The Dilemma of Rescuing Fish

“rescue” can mean different things to different people, and is not always so black-and-white.


Long time no see!

A trend in the fish keeping community has caught my attention, one that has a few potential problems in it that I think should be discussed. Let’s start at the beginning. Everyone in the aquarium hobby I think has experienced at one time or another, a store that sells large quantities of fish and doesn’t do a very good job of keeping them, ensuring they are healthy and well cared for, etc. Keeping in line with my own aquarium keeping interests, I will talk specifically here of the betta fish.

Most often in pet stores betta are kept in very small containers, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sometimes their water quality is left to become very poor in those containers, or they are not fed as they should be, or they are caused unnecessary stress, etc. The bottom line is this: some places, but certainly not all, take very poor care of what the pet industry has long looked at as a cheap, expendable pets. Betta, because the males must be kept separate and they live somewhat longer than other types of fish in poor water quality with the aid of a labyrinth organ, often get the very shortest end of the stick. In short, the lower quality fish that are cheap to produce and sell are not worth the trouble to care for at some stores.

This has, understandably, led to fish lovers and betta lovers everywhere embarking on rescue missions to save the fish from their dismal life on a shelf. This is no doubt admirable. The first step in creating change is to become aware of a problem in the industry, and behavior like this signals that people are becoming increasingly aware of bad pet store practices. However, as I mentioned, this is where some grey areas begin.

I think it’s safe to say that the main goal of said rescuers is to save the lives of individual fish. Thinking bigger picture, I hope the goal is also to save all the fish from being subjected to such lazy care and fish keeping practices.

The problem is this, a large percent of people looking to rescue bettas, purchase the sick or unhealthy fish from the stores in order to better care for them.

This is immediately gratifying, in that the fish left without care can be taken home at once and their conditions can be improved. However, on the flipside, it must be mentioned that the act of purchasing a sick fish, has also given money directly to the store that is using bad practices.

Of course, some rescuers have some harsh words for a store, or post somewhere about how they rescued, but I hope I’m not being too skeptical in thinking that the words of paying individual customers are not going to stop a store from keeping fish the way they do, after all it worked—they sold the fish without taking care of it and made a profit. And while spreading the word of how fish are kept in bad conditions is helpful, it also encourages more people to do the same, to go out and buy more fish from pet stores using bad practices, subsequently bringing more and more money into the stores, because they do use bad practices. In the world of business where numbers are sometimes more important than individual voices, this can potentially only make the problem of pet stores incorrectly keeping fish even worse.

So what’s the answer? I suppose it depends on the person. In one school of thought, (school, ha fish pun, maybe…) it’s ok to buy sick and unhealthy fish, because letting fish die while we wait for the industry to change is cruel to the fish in the stores now. In another, the best thing to do is stop buying unhealthy fish altogether and force businesses to keep them healthy, or not make any sales at all. Though I think this gets complicated when thinking of the general public being educated enough on fish to even know accurately the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy fish. I have seen before someone mistake a healthy crowntail for a betta with ripped fins for example.

It seems that a good option would be to approach stores that have unhealthy fish and try and get them to surrender the fish. This means trying to convince them that the fish they’re keeping are unhealthy for one (you should have researched facts) will probably not sell in that condition two (which is tricky, some places know real fish people won’t buy sick fish, some know people buy sick fish all the time and don’t care) and that the fish will soon die if it is kept in its environment three, resulting in a total loss of profit anyway (this is pretty simple if the facts are clear). With a little bit of luck, and trust in the goodness of our fellow man or woman, stores with unhealthy fish will hopefully surrender dying fish to those willing to take them.

The effort of anyone with a heart to rescue should be appreciated of course, but the term “rescue” shouldn’t really be thrown around in all cases. It will take a lot to permanently change the way the stores look at fish. Hopefully it can be done. Having fish easily available to the public is a great way to foster interest in the hobby that deserves growth and expansion in America. Getting stores to also encourage only proper fish keeping practices and sell only suitable tanks and equipment, while providing correct information, well, that’s a whole ‘nother article.

Of course, anyone interested in the moral questions of buying/rescuing fish and other ways they can help create change for all fish for the better, should do as much research as they can. They should reach out to those that have a greater impact on the fish keeping community, and any who just love animals or want to help. Extreme practices are hardly ever the right choice, but there are meaningful ways that change can be created in a positive way from individuals working together to give a voice to an animal without one that is often forgotten.

Betta, and all fish, can make wonderful, loving pets in the right homes. They deserve a chance to get there safely. The questions and issues with buying and rescuing betta fish are never black and white, and people all have their own opinions. I simply wish to raise some questions, offer different views, and get people thinking a little more about what impact their well-intended actions may be having.

One thing is for sure, with a community full of so many good-hearted, determined pet lovers, the future of the aquarium hobby, and the fish involved, will be even better with time.


Until next time, love from me and Luxe (my betta)