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Setting goldfish free is a controversial issue in Iran.

Sunday, April 2, will be Sizdeh Bahar in Iran, the formal end to the long Now Ruz holiday and the day when all those goldfish are "set free."

In many families, choosing a goldfish to sit in a bowl on the Haft Seen table is the job of the youngest child and many kids grow up thinking of goldfish as the happiest element of the holiday.

The goldfish don't always feel that way, however. And the rather modern "tradition" of the goldfish has come under attack from many adults who consider it thoughtless.

Many goldfish perish under harsh conditions at markets and kiosks ahead of Now Ruz or at the hands of well-meaning but uninformed holidaymakers.

Outdoor markets in Iran this time of year routinely feature tanks and plastic buckets crammed full of goldfish that are sold off in plastic bags. But many of the fish die in transit.

And then, on Sizdeh Bedar, it is the norm to release the goldfish into streams.

"Our seven-year research showed that these fish do not thrive once they are released into Iranian rivers and ponds except for very rare spots in the south of the country," Professor Gholamreza Rafiee of Tehran University's Faculty of Natural Resources, tells Radio Farda.

Activists say the death of so many goldfish contradicts the meaning of Now Ruz and its theme of the rebirth of nature. They've called on Iranians to use plastic goldfish or shun the tradition altogether.

In what looked like a nod to their cause, President Rohani delivered his 2016 Now Ruz message seated beside a Haft Seen table that included an orange in a fishbowl in lieu of a goldfish.

But many Iranians resist the animal-rights argument.

"If we don't buy them, someone else will," Zoreh, a Tehrani mother of two young boys, told Radio Farda. "It's a tradition, and my boys look forward to it. This year, my 5-yearold boy insisted on going to the market with his father to buy our goldfish,"

Caption: GOLDFISH LOVER--Two years ago, when President Rohani delivered his Now Ruz message, he quietly signaled where he stood on the controversial goldfish issure by placing a goldfish bowl on his Haft Seen table, but placing an orange inside the bowl

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Title Annotation:Culture: From then to now
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Mar 31, 2017
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