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A fad of miniature “aquariums,” sold at retail stores as novelty items and decorations, has recently emerged. First there were the “AquaBabies,” tiny tanks with animals and a plant, which, thanks to many of you who wrote and complained, is now obsolete. Now Wal-Mart and several other stores have taken it a step further by selling “betta fish,” also called “Siamese fighting fish,” in tiny cups with a few ounces of water and not even enough room to turn around in, much less swim in, as they were meant to do or in flower vases with a plant stuck in the top. Like AquaBabies, the fish are peddled as commodities, and consumers are encouraged to purchase them on a whim.

PETA constantly receives calls from people who have seen dead fish in these aquariums, since they sometimes sit on store shelves for weeks or months at a time. The animals who manage to survive are doomed to live in the tiny, inadequate environments, which have been highly criticized by experts. The directions provided by the store are often confusing or misleading about what the animal needs in order to survive and what an appropriate level of care should be. Consequently, those who are taken home face death at the hands of a well-meaning person who simply doesn’t understand the needs of the animal or, more often, are discarded after the novelty wears thin. One outraged caller saw a sign next to a stack of these poor fish at Wal-Mart this past February that read, “This Valentine’s Day, give the gift that swims.” Unfortunately, many of these “gifts” weren’t swimming because they were dead.

If it is not acceptable to keep a dog in a tiny closet without ventilation, why should fish be put in the same situation? Those who have taken the time to express their outrage to the stores carrying these cruel products generally receive a canned response about how bettas are native to rice paddies in Malaysia and “thrive” in these conditions. Although it doesn’t take a scientist to realize how ludicrous that argument is, here are the opinions of a few experts:

  • Gaddy Bergmann of the Department of Biology at the University of South Florida states, “Even small fish … require at least 10 gallons for good water quality and normal activity. … Even fish that can survive in puddles require adequate nourishment and water quality. In nature, this is provided by the environment. However, in a captive scenario, water quality and nutrition are more likely to be inadequate, particularly if the consumer buying the product is uninformed.” He goes on to say that “small volumes of water are less stable than larger ones and may physiologically challenge their occupants” and that “consumers who buy AquaBabies may be misled into thinking that the setup requires little or no maintenance, when in reality it does require maintenance, as do all aquaria.”
  • Harro Hieronimus, chair of the German Livebearer Society and the International Rainbowfish Association, was asked to create for the German Ministry of Agriculture a set of minimum requirements for the humane care of fish. His expert opinion has been translated into law in Germany. He maintains that fish must have a minimum volume of 13 gallons of water in an aquarium approximately 24 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches in size. Hieronimus states, “Keeping fish permanently in smaller tanks is cruelty against animals and [in Germany] may be prosecuted by law.”

Thanks to letters and calls from thousands of concerned individuals, Target, Rite Aid, Eckerd, and Albertsons (including its subsidiaries, Jewel, Osco Drug, and Sav-On) no longer sell imprisoned fish and frogs. 1-800-FLOWERS agreed to stop selling betta fish in a vase after our action alert generated calls from concerned consumers. After sending a letter to Tops Market about a similar fish-in-a-vase arrangement, we got a call from the president of the produce and perishables department, who told us that he had not intended to promote a cruel product and that he would ensure that these products were pulled from the shelves.

When it comes to reeling in unsuspecting consumers and making a buck at the expense of animals, some stores will stop at nothing. So-called “painted glass fish” are naturally colorless and are forced to undergo a horrifying dying process to get their bright colors. These fish are dipped into an acid solution that strips off their protective “slime coat,” which is a vital part of their immune system. Then they are injected or painted with semi-permanent fluorescent dyes. After all that, they are placed in an “irritant bath” to try to get their slime coat to regenerate. Most of those fish who survive the ordeal and end up on store shelves will live a few months more at best, being particularly susceptible to disease. Those who do survive longer will have lost their coloration within six to 10 months. Even most fish hobbyists agree that no reputable store would sell these fish.

Sticker your neighborhood! PETA has printed a page of colorful, red-and-black stickers that say, “Stop Animal Suffering—Boycott This Product.” To get a free sheet of stickers, click here!

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  • Lugia says:

    Can there be a way to announce to as MANY people as possible about all of this?????

