Is Betta Fish Fighting Illegal?

Yes, it is illegal in the United States, Western Europe, and in several parts of Asia. Fish fights are considered the same as dog fighting or cock fighting, and it falls under animal cruelty laws. Depending on the state and country you can be fined and even face jail time.

In the following article, we will discuss betta fish fighting behavior, why people arrange betta fish fights, what happens at a fight, why it’s bad for the betta fish, why betta fish fighting is illegal, and the penalties if you get caught running a betta fish fight.

Do Betta Fish Fight In The Wild?

Yes, they do. Betta fish in the wild are naturally territorial. They will fight and protect where they live. However, captive betta are more territorial and have higher levels of aggression because they have been selectively bred to be more aggressive for illegal fish fights.

Why Organized Betta Fish Fighting?

Betta fish fighting, like most animal fighting, can be highly lucrative. The people who organize the fights and attend the fights place bets on the fish, and sometimes the host charges an entry fee as well.

Cultural Ties To Fish Fighting

Like bear baiting and bullfighting, betta fish fighting has cultural and historical roots, particularly in Asian countries, like Thailand, where wild betta can be caught in the rice ponds and have been used and bred for fish fighting.

Historical Context Of Fish Fights

The earliest record of betta fish being bred and raised for sport in Thailand is over 700 years old, during the reign of King Lithai of Sukhothai. Records from this period allude to fighting fish being raised for sport.

Officially, the sport began in Siam, approximately 180 years ago. The King of Siam began collecting, breeding, and staging fights in the 1830’s. In 1840, he licensed the fish and began collecting taxes on them.

Originally identified as pugnax, betta were renamed in 1909 by Mr. Tate Regan, who realized that this fish was a separate and distinct species. The name betta comes from a powerful warrior tribe in Thailand, the bettah, known for their fighting prowess.

Betta Close Up

Why Are Betta Fish Used In Fish Fights?

Betta fish don’t need to be trained to fight, although some still do; it is already in their genetics. They are extremely aggressive fish, who do not tolerate other males, or other fish in their territories which they guard ferociously.

What Breed Of Betta Fish Is Used In Fish Fighting?

The main betta fish used in fish fighting is the Betta splendens. However, other types of bettas can be used such as Betta imbellis and Betta smaragdina. Betta splendens tend to be favored for their hyper-aggressive natures.

Betta Fish And Stress

When male betta fish fight, it creates incredible amounts of stress for both fish. The stress of the fight can be fatal, and oftentimes the one or both fish can die. The fight organizers pay money to the owner if the fish dies sometimes, other times the owner is fined a fee.

What Happens At A Betta Fish Fight?

Betta fish fights, as they are illegal, are usually held privately in secret places. The fish are placed in glass jars in two rows, with men gathered around placing bets.

A referee matches the fish by size and weight, placing similarly sized fish together for the fight. The fish cannot be too different in size, as size carries a distinct advantage. Once the fish has been matched to its opponent the fight can begin.

In Thailand, there are no time limits, and some fights can continue for up to three hours. The fish that runs away is separated and watched closely. If he spreads his fins again, the owner can choose to continue the fight or accept defeat. However, if the owner continues the fight and his fish is killed, he can be fined.

Are The Matches Fair?

In matches where there is a sizable bet, cheating can and does occur. Poisoning an opponent’s fish is quite common. Also, switching a fish after sizing with a bigger, but similar color fish often occurs. Even the bottles themselves can make a fish appear smaller than they actually are.

Why Is Betta Fish Fighting Bad?

It causes undue stress on the fish involved in the fight. Betta fish are extremely susceptible to the effects of stress, and it can be fatal for them. A lot of the times, even the fish who win a fight perish as well as the losing fish.

In the wild, a betta fish who is in a fight, has a chance to escape unharmed, and run away from the fight, as they are in wide open water. In a fighting match, they are kept in small bottles, with no where to run to, making death more likely.

Having any animal participate in a bloody battle is considered by the law as well as most people cruel and unethical.

Betta Fish Fighting And U. S. Law

As with any animal fighting in the United States, as well as a fair few other nations, it is illegal to train any animal to fight another animal, buy or have your own equipment to use in animal fighting, promote any fight involving animals, facilitate an animal fight in any way, bet on an animal fight, or attend an event where an animal fight occurs.

Not only that but it is also illegal to breed any animal for the specific purposes of training and using it in a fight.

Under U. S. law, animal fighting is considered animal cruelty. The law is very specific and includes all manner of animals, including reptiles, amphibians, birds, and anything else that can be domesticated. This means that betta fish are covered under the law.

What Are The Penalties For Illegal Betta Fish Fights?

As illegal betta fish fights are akin to dogfights, the penalties are similar and range from fines to jail time, which depend on the severity of the crime and the jurisdiction.