A letter I wrote

JessiNoel21

I got this from a group I am on facebook and changed it to help my LFS and Petco understand the care of bettas. I sent one to the company and store managers.


Dear Store Manager:

I am writing to you regarding concerns on the policy governing the sale and quality of living conditions of the betta fish (aka betta splendens or Siamese fighting fish) currently being sold by your stores. I also wish to recommend some inexpensive improvements to keeping and staff training which could correct this and boost sales of both fish and merchandise. I am an experienced betta keeper and this correspondence is supported by a large number of other betta keepers known to me personally and from online betta forums, including both hobbyists and breeders locally and internationally. I have gathered suggestions from extensive consultation with these groups.

As a previous customer and betta enthusiast, I have been distressed to see the inhumane living conditions provided to the fish in your stores. I have also been informed by staff that keeping fish this way is company policy.

-Observations.

The conditions I have seen are generally a number of male bettas kept alone in very tiny bowls containing often less than a standard cup (250ml) of water, and at most, 2 cups (500ml). I have on several occasions even seen them in clear plastic disposable drinking cups, which were half full. Often, fish are only barely covered with water, no doubt due to evaporation during the day. Not only is this exceptionally cruel in terms of space and ability to move freely, but this manner of keeping fish ensures that there is no provision of heating or filtration. This leaves fish living in water below their required temperature. and in their own waste. This is not merely stressful, but in such a tiny amount of water, is rapidly toxic due to the buildup of ammonia. I have also learned this water is changed only once per week, which ensures a very large ammonia buildup. Such containers should have water changes at least once per day, and even at this rate this small volume would still rapidly accumulate toxins. Tiny cups also prevent proper water temperatures from being achieved and maintained for these tropical fish. Ambient room temperatures are often too cold, and fluctuate during the day and night, adding yet more stress to these already suffering animals.

As a result, fish I observe in these conditions almost always display varying cases of ammonia poisoning and finrot. I have also seen a number suffering ICH and velvet disease. I have kindly pointed this out to staff, but most seem disinterested or inform me that 'they always look like that'. This is alarming if store staff cannot recognize, or worse, have never seen what a healthy betta should look like due to the prevalence of these conditions.

Finally, these conditions along with no form of stimulation in their housing also leave these fish lethargic and 'depressed' looking. A healthy betta is an inquisitive, lively fish. Those kept isolated from any stimulI and unable to swim freely will often lay still and invariably suffer because of it. Conversely, being kept next to other males all day can also result in stress to some fish as they will flare (display their finnage) constantly, which is a natural aggression response to seeing other male fish. This can also leave fish stressed and in some cases, exhausted. I have inquired to these conditions to staff several times, and have found that the information staff provides is often flagrantly incorrect and advice seems derived from specious reasoning at best. For example, I have been told on one occasion that because these fish 'like' small puddles (which is itself incorrect - these fish live in large, heavily vegetated marshes), they will become stressed in a tank larger than 2 litres and probably die. This is total fiction, a brief web search will reveal that a natural habitat is very large for betta fish and a healthy aquarium environment is usually cited at being at least 20 liters. The only correct information I have seen regarding these fish from staff is that two males will fight and should not be placed in the same tank.

There is also an issue with a number of products sold for betta keeping which needs to be addressed. Most stores also sell and recommend the tiny bowls bettas are kept in to buyers of these fish, as well as very small novelty bowls, claiming that they are 'ideal' homes for betta fish. These are usually less than 2 litres in capacity. A number of these products have information on the boxes perpetuating the myth that bettas naturally live in tiny stagnant puddles, and so a tiny unfiltered bowl is perfectly ok in which to keep these fish. There is usually no mention of temperature requirements, and those that do claim that normal room temperature should be suitable is generally too cold for bettas. Others with desk lamps above them have argued that this will keep them warm, but lights are not left on all day, and this may also either be insufficient or too much heat depending on the surrounding area/climate the bowl is kept in. These can in no way maintain a constant, correct temperature for the fish.

