Sacrifice At Sea
An Animal Rights Article from


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
July 2012

[Ed. Note: For more, visit Fish As Food.]

An overview of several publicy accepted abuses toward fishes...

Commercial Fishing: Commercial fishing is big business, on a scale with land-based factory farming. In fact, some commercial fisheries use trawlers the size of football fields to catch their sought-after harvest. Underwater explosives are used to “herd” fish to make capturing a large number easier. Electronic equipment and satellite communications on board large trawlers track fish while some fishing companies use helicopters and airplanes to track their prey.

Most commercial fishing companies use one or more of the following tools to capture the largest number of fish possible in the shortest amount of time.

Longlines: Longlines are fishing lines running upwards of 60 miles with thousands of barbed and baited hooks along the line. There are often thousands of individual lines attached to the main line. These hooks do not discriminate between the catch the trawler is looking for and the rest of the denizens of the sea. Because the hooks are usually made of lead, animals who do survive being hooked often die a slow death from lead poisoning. Birds and marine mammals not even caught on these longlines also suffer death from lead poisoning when the lines are dumped at sea.

Drift Nets and Purse Seine Nets: Drift nets are made of almost invisible plastic mesh. They snare everything in their path. Purse seine nets (as their name implies) close up at the top of the net trapping everything in them. Purse seine nets are often used to catch tuna. However, dolphins swim above tuna so dolphins become trapped as well. Many people have become upset about that fact, so now manufacturers of tuna often label their products “dolphin safe.” However, few people seem to be upset by the fact that tuna are caught in the first place. Although the United States enacted legislation to protect dolphins, other countries have not followed suit.

As these nets drag along the sea floor, the ocean bottom is disturbed causing ecological problems. Sea detritus is stirred up miring the waters and causing sea creatures’ habitats to be destroyed.

Other Deaths: Some sea creatures are taken out of the water, cut up, and tossed back in. Shark, especially, are sought after for their fins. So when shark are hauled aboard a fishing vessel, their fins are cut off and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the water, maimed and bleeding to death. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in some cultures.

Others die when they become tangled in the plastic sea junk that is simply left behind, often tossed overboard, after the fishing fleet has taken its catch. Plastic containers, packing materials, and fishing net often find their way into the sea permanently to kill and maim fish on a daily basis.

Modern day fishing spares few fish regardless of the sought after catch of the day. In fact, it is believed that of the billions of tons of fish caught yearly around the globe, as much as 60 billion tons is considered by-catch, or trash fish, who are usually thrown back into the sea.

By-catch can include sea turtles, marine mammals (including dolphins, sperm and pilot whales, and orcas), seabirds, and non-targeted fish. They are drawn up in nets or hooked, along with the targeted fish, only to be thrown back into the sea injured, bleeding, dying. Some are speared on the deck of a fishing vessel and then dropped back into the sea.

As with all creatures caught in nets, by-catch can be crushed by other sea creatures and by rocks and other sea debris. Also, as the nets are raised quickly to the surface, the captured creatures may experience intense internal pressure, which can rupture their organs. Finally, of course, they suffocate once out of water, whether by being out of their natural element or because they are on the bottom of a huge number of fish being dumped on board a ship.

Other Types of Fishing

Sport Fishing: Just as with hunting, people who fish for sport often do nothing more than hang up their “trophy” and have their pictures taken. As with people who hunt land-based wildlife, people who fish may kill or injure far more creatures than they take home with them. Some never take the entire animal, just a part here and there. Of course, the word “sport” is inappropriate. A sport is one where the players know who is in the game and what the rules are. The fish never get the chance to “suit up.” They are the unwitting participants in a game that ends with their lives being taken—for fun.

There are those who profess a love of fishing, but they eschew the negative press the “sport” has acquired so they practice “catch and release.” In an endeavor to appear humane, the angler snags the fish with a barbed hook imbedded into the fish’s mouth. The angler then hauls the fish onto his or her boat, grabs the thrashing fish, and removes the barb causing more tearing of the fish’s sensitive mouth. Then, in a gesture of good will, the angler tosses the bleeding fish back into the water where most likely the fish will die a slow death.

Subsistence Fishing: Fishing for some cultures, especially indigenous peoples around the world, has been a way of life. Subsistence fishing, meaning people catch only enough to live on, is widely accepted. In some climates, there are few other sources of food available at certain times of the year so fishing is a means of staying alive. When fishing for their own use, most people use rod and reel, arrows, harpoons, and throw nets—tools that bring in only the amount needed for subsistence living.

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