Is It Cruel To Keep Fish In A Tank, Bowl, Or Pond? [Ethical Setup]

Image of fish kept properly in a tank

Fishkeeping is one of the oldest hobbies and has been around for centuries. Millions of pet fish are sold every year, and the number only increases with each passing year. However, there is a debate over keeping fish in tanks or ponds for our benefit. So, is it cruel to keep fish in a tank, bowl, or pond?

Generally, it’s not cruel to keep fish in a tank, bowl, or pond if they get good living conditions like ample space to swim, a nutritious diet, and clean water. However, as per PETA and some experts, it’s unethical to keep fish as many die while being caught, and it also causes ecological imbalance.

So, whether pursuing fishkeeping as a hobby is ethical or unethical is a debatable question, and the answer may vary from person to person. Let’s talk about this first…

How To Keep Fish Ethically And Without Being Cruel?

Many people believe that having the correct tank size and a nutritious diet are the only needs of fish.

However, seasoned aquarists differ on this.

There are many factors to be considered to ensure that your aquarium fish are happy and healthy.

First and foremost, whenever you intend to buy fish, be informed about the sources from where you get them.

Whether the fish is a captive-bred or wild-caught is something to be aware of.

If the fish is wild-caught, then the way and the place from where they are caught should be known beforehand.

The following 14 things should be followed to keep fish in an aquarium without being cruel:

1. Understand The Fish Breeds

We have numerous breeds of fish. Each species of fish require a different environment and a specific kind of care.

Before setting up an aquarium, you need to thoroughly research the fish breed you will own and accordingly set up a suitable environment for your pet fish.

Each fish breed is different from the other and requires a specific setup of water temperature, plants, rocks, diet, tankmates, and much more.

Hence, it is essential to treat different fish breeds as separate individuals with specific needs.

2. Acclimatize New Fish

When you set up a new aquarium, you must first acclimatize the fish to the new environment.

Your fish may take some time to adjust themselves to the new location.

Also, any other new fish need to be quarantined before adding them to the aquarium.

Quarantining the new fish is better for their health. At the same time, it also benefits the existing fish in the aquarium.

You can quarantine the newly purchased fish for 24 to 48 hours in a separate tank and then add them to your main tank.

You can keep the same water temperature as it is in your main tank.

This will help the new fish to adjust themselves to the tank conditions quickly.

3. Suitable Spot For The Aquarium

Fish are not décor. So, the aquarium cannot be placed anywhere.

The aquarium should be placed at a suitable place where it benefits the fish.

You should set the aquarium on a smooth surface that doesn’t jiggle.

Also, the tank should not face any direct sunlight or extreme temperatures.

Besides, you should avoid placing the aquarium near a TV or any place where the noise levels are high.

High volume often results in stress for the fish.

The ideal spot for the aquarium is a place where the temperature and light are constant.

The primary reason for avoiding sunlight is that it can result in fluctuating water temperatures.

Also, a rise in water temperature results in faster algae growth, which is not suitable for the fish.

4. Suitable Environment

Fish can be broadly categorized into freshwater and saltwater fish.

Some species of fish need warmer temperatures, while others prefer room temperature.

So, you need to provide a suitable environment for your fish that best suits their optimal growth.

Besides, the water current also needs to be taken into consideration.

Some fish prefer high current, while some fish like guppies prefer slow current.

This primarily depends on the natural habitat of the fish.

The best environment for any fish will be the one that closely replicates their natural habitat.

5. Tank Size

Fish need ample space to swim around. So, the tank size needs to be according to the size and number of fish in the tank.

Fish get stressed when cramped for space. The more area a fish gets to swim, the happier and healthier it will be.

The general rule to determine tank size is 3 gallons of water for every 1 inch of fish.

6. Clean Water

Clean water is essential for any fish to thrive and live a long and healthy life. So, water needs to be changed and filtered regularly.

Fish like goldfish excrete a lot of waste that pollutes the water.

This natural waste of fish emits ammonia, which results in toxic and contaminated water.

So, you need to do frequent water changes to keep the water clean.

You can install a filter in your aquarium to ensure water quality.

