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Website home>Newsletters>March 2006>Fish Feel Pain

Scuba Travel Newsletter

Fish Feel Pain Too

Fish look so unlike humans, it's sometimes hard to imagine that they feel pain in the same way we do. Indeed some people still think of fish as nothing more than swimming vegetables. However, regarding the ability to feel pain, fish are equal to dogs, cats, and all other animals. Dr. Donald Broom, scientific advisor to the British government, explains that "The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and animals".

Neurobiologists have long recognised that fish have nervous systems that comprehend and respond to pain, and anyone who made it through Biology class knows that fish have nerves and brains that sense pain. Indeed, scientists tell us that fish brains and nervous systems closely resemble our own. For example, fish (like 'higher vertebrates') have neuro-transmitters like endorphins that relieve suffering - of course, the only reason for their nervous systems to produce pain killers is to relieve pain. Claiming that fish do not suffer is as intellectually and scientifically sound as arguing that the Earth is flat.

Scientists have created a detailed map of pain receptors in fish's mouths and all over their bodies. A team of researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada recently surveyed the scientific literature on fish pain and intelligence. They concluded that fish feel pain and that "the welfare of fish requires consideration".

Fish also lead complex intellectual lives that rival those of dogs and some other mammals. As you would expect from animals who we now know to be intelligent, with memories and the capacity to learn, fish can also suffer from fear and anticipation of physical pain. We all must have heard the nervous clicking of fish as they sense danger when we dive over coral reefs.

The fish industry is not given a second thought by most people, whose experience with fish is limited to the frozen food section in their local grocery store. These intelligent, complex animals are slaughtered by the billions with very little or no consideration for their suffering.

When you're diving, do you ever wonder where all the big schools of fish have gone? More than 17 billion fish are killed for food in the U.S.A. alone each year, and 'sport' fishing and angling kills another 245 million animals annually. Without any legal protection from cruel treatment, fish are impaled, crushed, suffocated, or sliced open and gutted, all while they're fully conscious.

The methods used to kill fish are shocking and horrifying. What happens to fish before they end up on your plate is so hideously abusive that it would warrant criminal charges if the victims were dogs or cats (or even cows or pigs). Some countries are making improvements: The European Union includes fish in its cruelty-to-animals statute, and Norway closed down a fish farm for cruelty to cod. However, all countries have extremely inadequate protection for fish, and North America has no protection for them at all.

Whether they're raised on aqua-farms, caught in the ocean by giant nets or long lines, or hooked at the end of a fishing line, there's no doubt about it: Eating fish supports cruelty to animals. "When the buying stops, the killing can too". You can make a real difference. By saying "No" to eating fish, you'll be saving the lives of hundreds if not thousands of sea creatures every year. Wouldn't that make you feel good about yourself?

Article written by Paula Moore, senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510, PETA.org.

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