GULP! It's just not fair ... goldfish can still be given away as prizes

GULP! It's just not fair ... goldfish can still be given away as prizes

Who doesn't like to win a prize?

But it's a 'big prize - big cost' for those goldfish handed out as a prize in an unsuitable plastic bag for long durations - most likely suffering from shock and gasping for oxygen. three prize goldfish in a bag © RSPCA

Sadly this outdated practice is still happening today and we're calling for the giving of pets as prizes to be banned. We're urging local authorities across England and Wales to act to protect these animals that otherwise often will suffer as a consequence of being given away.

Reports have stalled since coronavirus restrictions began and shows stopped taking place - but we fear this will change this summer as fairgrounds and fetes return properly for 2022.

Since 2015, we've had 147 calls about goldfish and other aquatic animals being given as prizes - with a small number of these calls coming in over the past two years.

Public opinion is strong

However, public opinion proves to be strong on the issue as last year more than 9,000 RSPCA supporters called upon their local authority to make a change and stop this practice from happening on their land.

Lee Gingell, RSPCA's public affairs manager for local government in England, said:

As covid restrictions ease, there's a real risk that goldfish as prizes will return in big numbers as funfairs and festivals resume.

Animal ownership is a big responsibility - and while goldfish can make great companions, they shouldn't be acquired via a spur-of-the-moment game. Goldfish are easily stressed and very often fish that are won as prizes suffer miserably from shock, oxygen starvation or die from changes in water temperature, and many may die before their new owners can get them home.

They're misunderstood pets - as they can make great companions; but can actually be challenging to look after and new owners must do their research before they acquire the fish, not afterwards.

When bringing a fish home for the first time, it's important to set the tank up at least two weeks in advance to make sure it's all running smoothly, and this just isn't possible for someone who's won a fish without being prepared for it.

There are 22 local authorities in England who have already implemented bans or are taking action against this practice - and we urge others to join them.

The councils that have taken action include Waverley Borough Council, South Kesteven District Council, Greater London Assembly, Rochford District Council, Barnstaple Town Council, Bristol City Council, Shropshire Council, Stevenage Borough Council, Rugby Borough Council, North Hertfordshire District Council, Torridge District Council, Bolsover Council, East Lindsey District Council, Swindon Borough Council, Wakefield Council, Enfield Borough Council and Richmondshire District Council.

Sunderland Council, South Tyneside Council, Eastbourne Borough Council and Lewes District Council, have also recently taken action. Telford & Wrekin Council is also in the process of joining the list too.

Bans have been put in place following the RSPCA's long-running campaign, which is launching today.

Shropshire Council banned the practice in January. Dean Carroll, Shropshire Council cabinet member for highways, assets and built housing said: 

We recognise it is outdated for live animals and fish to be offered as prizes, causing distress to the animals and that people are usually ill-equipped to care for them. The terms of our licensing agreements were altered to reflect this."

Sunderland councillor Heather Fagan, whose local authority banned the practice in July 2021, added: "As a direct result of RSPCA supporters contacting their local councillors about the Pets as Prizes campaign, Sunderland City Council has now banned the giving of animals as prizes at events on council land.

I'd encourage everyone across the country to get in touch with their local councillor and ask them to back the RSPCA and the Pets as Prizes campaign so that no animal has to suffer or die as a result of being given out as a prize at fairs or events being held on council-owned land.

Councillor Julie Carr, cabinet member for open spaces at Lewes District Council, added:

We fully support the RSPCA's excellent campaign. Offering any animal as a prize is a cruel, antiquated and indefensible practice that has no place in modern society.

We changed our land hire agreements in 2021 to stop fairs or any similar event from offering goldfish as prizes and I hope many other councils will do likewise.

Richard Homewood, Waverley Borough Council's head of environmental and regulatory services, said: 

Waverley Borough Council strongly supports the RSPCA campaign. It's vital that we protect animals from unnecessary suffering and this outdated practice must stop.

The terms of our licensing agreements already state that no animals can be given as prizes on council-owned land, nor can pets be traded, or gambling take place on-site. We have also placed restrictions on the use of animals in public performances.

In Wales five local authorities have taken action - Newport City Council, Caerphilly County Borough Council, Wrexham County Borough Council, Conwy County Borough Council and most recently, The Vale of Glamorgan Council.

Ruba Sivagnanam, the Vale of Glamorgan Council's cabinet member for community engagement, equalities and regulatory services, said: 

Giving animals away as prizes is completely inappropriate and, as a council, we support the RSPCA's stance that this practice should be stopped.

To that end, we do not allow any event that offers animals as prizes to take place on council land.

The council takes animal welfare very seriously. I would discourage anyone to become involved in events where animals are prizes. Please consider reporting the matter to the RSPCA.

RSPCA urges supporters to take acion this summer

It's hoped that more local authorities will follow this summer. Supporters are being urged to take the action on the RSPCA campaign online which will let your local councillor know that pets as prizes are a no-win situation. We hope this will continue to make the case to both the UK Government and Welsh Government that pets being given away as prizes should be banned outright, and that national legislation in both countries is ultimately a requirement.

Last year, 9,192 RSPCA supporters called upon their local authority to make a change and stop this practice from happening on their land.

On 20 June, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park - the Minister for animal welfare - confirmed that Defra has "commissioned some work on the issue of pets being handed out as prizes" in England; and that the UK Government is looking at the issue "very closely". Meanwhile, in Wales, the Welsh Government suggested in 2019 a willingness to act and that it would take forward "a separate piece of work" on the issue; though this has yet to materialise.

Lee added:

There's huge momentum behind the RSPCA campaign - last year thousands of people supported us in this campaign and we're over the moon to see so many local authorities already pass the RSPCA's notice of motion on this issue.

We were also pleased to hear that pets as prizes was mentioned in Parliament last week by Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park - who is the Minister with responsibility for animal welfare - who announced that Defra has commissioned some work on the issue for England. Our ultimate goal would be for the practice to be banned completely.

We hope this summer we can spread the message further and encourage other local authorities across England and Wales to ban the giving of pets as prizes on their land, as well as take action on other seasonal issues affecting animals.

To help the RSPCA continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care, please donate online or call our donation line on 0300 123 8181.