and even individual hobbyists should reach out into the broader aquarium hobby, and even to the non-aquarium hobby, to solicit support and donations to help this cause.

    The detractors are taking our hobby away from the very people who have the most respect and love for the reefs- US! It’s time we fight back…but not with venom and frustration. We need to fight back by letting the rest of the world know the real facts about the impact of our hobby and industry on the wild reefs, and the true amount of concern and caring that we have for these irreplaceable natural resources. If we’ve ever needed to take a stand- now is truly the time.

    We need to channel that well-known passion that we all have for this hobby to fight for its accurate representation to the non aquarium world, and indeed, its very survival.

    Yes, the reefs are in trouble. And no- our hobby is not the sole cause of it, or even a significant cause of it. We as a group must show no tolerance for non-sustainable, unethical practices that can endanger these priceless natural resources. We need to let the legislators know that we care more than they could ever imagine, and that we need to enact legislation against those who truly are destroying the reefs without regard for their well-being.

    Are we up to the challenge?

    Yeah, I think we are…as long as we get our heads out of the sand an accept this legislation as the very real threat that it is, and mobilize our considerable resources to fight it.

    The future of this hobby depends on it.

    Stay on top of things…Stay focused on the real issues, support the good being done by hobbyists every day-and let others know. Do some real good.

    And stay wet…

    Scott Fellman
  2. SilverSurfer

    SilverSurfer Prawn M.A.S.C Club Member

    yeah what about BP dumping probably billions of gallons of oil into the sea just a few years ago? Im sure that did no damage what-so-ever, but thats ok, just grease the palms of the legislators and viola its the reef hobby creating all this decline in corals.
  3. SkyShark

    SkyShark Barracuda Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Thanks for posting. It was a little disheartening to see how few people showed up for Julian Sprung's roundtable discussion on the Endangered Species Act proposal (at MACNA on Saturday). Sanjay pretty much filled the room to talk about switching his lighting to LED, but hardly anyone showed up to hear about what is being done to effectively end our hobby.
  4. SynDen

    SynDen Shark Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Ya they were talking about this at MACNA, and it is very disconcerting to say the least. Time for some grassroots organization from the clubs and community to put the brakes on this stuff
  5. ReefCheif

    ReefCheif Marlin M.A.S.C Club Member

    I read this article this morning and was quite taken back by it. Even on doing a bit more research I find this to be completely one sided. The hobby is not killing the reef, if anything were the reason for the advancement. How many break throughs in the past 20 years have been made due to a hobbiest? How many things are researchers now able to do and understand becuase of things hobbiest have figured out?

    Were doing more to sustain our beloved reefs through the practice of the hobby than majority of these so called organizations, simply by aqua culturing corals, by working more to figure out the breeding habits of wild species and offering more tank bred species and the daily husbandry practices of our little home reefs and learning the traits and needs for coral propogation and spawning in captivity. Hobbiest are much more aware of the importance of our natural reefs and are much more concious regarding the upkeep and conservation of our reefs just due to our own husbandry practices.

    They want to blame someone? Point a finger at the commercial fisherman, or the dredgers, or the oil tycoons, or society in general, for these are the reason for the decline of our ocean eco systems, not the hobbiest who is mearly trying to bring the beauty and enjoy these eco systems in our own homes. I cannot begin to tell you how many of my friends are much more educated and concious about the reefs just based on the fact I have a reef in my home and have had countless hours of conversations with said people who are not even in the hobby.
  6. SynDen

    SynDen Shark Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    +1 but we as a community need to start pushing that message to the politicians, so more people understand the importance of what we do. Fighting the lobbiest though is no easy task especially when they are armed with so many misconceptions and half truths.
  7. SynDen

    SynDen Shark Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

  8. ReefCheif

    ReefCheif Marlin M.A.S.C Club Member

    Ive written both already, as well as filled out the petition.
  9. SynDen

    SynDen Shark Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Now to get EVERYONE to do the same. Is the petition online at all?
  10. ReefCheif

