The owner of a Gilbert salon said she's stopped using flesh-eating fish for pedicures.

Cindy Vong, owner of LaVie Nails & Spa, was instructed by the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology in January to stop the fish pedicures. Officials told her the practice violates the board's statutes and rules and may constitute a class-one misdemeanor.

At issue is whether the 1-inch-long garra rufa and chin chin fish, which eat dead skin, present a health hazard to customers.

Officials say the law requires grooming items used on salon clients to be disinfected, and there's no way to disinfect a fish.

Vong, who maintains the practice is safe, said she stopped using the fish, although she'll continue to press her claim that the board has no jurisdiction over the use of the fish since they are not grooming tools and are mainly for entertainment.

"In the meantime, I have to keep the little guys as pets," she said. "I don't have much choice."

If Vong doesn't agree to the terms of a consent agreement, which calls for a $750 fine and six months probation, the issue will go to a formal hearing before an administrative law judge, said Donna Aune, deputy director of the board.

"It's like admitting guilt," Aune said of the consent agreement.

Tim Keller, executive director for the libertarian Institute for Justice's Arizona Chapter, wrote a letter on Vong's behalf last week pressing the board to reconsider. He said the fish don't violate state laws or the board's rules and regulations.

"To that end, she is not inclined to sign the proposed consent agreement and order mailed to her on April 7, 2009 and received by her on April 14, 2009," the letter states.

Keller said in an e-mail neither he nor Vong has heard from the board.

"If they decline to reconsider, I anticipate Cindy refusing to sign the consent decree, which would lead to an administrative hearing," he said. "If she is unsuccessful at the hearing, then she would consider a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court."

The purpose of the fish treatment, which is described as feeling like a mild electrical current on the skin, is to smooth the feet and relax the customer. The fish are known more popularly by names that include doctor fish and nibble fish.

The practice, popular in numerous countries around the world, has caught on in the United States, although many states, including Maryland and Florida, have banned the treatments over health concerns.

Vong, who purchased the fish in October, said the pedicures boosted business by 50 percent.

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