The following is an open letter to people who don’t care about fish.
Have you ever thought about how fish end up on your plate?
I never did. Having grown up never eating fish, I didn’t ponder it much. I think in my 27 years on this planet, I’ve eaten salmon once. And honestly, eating fish just wasn’t appealing to me: To see a whole animal on a plate, cooked, with eyes seemingly looking back at me was creepy and unsettling, to say the least.
What many people never consider is that fish are some of the most abused animals on the planet. Many are bred and raised at fish factory farms, where conditions can be so horrible that fish suffer from severe depression and literally give up on life, wasting away in their filthy, crowded enclosures. Others are caught in the wild, in open waters where massive commercial fishing nets scoop up everyone in their path. Fish and other marine animals suffocate as they are caught in netting or hauled aboard boats.
The belief that fish don’t feel pain couldn’t be further from the truth. Scientists have concluded that fish are remarkably similar to dogs, cats, and other animals in their experience of pain and pleasure.
In the Hakai Magazine article “Fish Feel Pain. Now What?,” author Ferris Jabr states:
Scientists agree that most, if not all, vertebrates (as well as some invertebrates) are conscious and that a cerebral cortex as swollen as our own is not a prerequisite for a subjective experience of the world. The planet contains a multitude of brains, dense and spongy, globular and elongated, as small as poppy seeds and as large as watermelons; different animal lineages have independently conjured similar mental abilities from very different neural machines. A mind does not have to be human to suffer.
Sadly, fish are not granted any protections from cruelty. In fact, not a single law protects fish in the United States, whether they’re raised at fish farms or caught in the wild. Humans kill so many fish each year that we can’t count them individually; we weigh them in tons. Some estimates put the number of individual fish we kill in the trillions. The amount of suffering in the fishing industry is unfathomable.
Time and time again, undercover investigations into the commercial fishing industry find unimaginable cruelty. Italian animal rights group Essere Animali found schools of sea bream, sea bass, and trout being ripped out of cramped nets and dumped into plastic containers to slowly suffocate. Most of these animals spent their last moments flapping helplessly, struggling to breathe.
Those who survived the farm gasped for up to an hour on slabs or in containers filled with slush and ice at the slaughterhouse. Some were eventually killed with blows to the head from metal batons. The undercover video also exposes workers manually squeezing roe out of some fish—likely causing extreme stress and pain.
In 2011 Mercy For Animals conducted an undercover investigation at a fish slaughter facility and revealed fish being skinned alive. They thrashed and fought to escape the workers’ knives. As the fish gasped for oxygen, workers ripped off their skin with pliers.
Can you put yourself in their place and imagine their anguish? Now multiply that suffering by billions and trillions. Ethologist and author Jonathan Balcombe states:
We humans kill between 150 billion and over 2 trillion fishes a year. ... And the way they die—certainly in commercial fishing—is really pretty grim. There’s a lot of change that would be needed to reflect an improvement in our relationship with fishes.
While many people consume fish without realizing the suffering inflicted on these animals, the science is clear. So now that you know fish feel pain, will you still eat them?
With companies like Good Catch Foods, Sophie’s Kitchen, Ocean Hugger Foods, Gardein, and New Wave Foods coming out with awesome vegan alternatives, it’s never been easier to ditch animal-based seafood products.
Join me and millions of others by leaving animal products off your plate. Try these vegan seafood-inspired recipes to get started!