    ReefCheif Marlin M.A.S.C Club Member

    Im not sure, I would think so but the one I filled out was sitting on our table at the MACNA Banquet.
  11. jahmic

    jahmic Shark M.A.S.C Club Member

    I'll see if we can get an electronic copy of those petitions...perhaps MASC can step up and start bringing a stack of these to the meetings for anybody that's interested in submitting them.
  12. scchase

    scchase Marlin Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Petitions are great but in themselves not sufficient. While they form an important part of the process and represent a for NGO's to gain attention to an issue in general they lack the teeth to cause meaningful changes in perception. Our opponents wishing to stop our hobby started with petitions more than 20 years ago but did not start to gain traction with their agenda till they were willing to do other things. One of these things is monetarily supporting organizations that are willing to push their agenda. By gaining funding these organizations are able to influence both media in the form of news stories, op/eds, and protests and the political process directly through organizing petitions, hiring lobbyists, and organizing visits to the places where legislation is made. The prefect example of this is how many different environmental groups can you name versus how many groups that support our hobby can you name. I would wager that prior to MACNA the majority of this club had no idea what MASNA was and what it does and likely most still do not. On the other hand everyone here and in the country has heard of PETA and most of Sea Shepherd (one of the primary organizations seeking to make what we love illegal). The reason for this is that these are the organizations that have money and have gained the attention of mass media to spout their causes. Popular TV shows like Whale Wars further their agenda while on our side we have shows like Tanked that at best have a neutral impact.

    The majority of the funds these organizations are gaining are provided by private citizens in small monthly donations ($50 or less) not major corporations or big money donors. In general these small donors do not have a thorough or even rudimentary understanding of the causes that they are supporting but rather rely on 30 second sound bites, poorly written documentaries with an agenda, and outdated research from the 70s and 80s to make their decisions. I know I have been unwilling to provide support to the organizations that support our side of the argument in the past mostly due to complacence rather than any valid reason and plan on making changes in this area in the near future. How much to do send each month on new corals, fish, and equipment? Just think if the organizations get their wish to shutdown the industry all that money is wasted. Just think what the resell value will be on a high end protein skimmer or LED light will be if keeping corals is illegal.
  13. robert.talarico

    robert.talarico Cuttle Fish M.A.S.C Club Member

    How many wild caught corals are sold each day? Each year? How many of those are taken into the hands of people that can't care for them? Signing a petition is great and email/writing letters to legislation is also fantastic. We need to stop purchasing wild caught livestock!
  14. SynDen

    SynDen Shark Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    That would be great if we could do that. I heard them talking about this legislation at macna but didnt hear anything about signing the petition, would think there would be a bigger push for that. Heck if I would have known before hand I would walked around with a petition and got everybody in there to sign it.
  15. scchase

    scchase Marlin Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Here is an opinion piece by one of our greatest opponents and someone that has gained the attention of both media and legislatures for an example of the kind of opposition we are facing:

    The Snorkel Bob Foundation focuses on reef recovery. To that end, the Foundation will oppose finfish harvesting that may cause reef collapse or critical by-catch. It’s all one reef; the Snorkel Bob Foundation recognizes the global impact of any problem on any reef around the world, and will also focus on recovery and protection of whales, monk seals, dolphins and other marine cetaceans. Offensive vessels shall include long liners, drift netters, whalers and factory ships.
    The Snorkel Bob Foundation shall further resist reef fish harvest by any means for commercial sale or display by the aquarium trade.Commercial sale of freeze dried seahorses, blowfish, seashells or corals is an assault on reefs worldwide, warranting response, as the Foundation is able to provide. We will also defend marine habitat against human effluent where mitigation is still practical.
    The Foundation may donate Snorkel Bob Brand masks, fins and snorkels to those organizations engaged in defense of marine habit and/or species.

    The Snorkel Bob Foundation provided pivotal efforts toward gill net regulation for the first time ever in Hawaii in 2006. Maui is now 100% free of gill nets by administrative rule. Often called “curtains of death” gill nets killed millions of reef fish, along with sea turtles and monk seals, and are still killing monk seals (endangered), Hawaiian green sea turtles (endangered) and hawksbill turtles (endangered) on other Hawaiian islands and around the world.