There is also usually no mention of the nitrogen cycle on the packaging when buying these items. An understanding of this is critical to keeping the fish alive, as tanks which have not 'cycled' and grown the beneficial bacteria needed to convert ammonia from fish waste to less harmful nitrates will rapidly poison the fish kept in them. This is a critical issue for continuing education of your staff and needs to be addressed for any fish and tank set-up sold.

-Business benefits of humane fish husbandry to fish and store sales.

Aside from ethical and humane fish husbandry, I can also assume cruel animal treatment would be costly to business as well, primarily as most people who would not wish to purchase sickly and thus unappealing looking fish. Also, I am sure a number of fish would be unable to be sold and/or die due to this inhumane keeping style and that the turnover for dead fish to be replaced with new fish would also be costly.

To provide an adequate environment for betta fish, more equipment and accessories are needed than often recommended to buyers. In providing some of the following recommendations to buyers, it is apparent that the purchasing of such necessary equipment would result in far greater profit than the sale of a fish and small bowl alone. Though the cost of such a setup would undoubtedly deter some potential buyers, the loss of a few buyers would be largely offset by the remaining customers who would still purchase the required items for a proper tank.

Once people commit to buying a pet, they usually are happy to spend the little extra to ensure its long term health and well-being. Those who do not and are deterred by cost are likely to only want a living decoration, and may not be ideal owners or likely to offer repeat business once their fish fall ill and/or die due to poor conditions. Such people may also provide poor recommendation of the store due to poor experience and/or advice. Likewise, those willing to purchase the required items for a healthy aquarium may provide, along with increased sales, repeat business, respect and promotion of the store via personal recommendations from buyers given that they were provided with detailed information leading to healthy and successful fish keeping.

To vastly improve fish living conditions and sales of both fish and accessories, I have consulted widely with breeders and hobbyists on the minimal and optimal conditions required to keep betta fish in-store, and what should be suggested to buyers.

-For a person wishing to purchase a new betta fish and tank set up, the following is strongly recommended:
1. Tank size of no less than 10 litres, with optimal size of 20 litres or above preferred (40 litres or larger required for any additional fish).
2. Filter of appropriate size with adjustable flow (bettas prefer low flow).
3. Heater capable of maintaining a constant temperature.
4. Smooth gravel and decorations such as silk or live plants to ensure fins are not torn.
5. Water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramine from tap water.(Prime works great)
6. Gravel vacuum to clean the tank.
7. Correct information regarding the nitrogen cycle.
8. Water testing kits for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, and to inform buyers when tank is cycled and able to accept fish.
9. High quality betta pellets and other high protein foods for variety and optimal health, such as freeze-dried as long as you tell the customer to soak it first, frozen or live bloodworms, tubifex, krill, brine shrimp etc.
10. Guidance on tank maintenance i.e. 20-30% water changes once per week using gravel vacuum, cleaning filter media in cycled tank water, wiping off algae, keeping tank out of direct sunlight.

-Tankmates for Bettas

The general consensus from online betta communities regarding extra fish for betta tanks is that it is best avoided by beginners, though a snail can often be sold as a generally suitable companion. Even this may fail due to the aggressive nature of the fish. If a community tank is desired, bettas can be kept with smaller peaceful fish such as corydora catfish and small tetras provided they are in a shoal of 5 or more, but this requires a lot of research and a large tank (over 40 liters for one betta and a small school of community fish), more plant or other forms of cover and a backup tank if the betta becomes aggressive.

-Keeping bettas for sale in stores - simple and cost effective ways to maintain good fish husbandry, to boost sales and store reputation.

Regarding conditions for keeping bettas in stores, it is appreciated that it would be difficult to house a substantial number of individual fish for sale in separate aquaria. Thus, after consultation with betta keepers and researching store methods of betta keeping, several practical options appear to be available to ethically house bettas in the short term until sold.

