Baby Hawaiian "Domino" Damselfish - Sheltering in a Sea Star

Sacrificing Animals to Start/Cycle a New Tank

It's no wonder the majority of saltwater aquarium hobbyists quit within a year of starting, considering how it all begins. 

New aquariums need to be cycled, an essential process requiring organic materials and 2 - 6 weeks to develop the chemistry and proper levels of beneficial bacteria for nutrient cycling. Live rock, sand and fish are used to accomplish this. When fish are used, the word "torture" frequently occurs in online marine aquarium sites describing the process, but that doesn't stop the so-called experts and fish sellers from recommending the practice.

Several sites mention the harm of this highly controversial practice but go on to describe the species and quantity of fish required to achieve the goal. One site suggests hermit crabs as the "more expendable" option for those concerned with torture. 

Millions of Hawaii's hermit crabs have been taken by the trade since 2000.

Some sites skip the controversy and gets right to the $$. The endemic Hawaiian Dascyllus (aka Domino Damsel) is one species recommended for cycling.  Collectors in Hawaii capture and sell them for $1.58 each.  They retail on the mainland for $18.

Stan and Debbie Hauter were aquarium collectors on Molokai before moving back to the mainland years ago. They now publish aquarium "how to" articles on Here's a summary of their page on cycling:

Don't let local fish stores talk you into buying expensive fish for cycling your new tank. It's a waste of money, because those fish are going to quickly die. Instead buy damsels or chromis which are cheap and may survive exposure to toxic levels of ammonia and nitrite long enough to complete the  approximate 30 day cycling process. Yes, it's true these species are rather boring to look at compared to the pricier ones, but don't worry, you can take your survivors back to the store (where they can be re-sold for another round) or give them to a friend needing to cycle a tank.

In the global cry for aquarium industry/hobby reform, educating the consumer is always discussed as the preferred, and often only, solution, as if consumer demand was the only viable control. This issue is a perfect example of why education is a non-starter. Here we have the Hauters, who, in their own words, "continually strive to make About Saltwater Aquariums the top educational resource for aquarists of all ages and experience levels", suggesting a second round of torture for these animals who somehow managed to survive the first.

In the State of Hawaii, assisting others in acts of animal cruelty is a misdemeanor. Just as this torturous practice is encouraged by the Hauters, the State DLNR defended and condoned trade practices of fish venting and starvation in their testimony against Maui County efforts to protect reef wildlife from harmful trade practices.  Whether educating, defending and condoning qualify as "assisting" remains to be determined, but in any case the practices they refer to underscore the fact that this is truly a violent and dark hobby. 




Working to Keep Hawaii's Reef Animals on Hawaii's Reefs!

Animal Cruelty