    The Snorkel Bob Foundation was instrumental in exposing the Hawaii aquarium trade and its devastating attack on Hawaii reefs. The aquarium trade fills 80% of all tanks in the U.S. with Hawaii reef fish, 99% of which die in ayear. Those same fish live up to 40 years on the reef. Those fish leave $3-4 each in Hawaii but retail for $40-50, and each fish requires a few hundred dollars more in hardware—tanks, filters, pumps, etc.
    The struggle continues. Hawaii aquarium hunters have no limit on their catch, no limit on the number of catchers and no constraint on species. 80% of the fish taken by the aquarium trade are herbivores. The biggest threat to Hawaii reefs is algae.

    The Snorkel Bob Foundation produced Turtlerama in 2004, a gala evening of turtle and reef movies, once on each island, so that reef huggers around Hawaii could gather to celebrate what we love, and to mobilize a petition and letter campaign to the Secretary General of the United Nations, urging the ban of North Pacific drift nets and long lines.

    In 2009, a move is afoot to take Hawaiian green sea turtles off the endangered species list so that these turtles may be eaten. This initiative by the National Marine Fisheries “Service” is part of a greater move to reopen the Hawaii long line fishery, so that the turtle and sea bird by-catch kill will be tripled, and many thousands of humans will incur mercury poisoning from eating tainted swordfish. The Snorkel Bob Foundation is now focused on that campaign.

    Spear fishers with scuba or other surface-supplied air are devastating Hawaii reefs by killing all the parrotfish as they sleep. Parrotfish are a lynchpin species. The Snorkel Bob Foundation is focused on this challenge and several others.

    Stay tuned.
  16. jda123

    jda123 Tuna M.A.S.C Club Member

    It does not matter WHO is to blame. The people/organizations with the least support/lobbying will get the blame... fair or not. You can bet that none of this will stick to fishermen, oil companies or anybody else with money.

    The sky is not falling. What is in captivity today will be OK. ...better get good at keeping it alive and maybe even spawning some of it to get new stuff.
  17. robert.talarico

    robert.talarico Cuttle Fish M.A.S.C Club Member

    In a way certain hobbyists are to blame. Theyre not caring for these corals properly. They're not taking the time to research before adding them to their tanks. They're not getting the proper equipment to take care of these corals. I'm sorry but if you didn't get the right lights, proper skimmer or quality test kits because they were "too expensive" or "your wife will kill you" then maybe this hobby isn't for you. For damn sure don't buy wild caught corals
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2014
  18. scchase

    scchase Marlin Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Side note: Please do not let this dissolve into a left/liberal vs right/conservative debate because it is not. I know plenty of people from both sides of the political spectrum that are both for and against our hobby.
  19. scchase

    scchase Marlin Staff Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C Club Member

    Actually JDA while currently the corals listed will not change in status this continued course is not assured. We are still awaiting the ruling on Bangaii Cardinals for instance and that one has a very good possibility of completely shutting down the trade in that species. If successful a bad precedent will be set.

    For another example starting last Monday the import and export of all non domestic Pterois lionfish species became illegal in Florida essentially shutting down that portion of wholesalers business in Florida, while this might seem like a small step and possibly one that was needed it was a step none the less.
  20. ReefCheif

    ReefCheif Marlin M.A.S.C Club Member

    Although I dont agree with alot of the things they are trying to regulate and shut down, I was and still am all for the illegalization of exporting and importing lion fish in Florida. Too many relased in the wild and was destroying the local eco system as an evasive species, this is also another part of the problem with hobbiest, expecially in costal areas. "Ahhh, what a cute little lion fish", and the 2 years later, "shoot, lion fish is huge and has eaten everything in my tank, time to let him go". Although this does fall on the hobbiest, I think LFS could step up, be a bit more diligent in what theyre selling and to whom and properly educate customers on what they are about to purchase as apposed to just looking ot make a sale.

    Our club seems to be pretty in tune with this. One voice alone is not going to make a mark, so what can we do as an entity to get on board with this?

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