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You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are more species of fish than all other vertebrates
(animals with a back bone), combined, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds.
Fish have a nervous system and like you and I feel pain
Fish are hugely diverse, they are found in a wide range of habitats as diverse as hot springs, rivers, ponds and vast oceans in depths of over 7,000 metres, they are highly evolved and like you and I they are complex animals with the ability to feel pain and distress. Fish have been evolving for over 400 million years, longer than we have and have acquired some remarkable abilities. To gather information fish have evolved specialized sensory organs. Evolution has equipped fish to monitor temperature, light, water currents and vibrations to name just a few of their remarkable abilities.
Researchers have discovered that fish are fast learners and have the amazing ability to carry mental maps around in their heads and can retain memories for months. In his book Pleasurable Kingdoms Jonathan Balcombe describes the incredible memory of the frillfin goby which lives in rook tide-pools when the tide is high:
"If a rock pool begins to dry up these fish leap to an adjacent pool. Obviously, a missed leap might be fatal, and the accuracy must be great in both terms of distance and direction. How do frillfin gobies do this being as they cannot see the adjacent pool? They memorise the topography of the rocks during high tide. Captive fish showed a marked improvement in orientation after an overnight opportunity to swim over the pools during an artificial high tide. Removing the gobies from their home tide pools for various periods of time before retesting their jumping ability showed that their memory of familiar pools lasted about 40 days. Thanks to these mental capacities, gobies caught in a shallow depression avoid having to make a pure leap of faith."
Fish are truly amazing creatures when you get to know them, they are sentient, aware, intelligent, but most importantly they feel pain.
Often though cruelty to fish is overlooked.
“Fish constitute the greatest source of confused thinking and inconsistency on earth at the moment with respect to pain.
“You will get people very excited about dolphins because they are mammals, and about horses and dogs, if they are not treated properly. At the same time you will have fishing competitions on the River Murray at which thousands of people snare fish with hooks and allow them to asphyxiate on the banks, which is a fairly uncomfortable and miserable death”
Professor Bill Runciman
Professor of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care
Adelaide University quoted in Animals Australia The voice for Animals' website Fishing // Animals Australia
Despite the fact that the majority of people have at least had some basic biology taught to them at school there are sadly many people who do not realise that a fish is an animal, that fish like humans and other animals feel pain. It is at times difficult enough to get people to understand that land animals feel pain and have the capacity to suffer and therefore should not be treated as commodities for exploitation and as a source of food. However the moment the subject of fish is mentioned many people without even thinking it through will say fish do not have feelings, they are cold blooded, they do not feel pain. I recall a friend of mine saying much the same thing, somehow she had got it into her mind that because it is said, and widely accepted, that fish do not have feelings in their mouths when the fisherman's hook sinks in, that in general fish do not have feelings, are not sentient or experience pain or suffering. To begin with this first assumption is erroneous, in fact fish are particularly well supplied with pain specific nerves endings in their mouth and lips, therefore the fisherman's hook is indeed very painful. Scientists who study pain are in complete agreement that fish have a similar response to pain as we do; the pain response of fish is basically identical to that in mammals and birds.
The British Farm Animal Welfare Council reports:
“The fact that fish are cold-blooded does not prevent them from having a pain system and, indeed, such a system is valuable in preserving life and maximising the biological fitness of individuals.”
The problem with the term cold blooded also presents the uninformed with some confusion, which leads many to think that fish and other sea creatures do not feel pain. The term cold blooded is really an inaccuracy as at times a so called cold blooded animal's blood temperate may well be warmer than your own. The term means that the animals blood temperate varies according to his surroundings. For instance reptiles such as lizards are often seen in the morning warming themselves in the sun and until their body temperature raises due to the sun's warm they are sluggish. Fish in tropical waters will most certainly have a higher body temperature. Cold blooded than simply refers to an animal whose blood temperate varies in accordance with the temperature of their environment.
However the whole misconception of warm or cold blooded is in any case a misnomer, it is irrelevant as the feelings of pain arise from the brain and the central nervous system. Hot or cold blooded, fish and other sea creatures feel pain. Fish have a brain and a nervous system anatomically similar to ourselves and other mammals; a single nerve cord runs along the spinal cord and complex nerves which allow the creature to feel as much pain as you or I. As already mentioned there are, contrary to popular belief, a good supply of nerves at both the lips and mouth, a fact fishermen fishing with a line and hook conveniently ignore.
For scientific evidence read about recent research by scientists from the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh:
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Fish do feel pain, scientists say
Of note is the following observation: "Fish demonstrated a 'rocking' motion, strikingly similar to the kind of motion seen in stressed higher vertebrates like mammals." Rocking backwards and forwards is a common indication of stress in humans.
Research has show that fish avoid painful stimuli, this suggests that pain causes them stress that they wish to avoid. Like other animals in circumstances of confinement in captivity fish exhibit abnormal behaviours indicating stress and distress.
Fish are like other animals sentient, they have conscious awareness.
