Growing up, fishing was a large part of my life. Every summer my parents rented a cabin up north for a week or two and we spent much of our time casting out lines. From sunnies to muskies, I caught them all. Sunnies were my favorite. Bluegill Sunfish are one of the most beautiful freshwater fish to swim the lakes. Whenever I caught one, I had my dad take the fish off the hook and hold her steady so I could pet her. Yes, slime and scales aside, I think fish are fascinating. Unfortunately, I never made the connection that fish have feelings too.
After transitioning towards vegetarianism in 2008, I put the pole away, but I still had a tight grip on my fork. One night I was out to dinner with a strict-vegetarian friend and I commented on a recent fish dish I had eaten. She was absolutely appalled. How dare I call myself vegetarian and consume fish? Looking back at it now, I can’t believe I did not consider fish “meat” or “animal flesh.” To me, fish had always been fish. I never took my thinking any further.
After much unpleasant reading, I began to see the error of my ways. First, fish feel pain. According to Dr. Donald Broom, “The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and animals.” This is difficult to notice, and easy to dismiss, because fish do not make noises detectable to the human ear like cows or pigs do. Although, if you observe a fish’s behavior after being caught you can tell that she is doing everything in her nature to get free and escape the pain from the hook and suffocation.
Second, fish have brains and they know how to use them. Fish have the ability to learn from experience, something many of us human animals struggle with every day. When fish see other fish being swooped up by a trawling net, they will avoid these nets. Some fish have even been observed using tools, “the South African fish who lay eggs on leaves so that they can carry them to a safe place.”
Finally, fish slaughter is just just as cruel and inhumane as the slaughter of land mammals. Fish are “impaled, crushed, suffocated, or sliced open and gutted, all while they’re fully conscious.” Of the fish slaughtered for consumption, 40% are raised on aquafarms. These aquafarms are similar to the factory farms that most land animals are raised in. Conditions on aquafarms are nothing like the wild; fish are drugged, genetically modified, overcrowded and are at greater risk for diseases, infections and injuries.
Fishing no longer conjures up the warm and fuzzy memories of yesteryear. Maybe this, in part,was the reason I was so reluctant to educate myself further on the matter. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force. Hopefully this inspires some of you to have a greater respect for our often overlooked floundering friends.