It’s that time of year – the airwaves are full of dietary advice. The RSPCA couldn’t resist the temptation – they have jumped in with a few quick prosecutions to help us decide what we can and cannot eat.
Cod is OK – although it is an endangered species and hard to find, but if you lay your hands on one you can sink your teeth into it with gay abandon, even though it may well be the last one on the planet. Salmon is alright too – yes, it is reared in crowded archipelagos, filled with antibiotics, and suffering from a surfeit of skin infections, but its suffering is as nothing – the RSPCA will endorse your right to bake it with fennel, broil it with a stock made of the despair-filled dehydrated eyeballs of long forgotten mackerel; they won’t turn a hair.
Dine out on a single much-loved goldfish and they have an attack of the ethical vapours. Goldfish have names – like Jimmy, Sophie, and Percival – and thou shalt not eat that which you have named. Not even if you didn’t know it’s name. Somebody else might have named it. Or not.
Gavin Hope found that out to his cost (£300, which beats the price of Cod per ounce) when he consumed a whole goldfish during the week – even though he had thoughtfully downed some fish food first, in case it felt peckish…he should, of course, have tapped it on the head first, or boiled it, baked it, whatever, but subjecting it to a lonely existence swimming round the confined space of his stomach in a slurry of lager, chilli, tequila, and a fresh egg was too much for the RSPCA to stomach. I would have thought it was too much for young Gavin to stomach too…
Gavin was prosecuted under S.9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of “not taking such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which [you are] responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.” So he wasn’t actually prosecuted for cruelty to the goldfish, nor for eating it – but for failing to meet is needs…which are? We must guess. Classical music whilst broiled in dehydrated mackerel eyeballs? Growing up in an over crowded pen of fellow goldfish on the inhospitable west coast of Scotland?
Last year the RSPCA were having the vapours over models carrying a goldfish handbag – though you might have thought they would be pleased that those anorexic creatures had about their person a source of protein. Apparently, their crime was not eating the goldfish but failing to provide it with 4.5 litres of water per 2.5 cm of fish.
Gavin isn’t the first person to be arrested for eating a goldfish – that honour goes to Chris Caswell of Country Druham. Chris didn’t even have the foresight or common decency to down some fish food first – yet I can find no record of the RSPCA following up his mid morning brunch with a prosecution, just an ‘investigation’. Was it the lack of Tequila in his stomach that let him off the fish-hook so to speak. Is it the crime of ‘marinating the fish’ that really upsets the RSPCA? Should we avoid the Turbot in Pernod sauce to be ethical?
Peter Mayer, the director of the Trapholt Modern Art Museum in Denmark, was prosecuted for cruelty to innocent goldfish, after displaying one in a magi-mix blender and inviting visitors to switch the blender on to test their ‘ethical boundaries’. There was no question of them eating the goldfish afterwards, so they were not killing the fish for food, but to test the ‘boundaries of their conscience’. Two people did switch the magi-mix on, presumably concerned at the suffering of the goldfish confined to the less than 4.5 litre space of a magi-mix. The prosecution failed. The fish was, it appears, killed instantly, therefore there was no cruelty.
The RSPCA have long been concerned about goldfish in bowls – they made spirited attempts to obtain a ban on the tradition of giving goldfish as prizes at fairgrounds. They failed, although they would prefer that you didn’t know that, obscuring their answer to queries in legalese; it is only an offence to give such a prize to a child. What if the child abandoned the goldfish on the way home? Marianne Schmitt came across just such an abandoned fishie (name unknown) in the middle of the road on her way home. She dutifully slammed on the brakes fearing the wrath of the RSPCA inspectors – causing a five car pile up that left three children in hospital. The RSPCA made no comment, but the goldfish were taken to a nearby RSPCA centre to recover from their traumatic experience.
The Edinburgh Museum resorted to plastic surgery for their goldfish when visitors complained that one of the goldfish had an unsightly lump on its head. Sadly, during the course of the plastic surgery, one of its eyes was removed, which apparently the visitors weren’t concerned about….
Kenneth Grindlay, a Dunfermline man, didn’t kill his goldfish, he cut its tail off ‘because he was bored’ but put it back in its bowl where it swum in ever decreasing circles on account of having lost its rudder. He got two years on probation. Yet the RSPCA endorse the practice of fishermen putting Carp back with or without their tail. Presumably fisherman do it because they would be bored otherwise. You can only wash so many cars on a Saturday morning.
Is fishing cruel? Antoine Goetschel thinks so. The Swiss lawyer carries the distinction of being the first man in the world to stand up in court on behalf of a dead (and consumed with intent) 22lb pike. The crucial issue, according to the sole animal advocate in Europe, was the 10-minute battle between angler and giant fish before the pike was finally hauled out of Lake Zurich and landed on the bank. Mr Goetschel insisted that the fisherman should have cut the line after the first minute of the battle to save the pike from unnecessary suffering. “Angling is as barbaric as bullfighting,” he told a Zurich court as a public gallery of curious and bemused fishermen listened on. Mr Goetschel was widely ridiculed in the Swiss media before the trial and subsequently dismissed as a batty and interfering animal fundamentalist. He lost the case. For the fish, the result was immaterial: the angler and his friends had already dined on the prized catch in a presumably celebratory meal at a local pub.
I’m not making much headway in my task of determining what it is that really inspires the RSPCA on behalf of little goldfishes everywhere, am I? It’s not killing them that is the problem, it’s not eating them that is the problem, perhaps it was the fact that Gavin downed but a single goldfish and he might have been lonely? Certainly that was their justification for taking a lobster into protective custody in Australia. Presumably if he’d had a pal he could call his own, or even Thermidor ‘the temptress’, the prospect of the boiling water wouldn’t have seemed so grim.
Even protecting goldfish can get you into trouble. Alistair Hastie thought that local mink were eating his goldfish, so he set up a perfectly legal trap, note perfectly legal, to catch them. Unfortunately, the trap caught a Heron, which certainly was eating goldfish or would have done if it hadn’t got its left leg caught in the trap. That cost him £1,350 – for ensuring that the gold fish didn’t get eaten…
Perhaps it was the prospect of the goldfish drowning in young Gavin’s unhealthy mix of Tequilla and lager? Nope; David Ellis had a habit of drowning animals, guinea pigs, what have you, for which he was prosecuted by the RSPCA and banned for life from keeping any animal except, curiously, a gold fish, for whom he held no terror…
The RSPCA took 1,340 people to court in 2011 – up by almost 25 per cent on 2010 – at a record cost of £4.7million. Every time they mount a prosecution, donations leap. Direct donations went up by £41.2million for the same year, contributing to an overall income of £115million.
Those little fishes feed 2355 RSPCA employees according to the Charity Commission; and the goldfish is the most popular household pet in the UK.
Now Gavin Cole’s prosecution is beginning to make sense…