Fighting bettas is illegal in most U.S. states, the United Kingdom and Australia as well as many other western countries. In parts of Asia, Betta fighting is ingrained in the culture and doesn’t come with the same negative association as it does in western countries. In the majority of U.S. states, Bettas are protected under the same animal welfare statutes that protect dogs and birds. Florida, for example, has very strict laws against animal fighting and Bettas are considered equal with dogs. Fighting Bettas in Florida is a 3rd degree felony. Even promoting, advertising or just being a spectator at an animal fight is illegal and could lead to misdemeanor charges. In California and some other states, dog fighting comes with a more severe penalty but fighting other animals, including Bettas, is still a misdemeanor offense. As I mentioned, most U.S. states protect animals from organized fighting but even those that don’t may have specific statutes that protect animals from being purposefully injured.
Those of us who are compassionate about our finned-friends may take little solace in these animal protection statutes. I can’t recall ever hearing of someone convicted of fighting Bettas. This may be partially because they don’t feel outraged by fish fighting like they would be by a dog fight. Heck, the majority of people don’t even know what a Betta is much less that they are being fought. Another factor is that it is mostly minors fighting these fish. For whatever reason, I hear mostly of young boys 13 – 16 years old fighting Bettas. I guess all we can hope for is that as they mature they develop a sense of compassion for animals and learn to respect them for their beauty and not their fighting abilities.
If you are a middle or high school student and are worried about your peers fighting bettas, talk to a teacher or adviser about having a volunteer from the ASPCA or local animal shelter come into school to talk about animal cruelty and specifically Betta fighting.