A fish beauty treatment craze which has reached Peterborough has come under fire from animal welfare supporters.
The therapy where customers’ dead skin is nibbled off their feet by garra rufa fish has raised concerns that the fish would have to be starved to behave in this way.
Peter Hiscock, manager of Maidenhead Aquatics, in Peterborough Garden Park, Eye, said they refuse to sell the fish to anyone they suspect is setting up a spa.
He said: “To get them to do a good job you would need hundreds of fish kept at near starvation levels.
“They are an algae grazer so they do eat regularly. If you’ve only got a few in a tank then they will only need feeding occasionally, but if you’ve got hundreds then they will need constant feeding.
“If they are fed well then they will just not be interested in eating the dead skin.
“We refuse to sell them to anyone we think might be from a salon. Under animal welfare laws we have to be confident the buyer will look after any pets. But we’re not happy selling the garra rufa to salons.”
The fish, mostly bred in Singapore, have proved popular in the past as pets as they clean algae from the inside of tanks.
The RSPCA has also voiced its concerns about the treatment.
A spokeswoman said: “We do have concerns about the welfare of any fish involved in this practice.
“While interest in this practice has been growing for a few years, some fish suppliers have voiced their concerns over the ability of businesses keeping fish for this purpose to successfully maintain the animals’ welfare.”
But owners of Beautiful Peterborough in Yaxley and Appy Feet in Queensgate Shopping Centre, which offer this therapy, have hit back at the claims.
Nicky Bailey, manager of Beautiful Peterborough, said: “They all seem quite happy.
“We feed them as instructed. If we didn’t, they would die and we just can’t afford to keep replacing them.
“They have been hard work and I can imagine an unscrupulous owner might just get them in until they die.”
And Christina Wright, founder of the national chain Appy Feet, which has just opened a spa in Queensgate, said: “Appy Feet’s stores have regular inspections from animal welfare representatives and are complimented on how well the fish are looked after.
“All of the fish are fed on a high protein salmon-based soft food every night which has been specifically designed for them by our own micro-biologist. In addition each Appy Feet store has at least one specialist fish keeper.”
About the fish
GARRA rufa fish, nicknamed nibble fish, originate from the middle eastern rivers and springs.
They have been used in Turkish spas for about 400 years as a popular way of removing dead skin.
It has even been claimed they secrete an enzyme which can help eczema sufferers.
The fish can grow up to seven centimetres long and live for six years.
Garra rufa fish are occasionally kept by pet fish owners as they will clean any algae from the sides of tanks, although more colourful species are now more popular.