Go fish-free this Good Friday
On Good Friday, Christians around the world commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Many abstain from eating other types of flesh on this day but continue to slaughter and serve up our friends from the sea. Yet fish are smart, interesting animals with their own unique personalities, and just like dogs, cats and humans, they feel pain and suffer.
Biologist Culum Brown, an associate professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, found that the cognitive abilities of fish “often match or exceed [those of] other vertebrates.” In his study published in the journal Animal Cognition, he concluded that fish can cooperate and learn from one another, have excellent long-term memories, and can use tools.
Blackspot tuskfish, for example, have been photographed smashing a clam on a rock in order to break open the shell. And male pufferfish are artists, drawing designs in the sediment on the sea floor in order to attract mates. When cleaner fish, who nibble parasites and dead tissue off larger predator fish, accidentally bite their “clients,” they make amends by giving the larger fish back rubs.
Fish also feel pain, as all animals do, and they suffer horribly on the journey from sea to supermarket. In her book “Do Fish Feel Pain?” biologist Victoria Braithwaite says that “there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals.”
Often, when fish are dragged out of their ocean homes in huge nets or at the ends of fishing poles, their gills collapse, their eyes bulge out of their heads, and their swim bladders burst because of the sudden pressure change. In Asia, millions of tons of fish are raised in aquafarms every year. Nearly 90 percent of the world’s fish raised for their flesh come from the Asia-Pacific region, and China is the world’s largest “fish farmer.”
Farmed fish spend their entire miserable lives in crowded, filthy enclosures, and many suffer from parasitic infections, diseases and debilitating injuries. The conditions in some farms are so horrendous that 40 percent of the fish may die before farmers can kill and package them for food. Those that survive are starved before they are sent to slaughter in order to reduce waste contamination of the water during transport.
Dr. Brown, who reviewed nearly 200 research papers on fish’s cognitive abilities and sensory perceptions, believes that the stress that fish experience when they’re pulled from the water into an environment in which they cannot breathe may even exceed that of a human drowning. “[U]nlike drowning in humans, where we die in about four to five minutes because we can’t extract any oxygen from water, fish can go on for much longer. It’s a prolonged slow death most of the time,” he says. As a result of his research, Dr. Brown concludes that “it would be impossible for fish to survive as the cognitively and behaviorally complex animals they are without a capacity to feel pain” and “the potential amount of cruelty” that we humans inflict on fish “is mind-boggling.”
Indiscriminate fishing practices harm other animals, too. Scientists say that nearly 1,000 marine mammals—including dolphins, whales and porpoises—die every day after being caught by “mistake” in fishing nets. Those that survive the process of being caught and released suffer from immeasurable psychological stress. Catch-and-release victims become easy prey after experiencing the shock of being torn out of their natural environment and subjected to trauma. They can become unable to swim away and unable to fend off nest raiders.
And then there’s the harm to humans: Fish live in water that is so polluted you would never dream of drinking it. But you’re ingesting this toxic brew—bacteria, contaminants, heavy metals and all—every time you eat fish. Fish flesh contains accumulated toxic mercury absorbed from the polluted ocean, which has been linked to many maladies, from cancer to nervous system disorders. The carcass of a fish is the last thing that a health-conscious person should consume. Doctors tell pregnant women and young children not to eat fish, so why should anyone else?
Seafood poisoning can result in extreme discomfort, kidney damage, nervous system damage, and even death. Many of our waterways are polluted with human and animal feces, and this waste carries dangerous bacteria like E. coli. So when we eat fish, we are exposing ourselves to the unnecessary risk of contracting a nasty bacterial illness that can lead to mild to extreme discomfort, nervous system damage, and even death.
Like other animals’ flesh, the flesh of sea animals contains high amounts of fat and cholesterol. Safer sources of cardio-friendly omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flax and chia seeds, tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, basil, wheat germ and soybeans, as well as vegetarian supplements made from microalgae—which is where fish get omega-3s in the first place.
This Good Friday, leave fish alone and choose other tasty options that don’t require killing. No one has to die on Good Friday for our sins.
Jason Baker is the vice president of international campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Asia. To get involved with Peta’s work in the Philippines, visit PETAAsia.com or call 8175292.
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