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!