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Fishy Business

I have meant to post this for some time.

I don’t know what it’s like where you are but in England there is a deranged craze for having fish nibbling your feet.

Full disclosure here: I am a fish-fancier. I don’t have any at the moment (possibly because I now have a cat and he’d go mental – “free-range!”) so I find the idea obscene.

Let me explain why. I first saw this reprehensible practise (I am given to understand that one of the more depraved Roman Emperors (as you can imagine that’s against some pretty stiff opposition) got sexual kicks from being nibbled by fish) in the MetroCentre in Gateshead but that’s not really my point. We have a covenant with the animals and I utterly fail to see how this is part of it.

Let’s put it bluntly. I thought they had tanks of fish as a promo-thingie in much the same way the John Lewis perfume counters in Newcastle had marine tropicals (very well kept – it has to be said – beautiful fish) then reality dawned. I couldn’t have a fag in the MetroCentre but I could have my feet nibbled by Garra rufa. I do sometimes wonder if I’m actually cut out for the C21st.

Anyway, it comes down to this. Invariably the fish are kept in bare tanks for at least their “working time”. So what when the mall or salon (and these are everywhere – I saw one in Keswick fairly recently – next to a shop selling boots for climbing mountains) closes? These tanks don’t have any of the impedimenta I would regard as vital for fish keeping. Oddly enough I tend to regard things like a filtration system more important to fish health than some manky old moo’s plates of meat (get a pumice stone you vile trolloping slag!). So if they are permanently kept in such conditions then that is bad. As indeed if they were, on end of business, moved to a veritable fish wonderland of a tank then that’s bad too. Anyone who has ever kept fish will know the cardinal rule of not stressing them by not shifting their environment more than absolutely necessary.

But they’re only fish! Right. Tell that to me. Tell that to someone who with infinite care kept his fish until their natural puff (slurp – I guess) was up. Tell that to the me that carried a (very heavy) tank half-way across the city of Nottingham or who perfected the art of moving them via a net and a pint pot when I had to move. My last act as an undergraduate at Nottingham University was to release my beautiful comet, Streak into the Engineering Faculty pond. “Swim well, little fish!”. It was really quite emotional. I wasn’t sure about taking him back to Gateshead and then down to London but moreover I wanted to leave something meaningful at my Alma Mater and it was a nice pond with no signs of heronicity so maybe, just maybe (they can live a long time) Streak is still there being fed Doritos by the morons that pass for this century’s undergraduates. I hope so. Not really so very different from last century’s undergrads. At least those in engineering… Physics grad snark there, sorry!

Anyway, enough of that. I saw Streak swim out of the little travelling tank like a good ‘un and that’s enough for me.

But every aspect of fish pedicures repulses me. No, let’s get this right. I’m not squeamish about it (though I think it foul). My fundamental objection is the abuse of animals. And it is abusing animals by any standard candle.

Almost exactly five years ago I wasn’t in a shed in Cheshire typing tripe but in the the Caribbean Sea snorkelling over the third largest reef on the planet and a 14′ nurse shark ambles past. I didn’t know this was normal so I alerted the dive captain who (I assume to avoid panic) didn’t use the “S” word but the euphemism “a very big fish”. I wasn’t scared – I just thought I ought to point it out because I’m not used to what you might see in such waters. To be honest I was more, “Wow… it’s like being at an airshow except underwater!” Anyway I felt the need to point it out.

I love fish. They’re good for the eating (apart from Vietnamese river cobbler from TESCO which is bland beyond any human comprehension of blandness) and for the looking at and in at least one case (off the coast of Florida) being awed by them. I mean I was paddling about like the hapless terrestrial primate I am and then this shark goes right by me (well about 1.5m below me – nurses tend to be bottom feeders) and I’m too awestruck by the sheer casual elegance of it to think of the teeth. It was kinda like your dad traded the motor and came out with an F-16 (and not as my dad did a diesel Skoda Octavia – but as he never tires of pointing out it’s comfortable, reliable and gets good mpg and unlike the F-16 fits on his drive). Nothing against that Czech/German motor but it’s like “Dad, nice car” but not a shark (or an F-16) level of awe. I mean obviously. I also got close-up to a barracuda. Now that was something else in the teeth department. I got real close but then if I have a camera (and I did) all bets are off. One day the coroner will conclude “misadventure” and that with a DSLR clutched in my rigid hands.

So I hate it. Or to put it another way my “shark experience” was off the shores of Key West (if you haven’t been then sell your children’s kidneys – they only really need one…). That’s fish like they’re supposed to be. Not chewing on fat bird’s ankles.

