Mary Finelli, President and Founder of
Although the term "fish" is used throughout this article, the term "fishes" is increasingly being used to connote that fish are individuals. The term "fishes" is also commonly used to refer to a plurality of fish species.
Earth is home to more than 30,000 known species of fish, which is more
than all the other species of vertebrate animals combined. Fish are
inquisitive, personable, and truly fascinating. Did you know that they are
fast learners with long-term memories and a keen sense of time? They can
recognize other individuals, keep track of complex social relationships, and
work cooperatively with other species.
Sadly, fish are among the most misrepresented and misperceived animals. For example, the absurd notion that fish have "a three-second memory" is debunked by the fact that migrating fishes, such as salmon, remember their way home years later and from thousands of miles away. Others also learn and remember skills. A goldfish named Albert Einstein is even noted for it in the Guinness Book of World Records! (See the "Fish are Fintastic!" fact sheet for more fun facts.)
Also contrary to popular myth, fish can suffer fear and pain, as
has been scientifically shown. The nervous systems of fish are similar
enough to those of birds and mammals to indicate that they can experience
pain. Fish behave in ways that signify pain when they are subjected to
stimuli that would cause physical pain to other animals. They learn to avoid
unpleasant encounters, like electric shocks, and painkillers reduce symptoms
of pain that they would otherwise display. (See the Fish Sentience fact
sheet for acknowledgement of fish sentience by the scientific community.)
The Ignored Victims
Tragically, far more fish are exploited than any other
category of animals, and they are subjected to some of the worst abuses.
Yet, fish have the least legal protection and receive the least concern for
their well-being, even from the animal protection community.
Fish are commonly turned to as an alternative to other
meat, and fish oil is an extremely popular dietary supplement. Last year,
global fish consumption hit a record high of 37 pounds per person per year.
On average, people eat four times as much fish as they did in 1950.
It has been calculated that between one to three trillion fishes are
commercially caught for food each year. Forty percent of the catch are
animals who were not being targeted ("bycatch"), including whales, dolphins,
and turtles. Industrial fishing practices are also wiping out critical
It has also been calculated that 37 billion to 120 billion
farmed fish are killed globally for food each year. Aquaculture is aquatic
factory farming, subjecting fish to intense crowding, foul conditions,
parasites, and disease. Heavy reliance on antibiotics, pesticides, and other
chemicals, along with fish wastes and residual feed, causes major water
For U.S. consumers, some 60 billion fish are killed each
year (not including bycatch and noncommercial fishing). About half of the
fish consumed as human food in the U.S. are farmed. While, on average, each
person consumes one aquacultured fish a year, some 224 wild-caught fish are
used as feed for them. So, according to Harish Sethu of
Counting Animals, a
vegetarian spares over 225 fish each year.
According to the organization, Fish Count: "Most wild-caught fish are likely to die from being crushed in nets or from suffocation, freezing or live dissection after landing. This process will probably take many minutes, or even hours. Most of the world's farmed fish are also killed by slow and inhumane methods." An undercover investigation of a U.S. fish slaughterplant found:
A brief video clip is at Mercy for Animals.
Human Health Animal-based seafood is also problematic in that mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other toxins accumulate in animal tissues, which then are ingested by consumers. Fish oil can also contain these hazardous contaminants, and is prone to rancidity. The nutritional benefits of fish and fish oil, including omega-3 fatty acids, can instead be safely obtained from plant sources. Good sources of omega-3s include ground flaxseed, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soy products, hemp products, and walnuts. Supplements made of algae -the same substance from which fish obtain omega 3s- are also available. The great news is that many marvelous vegan seafood recipes and products are available. (See the recipes on the Vegan Seafood Resources web page.)
[Editorial note: Although the term "fish" is used throughout this article, the term "fishes" is increasingly being used to connote that fish are individuals. The term "fishes" is also commonly used to refer to a plurality of fish species.]
Fish Feel is the sole organization devoted exclusively to promoting the
recognition of fish as sentient beings, deserving of respect and protection.
It is a new, all-volunteer nonprofit, based in Silver Spring, MD. Please
Feel and "Like" them on Facebook at FishFeel.org.