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.

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  • ericmills

    Kudos to the Berkeley City Council for this humane move. Only last year the California State Fair ceased such give-aways, sparing the lives of an estimated 15,000 goldfish annually. The fish are often cooked alive in those tiny plastic bags, suffocate, or simply thrown in the trash. Others are flushed down the toilet or released into the wild, where these non-natives cause problems for out native wildlife.

    State legislation is in order to follow Berkeley’s lead. ALL LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814.

    Eric Mills, coordinator

  • MaryFinelli

    Cheers to Berkeley City Council and Simone Stevens for this humane legislation! Science has shown that fishes are sentient, they suffer fear and pain. As fellow sentient beings they deserve our respect and compassion, not cruel exploitation. Animals should not be treated like mere trinkets. Hopefully other cities and states will soon acknowledge this by passing similar animal protection legislation.

    • norando

      Go hug a tree, Mary…..as usual, Berkeley over-reacts. Let’s build a wall around Berkeley, they can be their own little country.

      • MaryFinelli

        Legislation against cruel animal exploitation is a great thing, norando, whether you have enough good sense to realize it or not. Tear down the wall around your mind.

    • California Defender

      Rarely do I applaud the leadership of Berkeley, but this is a positive move. Still, Berkeley is not taking the lead on this issue as many cities in the US and abroad have done far more.

      Perhaps the Berkeley City Council should focus more of their time on meaningful animal welfare instead of dreaming up rules on pronouns and ways to limit free speech.

  • Bruce Fong

    NOOOOOOO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! next will be mealworms for lizard food. Lunatic Left !
    If they only knew the gold fish are suppose to be food for BIG fish and Turtles or snakes that eat fish. and the little kids are saving their lives !!!!!!!!!!!

    • KTCather

      Not true–no “little kids are saving their lives.” In fact, they’re killing them with neglect, filth, and/or releasing them and their diseases into the wild.

      • Bruce Fong

        I worked in a pet store feeder gold fish are bred to feed other animals . They cost .10 each. You whiny libs put a dog on a leash and run them through every store possible . And you talk of filth. Just outlaw pet stores or how about the salt water hobbiests that actually grow corals . Maybe they have feelings too. No wonder they Bay Area stinks of pee when I have to travel there .

        • MaryFinelli

          Human slaves used to be bred in order to make more enslaved people. It wasn’t right to do that, either.

          What stinks is your mentality. It reeks of a deficiency of sense and compassion.

          • tomonthebay

            What stinks is comparing the suffering of human slaves to fish. In fact. it is offensive.

          • MaryFinelli

            Only to someone who is ignorant or in denial to the fact that fishes are sentient. As with humans, fishes can also suffer fear and pain, as science has shown. Suffering is suffering, no matter what species the victim happens to be. It is wrong to inflict it on any sentient being regardless of their species.

          • tomonthebay

            Fish have a limited degree of sentience. That, in no way, makes them morally equivalent to a human being.

          • MaryFinelli

            We all have a limited degree of sentience. It’s not a matter of being morally equivalent, it’s a matter of behaving morally by giving equal consideration to the interests of all sentient beings.

          • tomonthebay

            Sophistry. You are putting them on the same moral plane as us. Doesn’t fly.

          • Peter Olins

            Plants respond to stress, such as being munched on by a pest. Some plants communicate with other parts of their structures (or even alert their neighboring plants!) when attacked.

            (How do you know if the crack of a celery stick is not actually a cry of pain? /jest)

            Of course, I respect your world-view, but personally I think that raising and slaughtering farm animals humanely is perfectly acceptable. Think about it, these are animals that otherwise would not have enjoyed their brief existences. I find breeding animals for amusement rather than consumption to be less moral.

            Much more challenging is man’s amazing inhumanity to his fellow humans.

    • ericmills

      You need to educate yourself, Mr. Fong. Goldfish are NOT native to California. Cruelty aside for the moment, these exotics cause major environmental problems when released into local waters, a routine occurrence. They spread diseases and prey upon our native wildlife as well.

      “Lunatic Left”? What is it about compassion towards other living creatures that troubles you so, pray? As Gandhi famously wrote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Sounds about right to me.

      P.S. – In the future, I hope you’ll limit yourself to one exclamation point per sentence!

  • lspanker

    Once again, Berkeley leads the way on the burning issues of the day.

    • California Defender

      Come on my friend, this is a good move. In fact, I’d much rather they spend time on issues like this than the usual social justice offal they churn out.

    • KTCather

      How we treat animals (and fish) is how we treat each other. That’s a burning enough issue for me.

      • ericmills

        Me, too! I can’t much think of ANYTHING more important than animal/environmental welfare, frankly. We’re currently losing an estimated 30,000 plant and animal species annually, NOT due to normal evolution, but rather to human impacts. There are simply too damned many of us and the rest of the planet suffers accordingly.

        • Bruce Fong

          What crazy book did you get that from 30k a year does that sound even remotely possible . How many species of plants and animals have been documented . In your calculation we should have nothing living in a month . I say BS to your statement

          • ericmills

            See GOOGLE for any number of articles on the subject. Those stats are not mine. And maybe read Elizabeth Kolbert’s prize-winning THE SIXTH EXTINCTION.

          • Mark Caponigro

            The number is startling, to be sure, but it is based on the documented observations of many field scientists. The species in question seem mostly to be the sort whose individuals are very small, not well dispersed, and limited in habitat, so that the loss or degradation of their habitat thanks to human enterprise, or the effects of climate change, can be enough to doom them.