Storm in a goldfish bowl as MSPs debate obese pet fish

SINCE devolution a decade ago, MSPs have broken new ground in tackling major health issues such as smoking, alcohol and obesity.

But now they have turned their focus to the wellbeing of pet tropical fish, which are becoming obese and suffering a lack of social interaction.

Holyrood's petitions committee yesterday called on the Scottish Government to investigate the conditions in which Siamese fighting fish, otherwise known as Betta splendens, are kept in pet shops.

MSPs agreed that rules preventing the spectacular fish from being kept in goldfish bowls rather than proper tanks were too lax and poorly enforced.

The petition, placed by Chris Law and signed by 20 supporters, said the fish were becoming obese and losing out on vital social interaction because their tanks were too small.

The Siamese fighting fish need to be kept in tanks of at least five gallons (22 litres), with a water temperature of 24-28C, a briefing note for committee members said.

Many of the fish, which are popular because they are colourful and relatively cheap, are kept in tanks that are too small, which leads to poor health and obesity, the petition said.

It also pointed out that "small containers are open to temperature fluctuations and rapidly declining water quality".

The warm water reflects their natural environment in places such as Bangkok, where temperatures average 34C.

The petitioner claimed that a loophole in the current law – the Pet Animals Act 1951 and Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 – allowed pet shops to ignore the required standards.

Members of the committee agreed that more needed to be done on the issue.

Labour MSP Bill Butler suggested the committee wrote to the Scottish Government asking if it would be prepared to look at the legislation. He added that ministers should also ask whether the rules were being properly enforced.

Nationalist MSP John Wilson added: "We need to find out if there is a tropical fish society for Scotland and ask for their views on this."

Green MSP Robin Harper suggested that pet shops should not only make sure that they had the correct conditions themselves, but should be made to check whether customers could provide proper tanks for the tropical fish.

"The conditions required seem to be relatively demanding," he said.

"Retailers should be asking customers if they are able to keep the fish in conditions like that, and not just in a goldfish bowl."

The fighting fish's natural habitat is in paddy fields in the Far East.

According to the petitioner, in the wild in the dry season, the fish can become trapped in tiny puddles.

Many die because of lack of food and poor water quality. However, although shallow, the puddles can expand for many acres, giving fish space to swim. Vegetation in and near the water provides natural filtration.


SIAMESE fighting fish earned their nickname because two males will fight to the death if put in the same bowl.

However, they are able to live happily together in a large aquarium.

Male Betta splendens also attack and kill other tropical fish, such as ghost shrimp, or chase and irritate white cloud mountain minnows.

Adults grow to about 3in long and live for two or three years. They will eat fish flakes and frozen foods, but prefer "live" food.

Siamese fighting fish are brightly coloured, their hues including blue, orange, red and white. The females are recognisable by their much shorter fins and display horizontal stripes.

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