Are Fish Spas Vegan?

Fish spa

Fish spas are supposedly healthy and ethical practices, but are they really, and should we support them?

Fish spas are foot spas where Garra Rufa fish are used to ‘prune’ dead human flesh, in a type of exploitation akin to factory methods.

How did they get here?

Garra rufa fish, also called ‘nibble fish’ and ‘doctor fish’, are removed from their natural habitats, and are imported to various spas across the world. En route to their destinations, they die in swaths.

I spoke to one fish spa owner about her practice, to put numbers to the facts. She told me that a lot of her outgoings went towards transporting the fish from abroad to her spa, ‘because around 50% die in transit, mainly due to shock, overcrowding, and the distance and time involved in transporting them’. That’s a large number of fish that are dying so that you can avoid having to do your own pedicure.

There are also concerns that the fish used in spas are actually wild caught fish, bagged and air freighted around the world. Others are bred specifically for the fish spas in large quantities and unsanitary conditions, which is an example of animal exploitation at its worst. Some die from being denied their natural eating habits, so that they will eat as much human flesh as possible.

Health and entertainment

It’s also a high price to pay considering the fact that so many people go to fish spas for the novelty factor.

Fish spas are ruthless high street additions and they can also be found at festivals and alternative events, as they have grown in fashion and popularity since their introduction to the developed world. People go to them for entertainment purposes as much as for health reasons- although there is no actual evidence that having fish nibbling at your toes is in any way good for your feet. In fact, there is evidence that using fish spas can lead to dangerous infections, which has led to the banning of fish spas in some US states.

But why should we care?

Having your feet nibbled by fish in natural rivers in Turkey is miles away from trapping fish in bowls and tanks and then using them to make money.

A pescetarian might tell you that fish do not feel pain the way that animals such as cows and pigs do, but people need to change with the times and the evidence, as there are many varied and recent studies that prove the exact opposite to the ‘pesky’ theory. Kurt Cobain was wrong – fish do feel pain, and I can assure you that the fish spa industry is causing them a significant amount.

Other fish spa enthusiasts will argue that the fish enjoy eating dead bits of flesh, which certainly may be true if you are having your feet nibbled by fish in natural rivers in Turkey, which is one of the Garra rufa’s natural environments. But that is physically and ethically miles away from trapping fish in tanks that are small compared to their relative girth, displaying them in bowls and tanks in fish spas as if they fish actually like it, and then using them to make money.

If you loathe the idea of taking care of your own feet, the better option is to have a pedicure at a salon that offers cruelty-free options, for example using vegan products. Or else keep at the yoga and you might be able to reach your own toes nibble your own dead flesh off – after all, if the fish are happy to do it, then surely you can be too. Until then, I’d advise keeping your money and verbal support away from the fish spa industry, which is exploitative and unethical whichever way you look at it.

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