Showing a dog with a fishhook impaled in her lip along with the tagline “If You Wouldn’t Do This to a Dog, Why Do It to a Fish?” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India has a brand-new ad that will soon be appearing in magazines and on billboards. PETA’s point? Fish are intelligent individuals who deserve compassion, eating fish is dangerous to your health, and fishing – both commercial and sport – harms the environment.
Scientific research confirms what marine biologists have been saying for years: Fish are sensitive and intelligent. A recent issue of Fish and Fisheries, devoted to learning, cited more than 500 research papers on fish intelligence, proving that fish are smart, that they can use tools, and that they have impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures. According to University of Plymouth psychologist Dr Phil Gee, fish also know what time of day it is.
New Scientist reported, “The structure of the fish brain is varied and rather different from ours, but it functions in a very similar way.” And Dr Sylvia Earle, perhaps the foremost marine biologist in the world, explained, “I wouldn’t deliberately eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel. They’re so good-natured, so curious. … [T]hey have personalities, they hurt when they’re wounded.”
Cruelty: Because no laws or regulations adequately regulate the treatment of fish, both commercial fishers and fish farmers treat fish in a cruel manner. Dragged from the bottom of the ocean, fish undergo excruciating decompression – the intense internal pressure often ruptures their swim-bladders, pops out their eyes and pushes their stomachs through their mouths. They are then tossed onto ship decks, where many slowly suffocate or are crushed to death. Others are still alive when their throats and bellies are cut open.
Factory-farmed fish are subjected to extremely cruel conditions, which spread infections and parasites – including to wild fish populations. Farmers use antibiotics and other drugs to keep the fish alive and make them grow, but because of the horrendous conditions on fish farms, up to 40 per cent of farmed fish die even before slaughter.
“Sport” fishing also causes suffering. Besides the excruciating pain caused by hooks, fish who are caught and released suffer mouth wounds which make it difficult or impossible for the fish to eat and can lead to deadly infections. Just handling or netting fish can abrade their protective coating and lead to death.
Health: Fish flesh is not health food. Like the flesh of other animals, fish flesh contains excessive amounts of protein, fat and cholesterol. Consumption of animal products has been directly linked to heart disease, strokes and various types of cancer – three of India’s leading killers. Many of India’s waterways are highly polluted and carry bacteria like E coli, which can be passed to humans who eat fish from these waters. Also, fish and shellfish can accumulate extremely high levels of toxins such as PCBs, dioxins, mercury, lead and arsenic, which can cause health problems including kidney damage, impaired mental development, various types of cancer, damage to the nervous system – especially in developing foetuses – and even death.
According to a 12 March 2001 article in The Times of India, the Ganga pollution monitoring project run by Patna University showed that fish taken from the river contained levels of insecticides and other toxic chemicals which greatly exceeded permissible levels; in the case of DDT, the fish had 16,000 times more DDT than was in the water. Elsewhere, Dr Jane Hightower of the California Pacific Medical Center in the US found that nine out of 10 San Francisco residents who ate fish regularly had elevated blood-mercury levels and associated health complaints.
The Environment: Fishing is also destructive to the environment. Countless birds and other animals suffer – and many die – from injuries caused by swallowing or becoming entangled in discarded fishing hooks, monofilament line and lead weights. Commercial fishing is turning our oceans into wastelands. In 2006, the Journal of Science found that the oceans will essentially be empty of fish by 2048. Billions of non-target animals such as sea turtles, dolphins, sea birds and seals die horrible deaths in commercial fishing nets every year. Factory-farmed fish are subjected to intensive crowding and unnatural conditions, which spread infections and parasites – often to wild fish populations – threatening their survival. According to a Canadian study published in December 2005, the fishing industry burns as much oil as the Netherlands – the world’s 18th-largest consumer of oil.
“Eating fish is not only cruel but also dangerous to your health and a disaster for the environment”, says Nikunj Sharma, PETA’s vegan campaign coordinator. “The best thing you can do for fish, Mother Earth and your own well-being is to go vegetarian.”