A 'Cultural' Collaboration: Petco and Defenders of Wildlife Promote Farm-Raised Fish

Dr. Roy Yanong on Pet Life Radio

Most common freshwater aquarium fish are aquacultured—born and raised on fish farms in Florida, other parts of the U.S., and abroad.  Most marine aquarium species, by contrast, are collected from the wild, with only a small percentage farm-raised.  Petco and Defenders of Wildlife have joined forces to reduce impacts on coral reef habitats and species by promoting aquacultured fish over wild caught species.  How did this unique collaboration develop and what can it accomplish for both the aquarium hobby and the environment?

My guests today are Rich Williams and Todd Gwynn from Petco, and Dan Thornhill from Defenders of Wildlife. Join us as they discuss the plight of coral reefs worldwide and how a push toward aquaculture can help both the industry and the wild.


Rich Williams
Vice President, Companion Animal Merchandising, Petco

As Petco’s VP of Companion Animal Merchandising, Rich oversees all of the merchandising activities in the aquatic, reptile, small animal, and bird categories. This includes live animals as well as the supply categories necessary to properly care for these pets.

Rich joined Petco in 1995 and has since worked in multiple areas of the organization, including Store Operations, Inventory Management, Animal Care, and Merchandising. In 2003, Rich was named to lead the company’s newly formed Animal Care & Education department and tasked with creating policies, procedures and best practices to guide how Petco cares for animals in our care, as well as the information we share with customers on how to care for their pets. Under Williams’ direction and with the help of others on the team, Petco created and implemented industry-leading animal care practices for Petco stores, vendors and customers. In 2005, Rich took on leadership of Petco’s Live Animal Merchandising team, and in 2010 added the Companion Animal Supply Merchandising team to his responsibilities.

Prior to Petco, Rich worked in the Supermarket Industry in various Store Operations roles. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business marketing from the University of Northern Iowa.

Rich has cared for pets since he was 5 when he got his first aquarium. He currently shares his home with a 13-year-old dachshund, Bailey, who he adopted from a rescue organization at a Petco store in Chicago, and a 150-gallon saltwater tank filled with several aquacultured fish and corals.

Todd Gwynn
Aquatic Life Merchandise Manager, Petco

Todd joined Petco in 1996 as a part-time sales associate and animal specialist in one of the company’s San Diego area stores.  In 1998, Todd was promoted to the position of Assistant Buyer for Companion Animals and Aquatic Life at our National Support Center (corporate office) in San Diego.  In 2007, Petco divided its live animal categories into two separate departments and Todd took over full responsibility for the aquatic life categories.  Prior to joining Petco, Todd managed an independent pet store. 

With more than 20 years of experience working with companion animals and aquatic life, Todd’s offers a vast knowledge base and broad expertise in all animal categories at Petco.

Todd holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Science from California State University San Marcos. He shares his home with an adopted mixed-breed dog and a 750-gallon reef tank filled with several aquacultured fish.

Dan Thornhill
Conservation Scientist, Defenders of Wildlife

Areas of Expertise: Marine biology and ecology; coral reefs; wildlife trade; deep-sea biology; symbiosis; population genetics; ecology and evolutionary biology; the biological impacts of climate change

Dan conducts original basic and applied research at Defenders while providing science-based advice for marine conservation and education programs. His focus is on the conservation of coral reef ecosystems. He works closely with the staff at Defenders, colleagues in academia, and staff at other conservation organizations with a similar interest in the protection and sustainability of coral reefs.

Before joining Defenders in 2010, Dan was the Doherty Marine Biology Postdoctoral Scholar and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College where he conducted research, mentored students, and taught courses on coral reefs and evolutionary biology. Prior to that, he spent several years working in marine ecology as a research fellow at Auburn University, the University of Georgia, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His research program includes work on coral reefs, deep-sea chemosynthetic environments, the waters surrounding Antarctica, Norwegian fjords, the Gulf of Maine, and other areas. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers to date on a wide range of topics in marine science, with work featured in the journals Molecular Ecology, PLoS One, Coral Reefs, Limnology and Oceanography, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Marine Biology, and many others.

Dan received a Bachelor of Science in zoology and environmental biology from Michigan State University. He did his Ph.D. in ecology from the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia. His dissertation examined the nature of coral-algal symbiosis and how reef-building corals respond to climate change.