In addition, an air pump can be installed to increase oxygen levels in the water.

7. Regular Maintenance Of The Tank

Hygiene is of utmost importance in fishkeeping. You need to regularly clean and maintain the tank.

Along with frequent water changes, the algae in the tank also needs to be cleaned.

You need to clean the aquarium’s glass with a brush or pad to prevent algae growth.

8. Maintain Water Temperature

Maintaining the water temperature is another vital factor to be taken care of.

Different species of fish have varying requirements for water temperature.

You need to understand and provide the correct water temperature for your fish to thrive.

It is advisable to use a reliable automatic heater to control and regulate the aquarium’s water temperature.

Also, attaching a small thermometer is useful as it will help you ensure that the heater is functioning correctly.

9. Maintain Correct pH Levels

Maintaining the pH level of the aquarium water is another thing to be taken care of.

Different types of fish require different pH levels.

Some fish are weak and need specific pH levels, while others are hardy breeds that adjust to a range of pH levels.

You can use water testing kits that help in testing the pH of the water.

Also, if the tank water gets contaminated, it will affect the pH level of the water.

So, the tank water needs to be cleaned regularly to maintain the ideal pH level.

10. Nutritious Diet

A nutritious diet is a pre-requisite for the optimal growth of any fish. Diet varies as per the species.

Some fish species like bettas need more meat and a protein-based diet, while other fish such as goldfish thrive on flakes and pellets containing a lower protein concentration.

Also, feeding only a well-balanced diet is not enough. It is also vital that you do not overfeed your fish.

Overfeeding can result in the accumulation of waste due to uneaten food.

It can also result in fatty liver and digestive problems that can make the fish sick.

11. Suitable Tankmates

Just like humans, fish also love and enjoy companionship. It is always better to have tankmates for the fish.

However, you need to choose tankmates carefully.

Aggressive fish cannot be kept with passive fish in the same tank as it will spoil the harmony of the tank.

Unsuitable tankmates can result in stress for the timid fish.

You need to do your research well before keeping multiple species of fish in the same tank.

12. Addition Of Live Plants

Live plants can be planted in an aquarium.

They not only brighten the tank but also help in increasing the oxygen levels of the tank water.

Live plants have numerous benefits like absorbing the ammonia and nitrites from the waste, which can be harmful to the fish.

Besides, plants help in preventing unwanted algae growth in the aquarium.

Related Further Reading:

13. Attention To Sick Fish

Just like animals, fish also get sick. If you find your fish ill and lethargic, immediate attention and care should be taken.

You should immediately get your ill fish checked by a veterinarian.

There are many kinds of infections and illnesses that a fish can encounter. So, proper medication is essential.

14. Stress-Free Environment

Just like humans, fish can also get stressed.

Your fish can get stressed due to unfavorable living conditions like polluted water, lack of diet, low oxygen levels, improper water temperature or pH levels, and many other factors.

You need to ensure that your fish’s habitat is stress-free by providing favorable living conditions.

Also, fish need space to hide and explore. So, provide ample hiding places where they can rest and feel secure.

Stress can also occur due to an incorrect male to female ratio. The ideal male to female ratio is 1:2.

That is two female fish to each male fish. This will ensure that neither of the fish genders gets stressed.

How Do You Know Your Fish Is Healthy And Happy?

Unlike humans, fish cannot speak and say that they are happy.

However, their behavior speaks volumes. There are various signs that indicate your fish is healthy and happy.

  • A healthy fish swims energetically all around the tank. If you find your fish swimming actively, it is happy and at the same time healthy.
  • If you notice a glow in the skin of your fish, it is a healthy sign. Good fins and free movements indicate a healthy fish. On the other hand, white spots or torn and ragged fins are signs of a sick fish. It suggests that your fish is suffering from some disease.
  • Your fish is breathing normally by expanding its gill properly to inhale oxygen. Irregular breathing is the biggest sign of discomfort or stress.
  • Your fish is eating regularly and loving its food.
  • Social interaction is another way to determine a happy and healthy fish. If you find your fish interacting without any fear with its tankmates, it is a clear sign that your fish is happy. Happy fish is always healthy.
  • A bright-colored fish is another sign that your fish is healthy. If your fish is losing its color, it is a sign of some stress and disease.

