“I wouldn’t eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel. They’re so good-natured, so curious. You know, fish are sensitive, they have personalities, they hurt when they’re wounded.” – Dr. Sylvie Earle, one of the world’s foremost marine biologists
What We Know About Fish
What has the scientific community established about fish? Fish enjoy being around each other and value their relationships. They show affection by rubbing up against each other, communicate often, and even grieve when another fish dies. Fish suffocate out of water, they feel a hook, and cutting their throats and stomachs open causes them terrible pain.
The Way We Think About Fish
Fish are special, majestic, treasured inhabitants of the earth that should be afforded the same respect as any other animal or person. What is the logic behind marveling at a dolphin but eating a grouper, protecting manatees but killing flounder, expressing outrage over the slaughter of whales while paying someone to kill salmon? It is analogous to doing the opposite of what we teach our children – be kind to all people regardless of their race, sexual orientation, gender, or religion. To love some animals and kill and eat others violates that core principle.
Our culture teaches us it is acceptable to catch and kill fish from the earth’s oceans, rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes where they enjoy living their lives freely and happily. In reality, fish are no more meant to be eaten by people than people are meant to be eaten by fish. Simply because someone says something is so doesn’t make it so. At first glance you might dismiss this theory as lunacy; upon further examination, you may find it perfectly sensible and wonder why it took you so long to realize it.
The Truth About Fishing
Commercial fishing destroys our ecosystems, killing everything in its path. There are no fishing rods in commercial fishing. You do not feed billions of people with fishing rods. They use miles of nets that literally clear the ocean of everything in their path. It is an underwater Armageddon. In his book Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer explains that when you order fish at a restaurant, you should envision a giant 4 x 5 foot box filled with dozens of different species of fish, dolphins, turtles, and sharks because that is approximately how many fish die in order to bring you the fish on your plate. It is known as the “bycatch,” the unwanted and discarded fish caught and killed in the process of catching the target fish.
Thoughts Versus Actions
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about fish. She told me she loves fish, paints pictures of them and hangs them on her wall, and has enormous respect for everything in the ocean. I explained to her that if she pays people to kill fish so she can eat them, she doesn’t love or respect them. That realization collided with her conscience. Sometimes it is hard for people to face the divide between their thoughts and actions. Fortunately, filling the gap is very easy. She is a vegetarian now.
If you respect and love animals, you would never abuse or kill them. You can’t have it both ways. You can not tell people you are an animal lover while you pay people to abuse and kill them for you. You may love dogs, if you do not eat dogs, but if you eat fish, you do not love fish; you love to eat fish. An animal doesn’t want to die anymore than you want to die. If you watch an employee on a factory farm kill a pig, you can see the fear in her eyes, hear the screams, and see her try to escape the same way you would flee for your life. She knows exactly what is happening.
My experience with my fish-loving friend is one of the reasons I hand out informational leaflets to people. Like many others in the animal rights movement, I realize that if we educate people about eating and exploiting animals, their health, and the environment, they may change.
The Death of a Fish
Recently, while I was leafleting on the beach, I noticed a crowd gathering on the nearby pier. I knew it did not look good as dozens of people swarmed around a man holding a fishing rod. He was engaged in a battle for which the fish had no interest or choice. In one moment, she swam happily through the pristine water of the Atlantic Ocean and in the next she had a hook lodged in her mouth as she fought for her life. Imagine what that must be like for a fish.
I will not forget what followed.
As the man struggled with the fish, apparently unable to lift her out of the water, he began to drag her in the water to the shore side of the pier. As he pulled her along, hundreds of people on the beach began running towards the pier. They formed a giant circle around the area and cheered as the fisherman pulled her onto shore.
I could barely watch. I remained 100 yards down the beach and looked from afar with amazement and sadness at the mob surrounding the fish. It was a spectacle that reminded me of the dances terrorists do around dead captured American soldiers. It felt so out-of-place, so odd, and so cruel but it was every bit emblematic of our culture. No mercy, no remorse, no understanding of the value of that fish’s life.
As the crowd dispersed, I asked passersby what transpired.
“It was a giant fish, maybe a shark” a girl told us. “It died.”
“What was everyone doing near the fish,” I asked.
“They were posing for pictures with it,” she replied. “It was huge.”
And that was it. Knowing fish as I do, I’ve thought about that fish every day since her death. As a child, my father used to take me fishing. I didn’t think. When I see people fishing now, I feel sad. I think. I root for the fish to swim away. It is such a cruel and unnecessary practice.
The Good News
You can make fun of people who value the lives of fish. That is all right. It is a very common defense mechanism for people who do not want to make the change they know is right. Ridicule the messenger. It does not change the fact that you are contributing to the abuse and death of an innocent creature that feels pain, values bonds, and has a purpose that although you may not understand is no less valuable than your own.
You have a choice. You do not need to eat fish to survive. I have not eaten fish or any animals or animal byproducts for many years and I have never been healthier. In fact, you do not need to eat any animals to survive. I hope you will consider making a change in your life that shows compassion for animals. Thank you for keeping an open mind.
Andrew Kirschner, Ed.D., is a volunteer grassroots animal rights advocate and the organizer of the 2013 Florida March Against Cruelty to Animals. He writes a zero-profit blog, Kirschner’s Korner, to help raise awareness about issues affecting the global community to make the world a more humane place. To receive Dr. Kirschner’s new articles via email, enter your email in the “Follow Blog Via Email” link at the top right of the blog.