Portland Aquarium: No Good for Fish or Humans

What does an aquarium have to do to get a majority of people on Yelp give it a one-star review? First, have it run by people who’ve been arrested for illegally acquiring animals. Second, let children stick their hands into the tanks to ensure that your fish are stressed out and miserable. Third, let all your visitors feed the fish for an additional fee (how could overfeeding possibly harm a fish?). Fourth, locate your so-called “aquarium” in a former steakhouse. Welcome to the Portland Aquarium, which opened last December not in Portland, but in Milwaukie.

The Portland Aquarium’s co-owner Ammon Covino was arrested last month in Boise over allegations that he illegally purchased animals for his other establishment, the Idaho Aquarium. Covino was accused of purchasing protected marine animals, including spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks. Two lemon sharks were confiscated in February and the aquarium was shut down for a day.

Due to the conditions at the Portland Aquarium, some people would love to see it shut down, too. Facebook’s “Boycott Portland Aquarium” page has more than 150 “Likes.” Comments on Yelp range from complaints about children throwing pieces of pizza into the fish tanks to cramped cages, a dearth of hand-washing stations, unsanitary communal towels, and overfed/ill fish.

Finally, back to those touch tanks, which are found in both the Idaho and Portland aquariums. Anyone who’s ever owned a home aquarium knows that you’re not supposed to place your hands in the tank, much less try and touch the fish. It’s bad for the water quality and it stresses the fish. Letting everyone feed the fish compounds the problem. Most fish in home aquariums die from overfeeding, because fish don’t know when to stop eating.

Allowing visitors to touch and feed the fish is the opposite of education, given that it’s so harmful. It also spreads the belief that animals exist merely for our entertainment. Let’s just hope the otter and puffin exhibits stay empty at the Portland Aquarium, because reviewers on Yelp are already commenting negatively on these “painfully small, windowless environments.”

This is guesswork. I haven’t been there. But I’m going to give this one a miss.

by Jen Matteis

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1 thought on “Portland Aquarium: No Good for Fish or Humans

  1. As a former employee of the Portland Aquarium I feel like I would not be doing my part as a community member of Portland and the science community without expressing my opinions, concerns, and some exposing of the Portland Aquarium. The following is not said out of bitterness of my employment as I resigned on my own terms after witnessing and experiencing the unethical nature of the way the animals and employees were (and still are) treated there.
    As you might know, the Portland Aquarium is a for-profit organization. Its owners, Vince and Ammon Covino, opened it in mid December 2012 in good ol’ Milwaukie, Oregon. Beyond what has been portrayed to the public regarding legal affairs with Ammon Covino illegally harvesting marine animals, I feel obligated to further expose the Portland Aquarium in many of its wrongdoings.
    Here is a small list of many of the immoral, unprofessional, and illegal ways the Portland Aquarium owners and (some) directors treated the animals and employees:
    – Some of the marine animals illegally harvested by Ammon Covino (owner) were intended to come to the Portland Aquarium, not the Idaho Aquarium as originally stated to the press in February.
    – A fellow coworker was fired without cause, later to find out that they were let go because of their heavy weight. Vince Covino (owner) did not want “ugly people” representing the company.
    – Aquarium directors have been high (smoking marijuana) on the job.
    – The death log of the animals is atrocious reaching close to 50% of animals lost since the grand opening in December. Many deaths were preventable if the directors and owners would have taken proper measures to provide proper quarantine and housing conditions of the animals. In the words of one of the directors, “these animals are cheap to replace.”
    – Heavy suspicions of unequal pay among males and females with the same job titles and experience levels.
    – Many touch tanks open to the public are treated with medication/harmful, carcinogenic chemicals not fully disclosed to the public.
    – The entire education department has been cut (including laying off the entire education department staff). There are no plans to further develop any educational programming.
    – Over 24 full time staff (of an original ~55) have been fired without cause, let go, or subsequently quit in the past 45 days. Most of the staff who have left were college graduates in biology or wildlife/ marine science. The Portland Aquarium will be having maintenance workers (with little to no formal upper level education) taking over husbandry duties of the animals and leading educational tours.
    – Directors and most of management are grossly under-qualified to hold these positions of power.
    – Peter Covino (father of Vince and Ammon Covino) inappropriately ogles, kisses, and makes lewd, sexual commentary toward many of the female staff.
    – Director states in a passive aggressive note to the staff, “This is a dictatorship. Not a democracy” after an uproar within the staff of the entire education department being cut.
    – Degrading, sexist comments have been made toward female staff from directors.
    I urge you to take your business elsewhere. With Ammon Covino (owner) facing over one million dollars in legal fines, over 90% of the profits (the public’s money) made at the aquarium are going into paying off his legal debts… not going back to building a stronger presence within the community for members to come learn and be inspired. The one thing the Covino’s did right was hire animal husbandry and gift shop staff who were mostly all brilliant college graduates who wanted to inspire and teach young and old about the wonderful life under the sea. Unfortunately, most of those staff members have, in some way or another, left the business and have been hired elsewhere.

    Since working at the Portland Aquarium I have learned in so many ways how NOT to run a business. I ask you please to spend your money elsewhere. Go support a non-profit science center that makes the animals, welfare of the staff, and education of the public its top priorities. Sadly, the Portland Aquarium is not and will never be that.

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