Court Upholds State Ban on Spa Fish

May 28, 2014

Yes, it’s true. Certain kind of fish can do a pedicure — just not in this state, at least not legally. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer explains.


Cindy Vong devoted part of her Gilbert spa to setting up tanks with small fish that feed on the dead skin on patrons’ feet. But, the state Board of Cosmetology put a stop to that four years ago, insisting that the procedure violated regulations that require all tools and instruments used on customers to be sterilized between procedures. And, you clearly cannot do that with a fish — at least not without killing it. Vong sued. On Tuesday the state Court of Appeals ruled the cosmetology board has the right to act in ways to protect public health. But, attorney Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute, who represents Vong, said the board’s position is irrational.

“The board wants to consider a fish an implement that has to be sterilized. They do not do that with hands, for example, right? Hands, as we heard from the testimony, can’t be sterilized. They can be cleaned, certainly, and risks can be reduced,” Sandefur said.

Sandefur said that is precisely what the board should have done with the fish. But, the appellate court said the board is under no obligation to create a special rule for Vong or the use of her fish. And, the judges noted that Vong remains free to operate the rest of her spa. Sandefur said that’s not enough and she will take the issue to the state Supreme Court.