Fish are intelligent creatures, research shows they can use tools, they have long term memories of at least three or four months and live in complex socials structures. Here is what a specialist in fish behaviour has to say about the abilities of fish:
"Fish are more intelligent than they appear. In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of ‘higher’ vertebrates including non-human primates"
Culum Brown University of Edinburgh
For more information about fish intelligence and sentience: See: Sentience in Farm Animals: Aquatic Animals
In view of mounting evidence we can no longer allow fish to be treated in the inhumane horrendously cruel way they are treated at present.
Yet despite these facts not much thought is given even by some animal lovers and those interested in animal rights to the pain, suffering and abuse of these creatures by the fishing industry and by recreational fishing. Countless billions of fish are killed each year, world wide the numbers are staggering. During both commercial and recreational fishing much suffering takes place as fully conscious fish are impaled, crushed, sliced open gutted and suffocated.
Such methods of killing fish are shockingly cruel and would not be allowed to happen by law under the protection of animal welfare acts, if the animal in question was your dog or cat. Always keep in mind that fish feel the same pain as your pet.
Eighty to 100 million tonnes of fish are caught each year, I don't like to lump these creature into tonnage for each fish is an individual as are you and I but sadly this is the way that these statistics are measured. In the USA it is estimated that the number of aquatic animals caught for food is a staggering 15 billion tonnes! Most of the fish caught in UK waters are herring, cod, jacks, redfish and mackerel. There are of course a good number of fresh water species of fish which are farmed or fished such as salmon and trout.
Sea fish are caught in drift nets which measure an astonishing 40 KMs long! These huge nets are not of course discriminatory and along with the unfortuante fish which you may eat at your local restaurant or have with your chips, other sea creatures get caught in these nets. Among them include, sea turtles, dolphins, porpoises, rays, sharks, even small whales and diving sea birds and indeed any number of species of fish and other sea creatures such as shell fish, crabs, starfish, every conceivable type of creature you can imagine, all of which are not wanted. Many fish are crushed to death under the weight of the catch including many of the creatures who are not wanted but who were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught in these nets.
When the nets are bought to the surface all of these animals termed " by catch" mostly now dead are shovelled back into the sea. Those still alive fall pry to flocks of scavenging birds or slowly bleed to death in the water or die of their injuries. Shrimp catches may result in the throwing away of 85 percent of the "by catch". it is estimated that as many as 1000 sea mammals die each day as a result of being caught in fishing nets.
The fish that died under the crush of thier fellows where perhaps more fortunate, at least in comparison to what happens to those who are still alive. Those that arrive on the decks who have survived the crush are either left to suffocate; plaice can struggle for life gasping for air for many hours and are filleted or disembowelled whilst still alive.
Many fish are caught which are not edible for humans, but which are used for purposes other that eating. This is a growing sector of industrial fishing where such species as sand eels and ling are caught to provide fish oil or used as high protein live stock or salmon feed or as fertilizer.
Keep in mind that of course the UK is not the only nation to decimate the ocean's aquatic life. The USA have commercial trawlers the size of football fields which can remain at sea for six months at a time, they are equipped with the latest tracking devices to track fish and other sea creatures, tens of thousands in one net, which like the UK are many metres long, the unfortunate creatures thus caught may be dragged along the sea bottom for hours before being killed.
Commercial fishing is big business and the methods used to catch and kill these creatures are just as cruel and cause as much suffering in there own way as that suffered by land animals in factory farms and slaughter houses. There is though even less compassion for fish, workers in these industries see fish as inanimate, no different than a vegetable and they are as a consequence treated with no regard to the pain and suffering experienced by these animals. There are no regulations whatsoever, fishermen are able to do cart blanch whatsoever they wish. Yet we now know that fish suffer as do we and other animals, they are conscious aware beings who feel pain, fear and distress; imagine just for a moment the enormity of suffering inflicted on these sea creatures
As billions of aquatic creatures are killed every year our oceans have become decimated, 90 percent of fish populations have been exterminated in the past 50 years!
Fish do not escape the horrors of factory farming either. Many people including myself are amazed at the number of factory fish farms which we have here in the UK which number between 1,000 to 15000.These farms mainly rear trout and salmon. These fish are an expensive food, there is a good profit in trout and salmon. As many as 20,000 young salmon are crammed into freshwater tanks measuring between four and ten metres in diameter. Like factory farmed land animals fish are given antibiotics: after a year to eighteen months of age they are taken to lochs and estuary cages where they are injected with antibiotics to control disease. They are also regularly treated with pesticides to kill of sea lice. Nonetheless despite this excessive use of chemicals about 20 to 50 per cent die of disease such as cancer and liver failure.
For two weeks prior to being killed they are starved. This cruelty is undertaken simply for the convenience of the workers because it is less messy to remove the intestines of a fish that has not eaten. Finally after two weeks of suffering starvation their wretched lives are brought to an end as they are killed whilst still conscious by being cut across the gills with a sharp knife.
There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
As individuals there is one way to help bring about change and that is to stop eating fish and other aquatic creatures. There are a number of campaigns you can support. For ideas, campaigns, petitions and more information please visit the following websites
http://www.viva.org.uk/ There are several articles on VIVA you will however need to enter fish in the search field
Fishing // Animals Australia