Full-scale reform: Berkeley bans fish as prizes at carnivals

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Berkeley children will no longer be toting home fish — such as goldfish or betta fish — as carnival prizes because of new legislation passed by City Council last week.

Inspired by a PETA investigation, Simone Stevens, a high school student and former intern for City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, proposed the idea for a bill to protect fish from “atrocious and barbaric” treatment. The bill particularly targets transactions at carnivals and fairs, where visitors can acquire fish by participating in activities and games. California law already prohibits vendors from giving away rabbits and birds, but does not include fish in the ban.

The fish are often kept by untrained vendors in “extremely unhealthy” conditions, according to Stevens. She said that mortality rates are high, because of improper care, transportation and the disposal of unwanted fish.

Worthington, who sponsored the bill, said if other city governments adopted similar language, the issue could be elevated to the state level. Four U.S. states already have laws against the sale of fish at carnivals, according to Jay Quigley, secretary for the Berkeley Coalition for Animals.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn said she found the inclusion of an item on fish on the agenda to be “ridiculous.” According to Hahn, the bill does not address existing problems in Berkeley, but is designed for other communities to look to as “model legislation.”

Worthington said that despite having many other legislative priorities, his “greatest joy” as a councilmember lies in seeing young people learn how to effect change in the world.

Stevens, who previously worked on the “free the nipple” ordinance tabled by the city council in September, said Worthington allowed his interns the freedom to propose policy ideas. As a person passionate about animal rights, she saw an opportunity to address the questionable treatment of fish she had observed.

“(Giving away fish) is something I’ve seen being done, and thought casually that it was an inhumane practice,” Stevens said about the sale of animals at carnivals. “But I was never in a position to do anything about it.”

Contact Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.