Fish farming, aquaculture nets

Photo: Adnan Buyuk/shutterstock.com

The Issues

Sea Life & Ocean Sustainability

Fish farming, aquaculture nets

Photo: Adnan Buyuk/shutterstock.com

The Complex, Social Fish

Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) underwater.

Photo: jurgal photographer/shutterstock.com

The science on fish sentience is extensive, and it all points in one direction: Fish are individuals who are similar — emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally — to land animals. While they don’t scream out in pain, they do feel pain. And, while most of us don’t get to know them because they spend all their time in the water, those who do know them respect them as individuals. Writing in New Scientist, Professor Culum Brown explains: “In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of ‘higher’ vertebrates, including non-human primates. Best of all, given the central place memory plays in intelligence and social structures, fish not only recognize individuals but can also keep track of complex social relationships.”

Tilapia raised in farms and cages
“To suggest that fishes cannot feel pain because they don’t have sufficient neuroanatomy is like arguing that balloons cannot fly because they don’t have wings.”
- Neuroscientist Lori Marino, Ph.D.

Photo: neenawat khenyothaa /shutterstock.com

Facts

  • Underwater photo of a big Pike

    Photo: Kletr/shutterstock.com

  • Fish

    have existed on Earth fifty times longer than humans have.

  • Studies show that fish will avoid baited hooks after being hooked once; carps and pikes will avoid hooks for up to three years.

  • Fish feel fear, and a naive fish can even learn to fear and avoid predators by watching another, more knowledgeable fish's behavior.

  • About 76 fatal injuries were reported for every 100,000 workers in the fishing industry—one of the highest rates in 2018 after logging.

Photo: Kletr/shutterstock.com

Under the Sea

Vertical explainer photo 1 - tuna fish swimming underwater

Photo: Lorna Roberts/shutterstock.com

Fish are extraordinary creatures who have been on earth fifty times longer than humans! Despite common belief, fish experience a wide range of emotions, have rich social lives, can recognize themselves and other individuals, communicate with one another, and feel pain in a manner similar to humans.

Fish are incredibly vocal creatures with more ways of producing sounds than any other vertebrate animal. Only with recent development of underwater sound-detecting technology are humans now able to hear the hums, whistles, grunts, pops, purrs, chirps, and growls of our underwater friends. Because fish need to understand so many types of sounds, their skill for understanding and discriminating between sounds is impeccable! In a study by Harvard University, researcher Ava Chase found that koi fish could distinguish different musicians and classify music by genres.

Scientists unanimously agree that fish feel and avoid pain. Studies show that fish will avoid baited hooks after being hooked once–carps and pikes will avoid hooks for up to three years.

tuna fish swimming underwater

Photo: Lorna Roberts/shutterstock.com

Fish are extraordinary creatures who have been on earth fifty times longer than humans! Despite common belief, fish experience a wide range of emotions, have rich social lives, can recognize themselves and other individuals, communicate with one another, and feel pain in a manner similar to humans.

Fish are incredibly vocal creatures with more ways of producing sounds than any other vertebrate animal. Only with recent development of underwater sound-detecting technology are humans now able to hear the hums, whistles, grunts, pops, purrs, chirps, and growls of our underwater friends. Because fish need to understand so many types of sounds, their skill for understanding and discriminating between sounds is impeccable! In a study by Harvard University, researcher Ava Chase found that koi fish could distinguish different musicians and classify music by genres.

Scientists unanimously agree that fish feel and avoid pain. Studies show that fish will avoid baited hooks after being hooked once–carps and pikes will avoid hooks for up to three years.

Fish Farm

Photo: Vladislav Gajic/shutterstock.com

Aquaculture is the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, algae, and other organisms in all types of water environments. It is the largest growing food group in the world, killing trillions of fish every year. Fish are often kept confined to netted pens close to the shore; feces and diseases from the farmed fish pollute the surrounding water, promote the growth of algae blooms, and destroy nearby ecosystems. Currently, no state or federal law protects fish from stress, pain, and suffering during their short life span in aquaculture.

Commercial fisheries also pose a threat to the ocean and its ecosystems. Unsustainable practices such as long-line fishing and deep-sea trawling desecrate the delicate ecosystems of the ocean and impose stressful deaths on the magnificent creatures they catch. According to National Geographic, 171 million tons of fish are currently being harvested from the ocean per year. In the next 10 years, that number is expected to rise to 201 million tons.

Bycatch is a term for non-target species, including sharks, dolphins, turtles, and sea birds, accidentally captured through different fishing methods such as long-line fishing and deep-sea trawling and discarded in the water dead or dying. It is estimated that between 17.9 and 39.5 million tons of bycatch are discarded by fisheries yearly.

The fishing industry also threatens human rights. Time magazine reported that fishing is the second most dangerous job in the United States. Fisheries expose workers to harsh weather conditions, slippery surfaces, and dangerous physical tasks. About 86 fatal injuries were reported for every 100,000 workers–one of the highest rates in 2017 after logging.

Dead fish at sunset

Photo: David Duszynski/shutterstock.com

Marine biologist Boris Worm of Dalhousie University said, “We have a 1,000-, probably 10,000-year habit of taking the oceans for granted and moving from one species to the next, or replacing it with a technological fix like aquaculture. To me, the major roadblock is we have to change our perception of what the ocean is.”

Because of collapsing fish populations, fisheries are starting to target fish deeper into the ocean, called “fishing down.” This practice further exacerbates the destruction of the ancient and complex networks of the ocean. A healthy ocean is crucial for supporting phytoplankton who produce more than half of the world’s oxygen.

Unfortunately, massive corporations are fueling this intense destruction and violation. National Geographic estimates that $22 billion had been given to commercial fisheries as subsidies in 2018. This incentives fisheries to continue overfishing even when it is not profitable and fish stocks are suffering.  David Attenborough, documentarian and naturalist, said, “A global deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies is the next vital step in the restoration of our oceans to their former abundance and diversity.”

What Can We Do?

A huge school of fish

Photo: Richard Whitcombe/shutterstock.com

Inaction is no longer an option. We have the power to relieve decimated fish populations from overfishing, to restore ecosystems, and to educate the public about how to protect and live in tandem with the marvelous beings of the ocean. Many scientists agree that we can reverse these damages if we dramatically change our relationship to ocean life, enforce ocean-protecting laws, and minimize or eliminate the demand for fish as food.

You can fight against the destruction of the ocean starting with your plate. By choosing to eat a vegan or plant-based diet, you can reduce the demand for aquaculture. Check out our plant-based eating guide at the link below.

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