Uproar as goldfish remain legal prizes


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There has been widespread uproar among the aquarium community after the government backed down on its promise to make the giving away of goldfish as prizes illegal.

We ran a poll to determine how readers felt about the subject, and 88% believed that the government was wrong in its decision to back down.

Well over 1350 fishkeepers have written to Practical Fishkeeping, and the vast majority have slammed the government for its about-turn.

To refresh memories, the draft Animal Welfare Bill was going to make it illegal to give away goldfish as fairground prizes. However, Environment Secretary Patricia Hewitt later dropped this from the new legislation.

The Telegraph reported that she bowed to pressures from fellow ministers who feared that introducing the ban could expose the Government to accusations of running a nanny state. Instead, the new Bill will allow goldfish to be given away to children if they are accompanied by over-16s.

Some of you queried the government's motivation. Says Stuart Thomson: "The government is afraid of any little problem this year because of the election."

Poppy McDonald wrote: "There are plenty of other things we could accuse the government of being

a nanny state for, but selling pets as prizes? This is a ridiculous reason for not banning it."

"Typical not only of this government," said Jon Tetlow, "but probably all MPs to firstly make a long overdue stand on such an issue, and then do a complete U-turn when it threatens to cause a divide and thereby detract from

their own popularity."

Rich Carter is incredulous. "If the government can bring in Parliamentary Bills to ban fox-hunting and prevent fishermen from catching dolphins etc, why can't they protect an innocent living goldfish?"

Along the same lines is Stephen Smith: "As usual the government uses hypocritical standards in its use of the phrase 'nanny state'. Ban foxhunting but keep on throwing goldfish down the loo.

"A ban would go a long way to make children realise they should treat all life forms as special."

PFK's very own Dr Peter Burgess also emailed us: "This makes a farce of the new Animal Welfare Bill (AWB). This decision is also extremely unfair to the many pet stores and aquatic outlets who are (rightly) subjected to various regulations pertaining to the trade in pet fish. I call upon:

fish suppliers not to supply funfairs with livestock;

local authorities to ban this activity when granting licences to funfairs;

the AWB scientific committee to register their disapproval to Patricia Hewitt.

"This foolish decision must be overturned."

Deidre Shannon supports Dr Burgess: "Why can't the wholesaler responsible for selling these goldfish to fairground traders be held to account? Wholesalers should commit to selling to bona fide retailers and businesses only."

David Foster says: "I find it disgusting that one of the most advanced countries of the Western world still condones the offering of live animals as prizes. It's bad enough that some people buy these fish on a whim from shops, but to have them thrust upon them as a prize is disgusting as countless numbers are sure to die as a result."

Many of you talked about the cruelty aspect. Not only do the fish have to suffer pollution, stress, bright lights, noise and suffocation, they are often won by children with no clue as to their proper upkeep. After all, if puppies/kittens/hamsters were being given away, there was sure to be a huge outcry.

But if you thought goldfish were the only fish being offered at fairgrounds, think again. Molly Leonard writes: "Recently, some carnivals have begun offering Betta splendens. Certainly better bets for the average newcomer than goldfish since they stay small, breathe air, and, oh yes, stay small. Given the option between a two-foot goldfish and a two-inch Betta in almost any colour, most beginners would surely select the Betta; too bad no one tells them the potential size of the goldfish."

Frank van Veen says that giving away fish as prizes reinforces the false image that they are cheap, expendable pets.

Or as Sam Davies says: "Giving goldfish away as prizes merely encourages the view that many people have that fish are ornamental objects. Most people see fish as things rather than asliving creatures because they are not cute and furry."

However, as one reader reported, not all fish die either in their bags or in filthy jam jars at home.

Jude Brett recounted the episode: "Every November, Aberystwyth hosts a market and fair. I was horrified to witness a student, surrounded by his mates, swallow two live goldfish. They all thought it hilarious, and I hope those fish gave him a stomach-ache.

"There were numerous children and adults with bags of fish. I wondered how many went straight down the toilet, if they even got as far as the peoples' homes."

Andy Powers has won goldfish as a boy some 20 years ago. "Seeing my mum having to bathe them in weird, blue chemicals because they were sick, I believe that the welfare of these fish is of paramount importance. The sight of dead fish on the ground from burst bags was distressing even then."

Fred Ayres says: "Impulse buying or unexpectedly winning a pet is totally incompatible with responsible action and leads to a total disregard for life."

Kit Lane echoes this view: "Responsibility begins in childhood. Owning an animal of

any kind should be a considered, practical issue that involves more thought and consideration than being handed a poor creature in a bag. Children get the wrong message right from a very early age with allowing such obvious examples of animal cruelty to be sanctioned by the state."

Paul Pearson felt that the majority of PFK readers understand the long-term commitment required in providing a suitable environment for fish and other aquatic animals.

"It disappoints me that anyone who reads the magazine could vote 'No, they are only goldfish'," he wrote. "I presume these voters think swimming in an undersized, unfiltered container in their own waste until they can't breathe must be the goldfish's idea of contentment!"

Among those who voted 'No' was Jamal Jenkins. "You people are crazy if you think it's inhumane to give away a goldfish that would be dumped in the trash at the end of the day anyway."

R Crossley said: "I don't believe they are 'just' goldfish; the fish are only there for a short period of time and usually go to a good home. All fish undergo stress when bought from the shops, so it is not much different. Besides, it's traditional, good entertainment for children and a way to introduce many into the excellent hobby."

Paul Monk says: "A child winning a goldfish is the first step to fishkeeping. If the government bans goldfish as prizes, a lot of children will not get the chance of keeping fish until they are a lot older, or even until they have children of their own. We should have the choice."

From America writes Sophia, who used to win goldfish when she was a kid. "It was the most exciting thing in the world to me. They never lived for very long, but it taught me that if I wanted to keep something alive, I'd actually have to take care of it.

"I think my parents would rather me kill some 20-cent goldfish than a nice $50 cichlid."

Is there any possibility of compromise here? It's a tough one, but perhaps Dave Brown has a solution: "Instead, give out cards the kids can take to a sponsoring pet store to redeem one free goldfish.

"They can then be properly equipped and informed of the care needed. And, the kids get to pick out the one they want. How cool is that!

"No more fish being mistreated at the carnival; better success for the fishkeeper; more business for the shop. (I've always found it interesting how much care can go into the keeping of one goldfish by a child, followed by the next customer wanting one dozen to feed his snakehead)."

Paul Twilley bade us recall the words of India's Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

What does this have to say about us?