The most cost effective of these would be to stock slightly less fish, and house males separately in tanks containing plants for sale, or, if only a few plant tanks are in store, divide these tanks using perspex or mesh dividers (easily and cheaply done and reversible), to sell plants and also house a number of males each in their own separate division. Not only does this reduce cost of betta housing, it provides extra CO2 and fertiliser for the plants, and makes both the plants and bettas more attractive for sale in a larger tank arrangement. Another method would be to divide a new aquarium in the fish tank section into sections as above and keep males this way. As the above are only temporary housing, division can be made so fish have less than 10 litres, but this would still allow them to have the filtration, heating and a properly cycled tank (i.e., a tank which has undergone the nitrogen cycle), the same the other fish in the fish area are afforded.

Another humane and cost-effective idea comes as having males in a custom unit setup I have personally seen in competitors’ stores, where 1-2 litre open rectangular jars sit next to each other in racks where a line is run overhead and individual taps are positioned over each jar which can be turned on to allow fresh water to drip at a constant rate into the jars. Taps can be turned off when a jar is empty or not in use. An overflow valve near the jar top allows excess to be taken away and recycled via a sump. This way fish have fresh heated water at all times, eliminating the labor costs associated with daily water changes needed for the tiny bowl set-up. This will also keep fish far healthier, though it is lacking on space for the fish. Nevertheless, small plants or pebbles can be placed in each for stimulation. The unit can also be cycled first, saving fish from on ammonia poisoning.

There have also been store is from other stores which 'exercise' their bettas in turn by adding a different male ever few days to the plant tanks. This gives them exercise and prevents muscle atrophy from living in small jars, provides a good display for the fish and plants, again encouraging more sales of both, and will improve the health of the fish, though they would still spend most time in a small bowl. This would work best if only a few betta males were stocked at a time, so time spent between rotations in the plant tank is small.

If fish are to be kept in tiny bowls, please at least increase the size to over 5 litres, include a small decoration or plant, keep in a warm area and provide daily water changes to prevent poisoning and disease.

-Knowledge base

I have been in this hobby for over 5 years and have the support of a network of other betta hobbyists known to me personally and through online betta societies and forums.

I thank you for accepting and reading this letter of concern, as does the wider betta hobbyist community. We hope that this can effect some form of change to not only improve fish welfare, but also your business as a result.

Regards,
Ms, Jessica (removed surname)
 

QQQUUUUAADDD

Great write up! Very informative!

I would love to see the response.
 

JessiNoel21

you and me both
 

Daac

Very nice... Let us know if they give an answer... very well written and organized.
 

bankruptjojo

very nice, I saw a older women ask for some fish at petco. the employee asked if she just set up the tank and she said yes. the employee said she couldnt sell her any fish because of the tank being new. I was really impressed! but the women just looked kinda confused and walked away with no real explanation why she couldnt put them in yet. the employee seemed relieved she didnt have to explain everything. I knew it was to good to be true lol. I knew she was probably just going to the next store. so I went after her and gave a short explanation and sent her here. not the first time iv helped people at a chain store.

they should just have a short video to let people watch explaining the basics. then they can ask the employees any questions. employees need better training. why they don't offer better pay to one fish manager instead of kids who never kept fish before. not saying there all bad, have meet a few that you can tell have plenty of there own tanks I deliver news papers and would quit my job in a second to keep fish at a decent pay.
 

FriendsNotFood

Great letter Lets just hope they take things on board!

About 2 years ago there was a thread running around here where a betta keeper wrote up a template letter and betta fact sheet to send to all the pet companies. RSPCA ended up putting it on their site too. Maybe someone has it bookmarked?
 

Magoo

Excellent letter really well put out. I've not personally seen conditions bettas are kept in in chain stores in America I saw a video on YouTube but couldn't bare to watch it. It must be heartbreaking to see and even worse for the fish. Can't wait to see if you get a response hopefully something will be done about it
 

ryanr

Great letter Lets just hope they take things on board!

About 2 years ago there was a thread running around here where a betta keeper wrote up a template letter and betta fact sheet to send to all the pet companies. RSPCA ended up putting it on their site too. Maybe someone has it bookmarked?


The member's name is Lea, and this would be the said article (or result at least)
 

JessiNoel21

The member's name is Lea, and this would be the said article (or result at least)

Yes that is who posted to my other site and I used it to inform the companies
 

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