I am seriously on the warpath over this. I abhor any cruelty to animals. Most people think that just means cats and dogs and donkeys. I extend the courtesy to fish. Perhaps because I’ve kept them (and shall again) and perhaps because I’m just me. But if you are vile to any critter your name is on my (ever-expanding) list of enemies. And there shall be a reckoning. Possibly involving your genitals meeting and greeting a Breville sandwich toaster.

(I didn’t for legal reasons actually say that but I bloody well meant it).

I put so much time, money and effort into keeping my fish as happy as I could and this outrages me so.

There is an old saw that cruelty to animals implies the further potential of cruelty to humans. I never bought that. Oh, there is a truth to it but surely isn’t being cruel to animals a wrong in itself?

And this is wrong. Every fish-fancying bone in my body calls it from the highest parapet.


  1. JuliaM says:

    Cruel, yes, and possibly even dangerous.

    Very popular in Essex, the heart of Chavdom.

  2. Roue le Jour says:

    We have them in Pattaya, aka Gommorah by the Sea. I used to think fish were not amongst nature’s brightest until I went to one of the islands here were you can wade out and feed these little stripy fish. Being an egalitarian by heart I was tossing the food to the back of the school so not only the pushy ones at the front got fed. I was quite surprised to notice that these little buggers, no more than three inches long, were tearing off in the direction of the grub as soon as I’d tossed it. They were bleedin’ watching me! And figuring the trajectory and stuff. I’ve never felt quite the same about fish after that.

    Incidentally, I only went pootling about underwater once, at the Great Barrier, and you know what went through my mind when something brushed against my leg as I flapped along? Nobody else down here has binocular vision, and I think I’ve just figured out why that is…

  3. John Galt says:

    The Hammerhead shark has binocular vision – pretty spectacular as well, all the better to rip your leg off with.


  4. Lynne says:

    I get nibbled by fish on a daily basis throughout the warm parts of the year. I like to hand feed my koi carp, you see. I love the way they “munch” their way towards me across the surface of the pond when they realise I’m there with the fish chow bucket. I’ve never demanded a pedicure off them though.

  5. Nelsontouch says:

    My knees were nibbled by fish once, when I was in the Red Sea off the coast of Sinai.

    Only one tiny problem – I was skinny-dipping at the time – so I made a sharp exit from the water.

  6. Thornavis says:

    Here’s my exciting dances with fishes story, when I was about ten and swimming in the sea I felt something tickling my big toe, I raised my foot and there was a crab attached to said toe, it was like something out of the ‘Beano’. Regarding the pedicure fish, I don’t buy the health threat stuff, just another Daily Mail type scare building up to a call for a ban no doubt. However I have read that the fish are kept deliberately hungry as this encourages them to search the customers skin for parasites etc – they aren’t actually eating the skin, in which case it is cruel and people should get off their fat arses and remove their own parasites.

  7. Edward Lud says:

    What’s the difference between this practice and that of those fish who pick and eat stuff off sharks’ backs, or from between their teeth?

  8. NickM says:

    Well, the health threat thingie is probably way overblown and yes Thornavis it was reported in the Daily Mail. And yes, they are kept deliberately hungry.

    Nelsontouch, almost a story to tell your grandchildren. Or maybe not ;-) But the Red Sea is dangerous due to sharks because it’s popular with Russians who are mental. Cheap underwater cameras have led to a spate of Russians doing such things as posing for photos with their arm in a shark’s gob. This has made the sharks more aggressive and more likely to tangle with peeps. It’s apparently so bad that dive captains in both Israel and Egypt are imposing blanket bans on taking Russians.

    Roue, recent research has discovered fish are a lot smarter than people gave ‘em credit for. The thing is zoologists were using the crude measure of smarts in terms of brain to body mass but this didn’t take into account quite how long fish have been around in evolutionary terms so whilst they might have small brains evolution has whittled them very nicely.

    Julia, please! It’s everywhere – not just Essex. I live in Cheshire – the Essex of the North. Ever been to Alderley Edge? I have never seen the car parked with more faith it would still be there upon my return. Because it went BMW, Merc, Lambo, Vauxhall Corsa, another Merc, Range Rover, Porsche, yet another Merc… And that was outside the Aldi. I had a look in an estate agent’s window. They had a gaff for rent at GBP 12,000 a month. It had a cinema and two indoor swimming pools. For the Wag classes two indoor swimming pools is vital. I know a little about the WAG classes because I’m obscurely related by marriage to Robbie Fowler. The idea is one has a bar and that’s where you entertain other WAGs (or in the case of Ryan Giggs…) and the other is for the kids.

    Edward, I think you make my case.

  9. Dizzy Ringo says:

    On the other hand, all sorts of nasty diseases of the feet are being transferred from foot to foot by the current craze. Think I will stick to a pumice stone.

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