VWPA Advice #016: Why Not Fish?
Why Don’t Vegans Eat Fish?
I understand why vegans don’t eat animals, but why don’t they eat fish?
Contrary to common belief, fish are animals. Research into fish has increased dramatically in the last couple decades, and we now have evidence that fish are intelligent and able to feel pain. They even show signs of having memory, and are able to experience depression and PTSD. Farmed fish, that is fish that are raised for food in fisheries instead of caught wild, show very similar signs of stress to chickens and turkeys packed in on factory farms.
Fish form hierarchies, monogamous relationships, use tools, and see one another as individuals. They learn to trust, or not trust, other fish. They can pass on information generational-ly. Meatonomics and Eating Animals have eye-opening information about fish, as well as chickens, another misunderstood animal, and are amazing reads all-around.
Fish, and insects, challenge the most unfortunate symptom of our evolution. They are alien to us, and so we assume that they don’t feel what we feel, that they are inferior to us. It is in our biology that humans learn early on who is part of the “tribe” and who is not. This served us well many many years ago as we were learning and evolving, moving in small intimate packs that needed to protect one another. Knowing who was “other” was critical to survival.
But, our world has changed. Accepting fish as another being, capable of their own set of experiences and emotions, is difficult because fish cannot express anything in a way that resonates with our own experiences. But that is not their fault, and does not prove that they don’t have their own experiences, some of which are horrendously unpleasant.
Fish have a lot to teach us. They show us that not everyone can express themselves the way we do, or look the way we do, but that is no reason to assume that they do not feel pain or deserve our compassion.
I’m going to be totally honest… when I first went vegan I really didn’t think about fish the same way I did for other animals (Gasp! I know, speciesism!), I didn’t eat fish because I knew eating them wasn’t vegan (Cleary they aren’t vegetables)… but I didn’t really know what the big deal was. But then I saw COWSPIRACY! If you haven’t seen the documentary Cowspiracy, please please please see it! It has so much invaluable information!
It was in Cowspiracy that I learned about fishing and the danger our oceans are in. Our oceans are in huge risk of collapse; according to a UN article, “over 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted”. This means that we are fishing at a rate quicker than the fish can repopulate. What happens when you start losing species of fish? You start rapidly losing biodiversity in the oceans. I’m going to ask you to think back to those early childhood science classes, what happens if you remove a species (or several) from the food chain; it affects both the predator and the prey that relied on that species, which results in major disruptions to the entire ecosystem.
If that isn’t bad enough (and it is!) fishing doesn’t just kill the intended fish species. Because of the way fish are caught (such as massive fishing lines, nets etc.) “for every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill”. So other types of fish, dolphin, whales, seals and sharks are killed unintentionally due to the conventional fishing practices. We are killing off species at a rate they can’t come back from while also killing millions of marine life for no reason! We don’t even use the by-catch (the animals that are caught that aren’t the intended fish), after dying they are just tossed back into the ocean. These incredibly irresponsible, wasteful practices are creating some terrifying consequences. The oceans are seeing an increase in “dead zones” places where the ecosystem has died and no more fish live there or could even survive.
You’ve probably heard the expression “if the oceans die, we die”… well we are killing the oceans just to satisfy our desire to eat fish, not a very good trade-off in my opinion. I know this column was more ‘preachy’ and more fact driven than normal but I thought it was important to lay out a few facts about how detrimental to the environment eating fish is… I’m not a scientist however and there are others that are true experts about this topic so I strongly urge you to watch Cowspiracy, and to check out their website, it has a ton of useful facts! (which informed this post)