Our work Animals in Aotearoa Fishes in captivity

Fishes belong in the sea

Fishes are beautiful, fascinating and mesmerising to watch, which is why many people keep them on display in tanks and aquariums. Fishes outnumber all other companion animals in New Zealand, with 1.37 million fishes in households across the country.

But sadly, just like zoos, aquariums do not allow fishes to display normal patterns of behaviour in a natural environment. Fishes belong in the sea.


Someone, not something

Fishes deserve to be recognised as individuals and celebrated for their unique attributes. Fishes have sophisticated social structures and exhibit a range of complex and fascinating social behaviour. They communicate with one another, show curiosity and can learn from experience and observation. Contrary to popular belief, fishes have long-term memories and are capable of tool use, altruism, cooperation and multitasking. Fishes are amazing!

Don’t be captivated by captivity

Most of the saltwater fish destined for captivity are taken from ocean reefs, using cyanide. This stuns the fishes, so they can be easily caught. Only a small percentage of the fish destined for aquariums are bred in captivity.

'For every ten fish captured for the aquarium industry, only one survives enough time to end up in a tank' – The Dark Hobby

Fishes as pets

Contrary to popular belief, fishes do not make good first pets for children. The needs of fishes are far more complex than the needs of cats and dogs, making it easy to unwittingly compromise their welfare or create elevated stress levels that can sometimes result in death. Simply over-feeding fishes, moving them or not paying attention to water temperature and acidity levels can have a disastrous result.
Fishes do not want to swim in circles inside a bowl or tank or be put on display like a painting. When we invite animals into our lives and families, it should be mutually beneficial. Fishes gain nothing from being kept in captivity ‒ instead they are deprived of all that is natural to them.
If you already have fishes as pets, you can help them by making their surroundings as close to their natural environment as possible, with plenty of enrichment, places to hide and as much space as you are able to give them.  

Instead of fish tanks

There are some great alternatives to keeping fishes on display, such as playing footage of fishes or sea life. Some videos are designed for the purpose of being on in the background and played for hours.
Fresh flowers or hardy plants such as succulents are also great ways to spruce up reception areas, waiting areas and classrooms. Or why not turn your old retired fish tank or fishbowl into a succulent garden?

Four things you can do now to help fishes


1.     Take the pledge to say ‘No thanks to fish tanks’ to make a personal commitment to not support fishes in captivity.


2.     Do your bit to protect the ocean and all who call it home by taking the Fish-Free Challenge today!


3.     Download and print this educational infographic explaining why fishes don’t belong in captivity and distribute it to businesses that display fishes in tanks.


4.     Learn about the issues affecting fishes in Aotearoa by visiting our fishes page.


Help fishes

Take the Fish-Free Challenge!

Discover delicious fish-friendly recipes and alternatives that don't harm fishes or their habitat. Take the Fish-Free Challenge today!

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As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every gift goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals. SAFE is a registered charity in New Zealand (CC 40428). Contributions of $5 or more are tax-deductible.