No, goldfish don’t make good fairground prizes


They need more than a little plastic bag (Picture: Getty Images)

We’ve all seen goldfish lined up in little plastic bags at the fairground, ready to be given out as prizes to excited fairground patrons and their kids.

But, as commonplace as that practice may be, it’s one that needs to stop.

You might not look at a fish and think they’d ask for very much, but they tend to be very misunderstood creatures.

They have an array of needs, just like any other pet, and those needs can’t possibly be met by being jostled around in a tiny bag of water.

Since 2015, the RSPCA has had 147 calls about goldfish and other aquatic animals being given as prizes – with a comparatively small number of these calls coming in over the past two years since the pandemic started.

In Scotland, it’s an offence in almost all circumstances to give an animal away as a prize to anyone – regardless of age.

Now, with lockdowns in the rearview, the charity is concerned that the practice of offering goldfish as prizes will return in a big way as funfairs and festivals resume, and is urging more local authorities to follow suit and take action.



The local authorities in England and Wales that have implemented bans or are taking action:

  • 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
  • Richmondshire District Council
  • Newport City Council
  • Caerphilly County Borough Council
  • Wrexham County Borough Council
  • Conwy County Borough Council
  • The Vale of Glamorgan 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. 

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. 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.’

They’re living creatures with complex needs (Picture: Getty Images)

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.’



What the RSPCA says a goldfish actually needs:

  • ‘Goldfish can grow pretty big (around 20cm long for fancy varieties and 30cm long for larger breeds) and can live up to 30 years. We recommend that young goldfish are kept in at least 60 litres of water per fish, with adults needing more space.
  • ‘Make sure you know what space, depth and surface area of water is needed for the number and size of your fish and find out how to acclimate your fish to their new home. Find out about what food, how often and how much your fish will eat. Avoid overfeeding by giving food little and often. 
  • ‘Include plants to promote the growth of aquatic animals for extra food, provide shade and release oxygen in the water for the fish.
  • ‘Find out which types of fish can live together – double-tailed goldfish are not able to swim as quickly as single-tailed fish so may miss out on food if housed with the single-tailed varieties.
  • ‘New fish should be housed separately from your other fish for a short period of time, so they don’t spread disease. 
  • ‘Get to know your goldfish to help spot signs of something being wrong with the aquarium or the fish being sick or injured – if in doubt, ask your vet and experienced fish keepers for advice.’

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 taking action on other seasonal issues affecting animals.’

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