Fish Deaths At Wal-Mart Raise Concern For Living Conditions

At the Wal-Mart on Northwest 23rd Street in Gainesville, a Betta fish lays dead at the bottom of its bowl on the front display. Gainesville resident Jade Floyd said other Betta fish also looked sickly and neglected. Photo courtesy of Jade Floyd

People looking to buy betta fish would be well-advised to move quickly – and put them in a larger bowl or tank.

While they can survive for a while in the small containers they are often sold in, according to websites such as Earth’s Friends, such environments are not ideal for the fish because they are more prone to temperature fluctuations and sullied water.

That vulnerability was on display recently at the Wal-Mart on Northwest 23rd Street: A dead betta fish was seen floating in a plastic container.

Sometimes the fish are already dead by the time they hit the shelves, said Randall Wells, a sales associate in the gardening and lawn care department at Wal-Mart on Northwest 23rd Street.

“A lot of people come into the store and see dead fish, but that can happen because of delivery issues,” Wells said. “We can keep track of the fish, but we can’t always be on top of everything all the time.”

Alachua County resident Jade Floyd wrote about seeing dead betta fish at that Wal-Mart in a Facebook post on Gainesville Word of Mouth, attracting about 20 comments. 

“I go into Wal-Mart all the time, and these fish don’t even have enough water to live in,” Floyd said. “I never spoke up until the last time I went when I saw the dead betta at the front of the fish display, and it looked like it had been dead for a while.”

Ruth Francis Floyd, a professor in the UF Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences whose special interest is in health management of ornamental fish, said that bettas  have a special organ that allows them to survive in cramped conditions.

“They are very tolerant of the conditions and they’re easy to keep, so people want to buy them,” she said.

But Allanna Wagy,  PETA College Campaign Assistant, said that too many betta fish are not surviving those conditions – and that they hear about dead fish in pet stores all too often.

“While it is true that bettas are labyrinth fish (who take oxygen from the air by coming to the surface of the water), we feel that it is cruel to keep them in this environment, because the water can get very dirty very quickly, and the temperature can fluctuate too rapidly,” Wagy said.

Due to these these conditions, she said, the fish can become very ill or die.

Travis Maryhew, manager of the department of pets at Wal-Mart on Northwest 23rd Street, said they hope to prevent the betta fish deaths through plans to better monitor them in the future.

“Because Wal-Mart is open 24 hours, it gets difficult to care for the fish at all times,” Maryhew said. “But we do everything we can, and we can always move them to the overstock room for protection.”

About Shelby Davidson

Shelby is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news

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