Alright! Now that you know about all signs that indicate your fish is happy and healthy, have you ever wondered if a fish can get bored living in the same tank all its life?

Related Further Reading:

Do Fish Get Bored Living In Captivity?

Boredom is a complex emotion. We cannot precisely say whether fish are bored or guess their emotional state.

If you confine fish in a tank that has lived in the wild, they may get bored and stressed than the fish that have lived in a tank all their life.

So, it is believed that fish that are wild-caught may get bored in captivity as they get less space to explore.

On the other hand, fish that are captive-bred are used to live in tanks.

They usually do not get bored or show any signs of discomfort as long as all their needs are met.

However, if the living conditions are unfavorable, fish become mentally unhealthy.

If you want to assess whether an individual fish is bored or not, you need to closely examine its natural behavior in the wild.

According to many people worldwide, fishkeeping is not as cruel because you increase the life of fish by keeping them in a safe and secure environment without any fear of predation.

However, some experts beg to differ in this view. So, let’s understand their point of view as well.

Why Is It Said That Fish Shouldn’t Be Kept In Captivity?

Fish tanks are universal and are found everywhere, be it at home, doctor’s clinic, restaurants, or corporate offices.

Some studies reveal that fish tanks help reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure and help provide some relief to the people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

Hence, it is believed that hobbyists keep fish in captivity for their enjoyment.

Apart from enjoyment, as per the studies, there could be grave consequences of keeping fish in captivity.

Marine experts estimate that around half of the affected fish die on the reef itself.

While around 40% of the remaining fish that survive the initial poisoning die before reaching the aquarium.

This is because fish that are wild-caught are unfortunately caught unethically.

According to various aquarium publications, most captive fish are short-lived and are easily replaced by the new ones in the fish trade.

The fish mortality is due to the overstocking of fish in smaller tanks with poor quality water.

This results in suffering and premature death.

This also results in constant demand in fish trading and a continuous cycle of collection, acquisition, and death of the poor creatures.

Besides, no matter how big your home aquarium is, it can never match the diversity of habitats and conditions found in the fish’s natural habitat.

As per studies, even if we leave aside the ethical concerns, the ecological implications of the fishkeeping hobby and the industry that feeds it are vast.

According to the literature, it is estimated that globally over 1 billion ornamental (freshwater and marine) fish are traded annually for the aquarium industry.

Now, that’s a considerable number.

Although a majority of the freshwater fish are bred in captivity, around 95% of the marine fish are collected from the wild for trade in the aquarium industry.

Now, the trade’s biological and ecological consequences can be devasting, particularly for the fish from the wild that is in high demand.

This can result in depletion and extinction of the localized fish species.

Although some experts believe that even if the fish survives the collection period from the wild, not necessarily do they reach the home of the hobbyist.

Many fish die either from stress, injury, or diseases while in transit. Besides, some fish that survive are either accidentally or intentionally released into the wild.

This is highly dangerous because it may adversely impact the local ecosystem by transmitting some disease or by disrupting the predator-prey dynamics.

Freshwater species are easier to maintain in captivity than their marine counterparts.

Nevertheless, they too can suffer in captivity if proper care is not taken.

Unfortunately, very few aquarium species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Due to massive fish trading for aquariums, numerous fish species’ fate is questionable without proper international restrictions on trade.

Considering all these factors, some experts genuinely believe that the final consumer needs to decide whether fishkeeping is worthwhile.

Interesting Further Reading:

Final Thoughts

Fishkeeping is relaxing for humans, and hence there are a lot of aquarists pursuing this hobby.

Whether keeping fish in captivity is moral or immoral is entirely one’s view.

If you keep fish to meet your desires without proper care, it is definitely unethical.

On the other hand, if you understand the fish species you keep, provide a favorable environment, meet all their needs in terms of diet and living conditions, it is not cruel to keep fish in captivity.

The best you can do is provide the fish a tank environment that closely resembles their natural habitat.