Since 2017, the last Saturday in March has been considered World Day for the End of Fishing. This campaign was launched by animal activists demanding an end to fishing practices and hoping to bring about an awareness of fish pain, sentience, and intelligence. The campaign was initially conceived in 2016 in Switzerland and France and went international the following year.
On World Day for the End of Fishing (WoDEF), animal rights activists worldwide stage protests, demonstrations, and events to shed light on the plight of fish. Examples include street protests, fish counts, sit-ins, exhibitions, screenings, workshops, and conferences. Protestors assert that fish can feel pain, and consuming them is neither necessary nor ethical.
“The organizers of World Day for the End of Fishing demand the abolition of all kinds of fishing practices for fish, crustaceans and cephalopods: the end of aquaculture, industrial or wild fishing, the use of marine animals as domestic pets, in scientific experiments and for entertainment.”
FISH FEEL PAIN
“The science on fish sentience is clear: fish have the capacity to suffer and feel pain.” – Becca Franks, Fish scientist.
Numerous studies show evidence that fish consciously experience pain. They possess a complex nervous system and pain receptors. Their behavior indicates that they do feel and react to pain. Researchers have noted significant increases in cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – in fish allowed to suffocate outside of water. Fish produce opioids in response to pain, just as humans do.
They also exhibit self-soothing, pain-reducing, and protective responses when injured. “Fish have been observed rocking back and forth, losing their appetite, becoming antisocial and withdrawn, hyperventilating, and changing their habitual swimming activity.”(HumaneLeague) There is also increasing evidence that fish can experience psychological pain from emotional states.
Fish suffer numerous injuries when humans catch them. Hooks pierce the lips, jaws, and other parts of the fish. When swallowed, hooks can rip through the stomach or other organs as the fish struggles. As large numbers of fish get caught in nets, others become crushed under the weight of the others.
Decompression can cause their swim bladder to explode; their eyes pop out of their socket, or their esophagus or stomach pop out through their mouths. Fish die a slow and painful death. Some asphyxiate, many are crushed, while others die of thermal shock. They eviscerate larger fish while still fully conscious. Some are left to languish for hours or days before fishers retrieve a net. These may bleed to death, asphyxiate, or even be preyed upon by parasites or other fish.
FISH ARE SENTIENT
“[When we say] we must consider the interests of all beings with the capacity for suffering or enjoyment [we do] not arbitrarily exclude from consideration any interests at all – as those who draw the line with reference to the possession of reason or language do.” -Peter Singer, Animal Liberation
All creatures have their interests, some simple, some complex. What is important to one individual may be irrelevant to another, but that does not negate the relevance to the first individual. Even if a fish’s only interest is to live, we must respect that.
Most humans do not view fish as individuals, but the truth is that they are. Each fish is unique, just as we are. They may not speak our language, look like us, or hold the same interests, but their lives are valuable, nonetheless.
“A sentient being is animated by the desire to continue her/his existence. To stop his life is to deprive the individual of the joys, pleasures, satisfactions she/he could legitimately expect.”(WoDEF)
It isn’t just fish caught in the fishing process. Birds, turtles, whales, dolphins, and more fall victim to nets and fishing lines. These animals are known as “bycatch,” but their lives matter, too. Around 25% of the caught fish are thrown back into the ocean because they are too small or unwanted for various reasons. Many of these are dead, injured, or completely exhausted. Their lives are collateral damage of the fishing industry.
Over-fishing is wiping out entire populations. Removing too many fish from the ocean at once creates an imbalance that can affect the whole ecosystem. Nets and lines left behind by fishing boats kill thousands of unfortunate sea creatures.
The aqua farming industry also dramatically contributes to ocean and waterway pollution. Humans have taken factory farming to the seas, which is devastating. According to one study, “a 2-acre fish farm can produce as much waste as a town of 10,000 people.” In addition, bottom trawling causes up to 95% of global damage along the ocean floor.
Fish farms produce over 50% of the fish and shrimp consumed by humans, and the fish’s living conditions are nowhere near humane. A 2019 investigation by Animal Outlook revealed shocking conditions. An undercover video showed examples of the following:
- Workers abuse fish by slamming them onto the ground, stomping on them, and throwing them. Some workers treat the fish like basketballs and perform “trick shots.”
- Underfed and starving fish mistaking other fishes’ eyes for food and eating them
- Ineffective anesthetization during vaccination and fin clipping
- Piles of fish left to suffocate
- Filthy conditions that are so bad the fish require vaccinations
- Spinal deformities and fungus growth on fish
- Extreme crowding
Sometimes fish are stunned before slaughter, but not always. Physical blows and blunt force often injure them, leaving them fully conscious. Some are electrocuted, leaving at least 10% of the fish conscious. Although European authorities have deemed it inhumane, water saturation in CO2 is also standard practice. Many fish are completely conscious while being eviscerated. Most simply suffocate in the open air. Overall, fish farms kill more animals than land-based factory farms.
EATING FISH IS UNNECESSARY
The bottom line is that consuming fish and other sea creatures is unnecessary cruelty. The plant-based market is perpetually growing. Ever-developing technology allows us to create the textures and flavors of seafood and other animal products without harming any animals. With so many alternatives readily available, there is no reason to continue senseless torture and killing of innocent animals.