    Hi, I want to address a common issue with fish care in pet stores. Typically I see that fish are commonly mistreated though should not be singled out from being able to live a happy long life as many pets are prioritized and I very often see dead fish in containers from stores- if these were dogs and cats in cages in stores being killed and thrown out there’d be a public outrage. But fish are commonly uncared for as creatures which are living animals and should be considered for what they are as living creatures who require proper care to thrive in health and in happiness.

    The issue I want to address currently is Betta fish practices. Betta fish are commonly stored in small containers in petsmart, petco, meijers, grocery stores and many other pet stores. Workers generally follow the guidelines given to them and tell potential customers that the fish lives in a small pond all its life in the wild. This is untrue, the actual bodies of water they reside in are very large. They also state that if you put a betta fish in a large tank, it will be too scared to do anything and die. This is false information as well, there are owners with betta fish in gigantic tanks to roam free and are incredibly healthy and active. They usually place these fish in small containers filled with medicine to keep them alive. The reason why they dose them with medications is because they’re fish meant for 5 gallon to 15 gallon tanks with a heater and filtration. A happy and a healthy betta, observed often by really good owners- will swim and be constantly active, create bubble nests and also will flair its fins. Fish are fragile creatures and do have moods, I observed it countless times reading by their body language. Bettas that lay down, are inactive and stored (many I find dead on shelves or close to dieing with disease) are all signs of depression.

    Another common issue is what they recommend for feeding betta fish. Quite often they say to feed the fish blood worms as a diet. This is very unhealthy as it’s just the same as constantly feeding cats ‘cat treats’. It causes bloating, problems on the fish’s health and many other issues. It makes me wonder if they constantly tell these people all of these health degrading and mentally degrading practices on betta fish because they want to either sell more product ($20/tiny betta fish container geared towards people who have a lower budget, not willing to invest into something large or costly/maintenance) or sell more medicine for the fish which isn’t solving the actual issue given at hand for the fish long term.

    My information (and much more) resides from and ongoing research on videos and great owners of the betta fish community. I pray and desire for a new law to be written and word to be spread on the proper care of betta fish. I do not ever want to see another fish bowl or small entrapment under 5 gallons to be sold to someone wanting to own a betta fish ever as I value long and happy lives with respect to betta fish as I do towards humans and all animals alike. I hope and pray that word is spread widely about this issue, and a stop is put to common abusive practices. I really give my heart out towards this issue and look for ways we can improve our pet community for both owners and pets alike long term.

  • lawl says:

    wal-mart still has bettas in little cups. did you actually think you could make wal-mart change their ways? while it’s a bit cruel, yes, isn’t there something bigger you could be focusing on than harassing stores?

  • emily324 says:

    i knew that there was something wrong with betta fish in those tiny cups but you are told they are fine, they dont look fine. every time i see them i want to cry. no animal should be in that tiny place. they look depressed for a reason. it upsets me so much.

  • PETA says:

    Re: A fish keeper. While it is true that because bettas are labyrinth fish (who take oxygen from the air by coming to the surface of the water), they can live in small amounts of water, we feel that it is cruel to keep them in this environment, because the water can get very dirty, very quickly, and the temperature can fluctuate too rapidly (which can make them ill or kill them). It also only leaves them enough room to swim in endless, boring circles. For more tips on how to be a humane guardian for betta fish, please visit:

  • Afishkeeper says:

    Personally, I dislike the way betta fish are kept and thought of in most LFS (local fish stores), it makes me ill. However, betta fish can be kept in relatively small (2.5 gallons minimum) containers, provided they are kept heated (76-80 degrees fahrenheit) and have very clean water to keep away potential bacterial infections.

  • raulthebodybuilder says:

    I hate seeing these poor beta’s in the plastic cups in Walmart, this is torture.

  • Joseph says:

    Bravo! I have several aquariums and really enjoy sharing life with my fish. It’s always traumatic to witness newbies buying fish. I have actually observed someone buying a fish because it matched the room. Sales associates push what ever the store is overstocked in and not whats best for the pet. More education is needed for aquatic pet owners and maybe some liability needs to fall on the retailers. Future aquarist need to understand that each species has specific water requirements in addition to definite tank volume. No one expects people to become fish biologist but some understanding needs to be developed. Learning material is readily available on the internet so there’s no excuse for not doing some research. A basic understanding of water parameters is a must for success in keeping any type of aquatic pet.

    In regards to tattooed fish, don’t get me started. Here is a link to a blog I started.