Would a fish by any other name be abused just the same? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But PETA’s “proposal” to re-name “fish” as “sea kittens,” to give them a more “cute and cuddly” image, has at least gotten more people to think about the way we treat our “finned friends.”
Whatever you call them, “fish,” or “sea kittens,” they aren’t just swimming vegetables. They have feelings and individual personalities just like cats, dogs, cows, chickens, and other animals. Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of the world’s leading marine biologists, has said, “I never eat anyone I know personally. I wouldn’t deliberately eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel. They’re so good-natured, so curious. You know, fish are sensitive, they have personalities, they hurt when they’re wounded.”
They will gently rub against one another as a sign of affection, and males will sometimes woo potential partners by singing to them. Fish build nests to raise their babies, and gather small rocks to make hiding places. They “garden” and weed out the types of algae they don’t like.
Fish are smart, interesting individuals who can use tools, recognize their “shoal mates,” gather information by eavesdropping on others, and learn to avoid nets by watching other fish in their group. Numerous studies have shown that fish have sophisticated social structures and impressive long-term memories.
But even if they were as dumb as a doornail, they would deserve compassion. Our “finned friends” can suffer and feel pain just like our furry ones. According to Dr. Donald Broom, a scientific advisor to the British government, “Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals.”
When fish, along with unintended victims such as dolphins, turtles, and birds, are caught in commercial fishing nets, they are dragged against rocks and debris, and some suffocate from the weight of the other fish pressing against them. They gasp for air when lifted from their ocean homes and are tossed onboard ships, where they thrash in agony. Some are still alive when their throats and stomachs are slit open.
Whether you’re a pesco-vegetarian or a full-fledged meat-eater, please remember Finding Nemo’s admonishment: “Fish are friends, not food.” If you’re hooked on the taste of sea life but would like more “sea-kitten safe” options, faux-fish products are available from www.vegieworld.com. Or see Nancy Berkoff’s cookbook Vegan Seafood: Beyond the Fish Shtick for Vegetarians, which includes recipes for “Tuna” Noodle Casserole, “Fish” Tacos, “Crab” Enchiladas, and more. (It’s available at www.petacatalog.org.)
No matter what you eat, you can help fish/sea kittens by asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to stop promoting fishing, or “sea kitten hunting,” if you prefer PETA’s tongue-in-cheek term. Being impaled on a metal hook hurts. Fishing is cruel and unnecessary, whether the fish are killed right away or thrown back into the water, injured and exhausted. Go to http://getactive.peta.org/campaign/sea_kittens1 to send an automated message to the FWS. And repeat after me: “Fish Are Friends, Not Food.”
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