The jury’s verdict is in, and it is unanimous: fish feel pain. “In the scientific community, the question of whether fish are capable of experiencing stress, pain and fear is nearly undisputed,” the Food Empowerment Project states.
“Fish feel pain too,” agrees Discovery News’s Jennifer Viegas in her analysis of Penn State professor Victoria Braithwaite’s book on the subject, Do Fish Feel Pain? A 2009 study published in “Applied Animal Behaviour Science” also concluded that fish feel pain and that even after the pain is over, they alter their behavior in response to their memory of it. A 2003 study found ”profound behavioural and physiological changes” akin to those higher mammals exhibit in response to pain.
That throws a wrench into the arguments of a couple different interest groups. One is people who fish. They often justify their pastime with the claim that it doesn’t hurt their prey. Those who throw fish back in the water after hooking them claim “no harm, no foul,” as though the hook they ripped out of a fish’s mouth (or left in) didn’t hurt. Those who keep the fish they catch can’t possibly watch the desperate thrashing (like that of the tuna in the video below) and believe the fish are not suffering, but if they do, they are now on notice: the fish are feeling pain, stress, and fear as they struggle to breathe.
The other group that won’t like this scientific consensus is self-labeled “vegetarians” who eat fish. More accurately called pescatarians, some of them abstain from eating most meat because they believe it is murder and/or don’t want to be the cause of animals’ suffering. They make an exception for fish flesh. Those who base that exception on the belief that fishing doesn’t hurt fish are now on notice too.
Of course, there are plenty of hunters and omnivores who know they are killing and eating sentient, feeling beings, and just don’t care. This news won’t change their world. I’d like to think that the video might, for at least a few empathetic souls.
Then there is a whole other kettle of fish: aquaculture, or fish farms. 50 percent of the fish people eat comes from aquaculture. Like factory farming of land animals, this version of agribusiness spares not a thought for the fishes’ well-being. “Fish raised in aquaculture are unable to swim in open waters and eat natural foods. The cramped conditions cause severe stress.” This sounds a lot like egg-laying chickens, sows, and dairy cows: no chance to roam free or even stretch their muscles, and a diet they would never choose in the wild: ”aquaculture feeds are increasingly utilizing proteins from grains such as soybeans and wheat, as well as meat meal and poultry meal from industrial animal factories.” Not exactly health food for animals that live and eat underwater. I don’t know if poor diets cause farmed fish pain or stress, but being packed in like sardines can’t be pleasant.
Whether by capturing them for recreation or commerce or raising them for food, humans subject fish to fear, pain, and stress all the time. It’s time to stop kidding ourselves that they don’t mind.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
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