|A sea turtle caught in a fishing net. By NOAA Photo Library's Fisheries Collection (NOAA Photo Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
For the purposes of this post, I am going to define fish eaters who do not eat meat, as vegetarians. Now I know, and as Mos quite rightly pointed out in the comments section, those who still eat fish but not meat are pescetarians. However, over the years I have met many, many pescetarians who define themselves as vegetarian. The aim of this post, however, is not to discuss the label that a fish eater might attach to themselves, but to explore the reasons why they still eat our marine friends. I know for some, it is because they do not believe that fish are subjected to the same levels of cruelty as other farm reared animals. And for others it is because they are convinced by the argument that fish do not feel pain. Unfortunately, however, neither claim is correct.
Every year, in excess of two billion fish are reared on fish farms. In the main, they are trout and catfish. According to Joan Dunawar, author of Animal Equality, catfish of 15 inches in length are confined to a space of only one cubic foot. One cubic foot?! Whereas rainbow trout suffer an equally miserable existence in shallow troughs. How do I know it's miserable? Well, in answer to that question consider this; these fish farms have one aim and that is to make a profit, rearing as many fish as possible helps to maximize profits. Therefore, overcrowding is rife. Intensively reared fish suffer from all kinds of infections, including parasitic infections. Their gills, skin, fins and tails are often inflamed, swollen and sometimes even oozing from the infections. It is not uncommon for salmon to become infested with lice, as a result of which, the fish can be seen trying to rub their bodies along the confines of their cage in order to relieve the unrelenting irritation they experience. Still convinced that farmed fish do not experience the same level of cruelty as other farm reared animals?
When the trout's miserable existence is about to come to an end, when they are ready for slaughter, they are dumped into carbon dioxide infused waters. This particular process paralyses the fish, they are unable to breathe- it's too painful. For many of them, however, this is not the end of life, most are still conscious when their gills are slit. Electricity on the other hand is used to exterminate the catfish. Unfortunately however, most are still alive when they are beheaded.
When fish are caught by the trawlers nets they are sandwiched between rocks and whatever else the nets retrieve. They are so tightly squeezed that they suffer internal ruptures. The internal pressure leads to their stomach being pressed out of their mouths, their eyes protrude from their sockets. And they're still alive. After hours in the nets the fish are slung onto the deck, most suffocate, but many are still alive when their throats are cut. And then there's the unintended victims; sea turtles, dolphins and birds. They, too, suffer the worst of fates.
There has been much debate over recent years as to whether fish feel pain. A study in 2003 revealed that trout have polymodal noniceptors, confirming that their nervous system has the ability to detect pain. When the study was published, it prompted a ludicrous counter argument, in the main by those advocating slaughter and farming of fish. And the counter argument was this; the ability to detect pain is not necessarily pain by some definitions, the animal must be aware that it is indeed pain they are feeling. If they are unable to comprehend what pain is, then they cannot feel it. Really? Perhaps then we need to ask ourselves these questions: Can a baby comprehend the meaning of pain? What about an adult with serious learning difficulties, can they? Would we subject either from these groups to cruel treatment because of their inability to understand the meaning of pain? Unthinkable isn't it?
In the end, we all draw our own lines and make our own decisions about which foodstuffs we are or are not prepared to sacrifice. If however, you are a fish eater and your reasons for eating fish are as I outlined in the first paragraph, please think again.