Aquarium owner speaks out on allegations of abuse



Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherK_KVUE

Posted on August 21, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 22 at 12:20 PM

AUSTIN -- The fate of the new aquarium being built in Austin is up in the air.

A co-owner of the aquarium says the location at Anderson Mill and 183 will open in November on time.

Yet co-owner Vincent Covino is facing scrutiny over allegations of animal abuse at another one of his aquariums, plus his brother has been arrested for buying fish without permits.

The Covino brothers also own aquariums in Portland, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. The Oregon Humane Society is investigating allegations of the death of 200 fish since the aquarium there opened nine months ago. Covino says they allegations by former Portland Aquarium employees are defamatory.

"It's baseless; it's fabricated; it's just not true," said Covino.

Among the allegations, fish-on-fish attacks and starvation.

"This notion that we are starving fish, when it costs you $400 to buy a fish and $600 to air-flight them in, to not feed them the eight cents it takes to keep them fed, is preposterous," Covino said.

Covino's brother Ammon, who is a co-owner  of the aquariums, will plead guilty in federal court next month  to illegally buying marine animals for the other aquariums. He didn't have the necessary permits.

Austin resident Mindy Briggs said she was excited about the aquarium coming until she read the allegations.

"It's just hard to believe somebody who already has so much stacked against them," said Briggs.

Representatives of the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas on the JJ Pickle Research Campus were in talks with the Austin Aquarium to create an educational facility. But at this point, that's on hold.

Spokesperson Faith Singer Villalobos said they are trying to understand "if any of the the issues relate specifically to the Austin Aquarium."

Covino says no. He also says high tech education will be an element in their operation.

"We are going to have thousands of field-trippers every month; they are going to have a great educational experience. And they are going to be inspired," said Covino.

The new aquarium has even spurred a Facebook page in protest of the new facility. The group describes themselves as "local residents concerned about the welfare and treatment of the fish and animals at the Austin Aquarium and the method by which they were obtained."

Season passes for the Austin Aquarium are available for sale online. Covino says he will give a refund to anyone who has already bought them who is upset over the allegations.