Why Does San Francisco Want to Ban Goldfish?

An animal welfare commission argues that harvesting and selling tropical fish for home aquariums is just as inhumane as puppy mills.

By: bensonkua
Good intentions have been drowned out by the uproar. By: bensonkua

Talk about grabbing headlines. The San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare has been pushing the city to ban the sale of kittens, puppies, hamsters, reptiles — and goldfish.

The intentions are good. You can still get pets; you would just get them either from pet store adoption events, directly from reputable small breeders, or through shelters or rescue groups. Bye-bye, puppy mills.

Here’s what the commission says:

“The pet trade is a multi-billion dollar industry that treats animals as commodities to be bought and sold for profit. This leads to suffering on a massive scale when animals are warehoused, bred for sale, denied socialization and basic veterinary care, and finally transported with minimal care.

“The ordinance is not a prohibition of owning pets but is an endorsement of the benefits to animals (and consumers) of adoption from shelters and rescues versus purchases from stores.”

Unfortunately, these well-placed intentions have gotten lost in the echo chamber of the media, who have locked on to one feature of the proposal: That they’re taking away your right to own a goldfish.

Sean Elsbernd, a San Francisco city supervisor, predicts that the proposal is dead on arrival, calling it “another Animal Welfare idea that will end up in the dustbin of history and go absolutely nowhere.”

So why does San Francisco want to ban goldfish?

In a nutshell, the commission argues that harvesting and selling tropical fish for home aquariums is inhumane. Commission member Philip Gerrie adds that besides this greedy commercialization of fish, the wholesale destruction of reefs and ecosystems is another major call for alarm.

The San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare is known for some far-out ideas. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the commission once suggested “introducing birth control pills into birdseed to solve the city’s pigeon problem.”

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past decade. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University in his home state of South Carolina. Dave has cared for a number of dogs, cats and other small pets over the years.

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