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Fish Are Not Vegetables

Posted by at 1:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)


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Fish are often the last animals whom aspiring vegetarians eliminate from their diets. I know several people who describe themselves as vegetarians and vegans but who still eat salmon once or twice a week, as if salmon were some kind of aquatic broccoli. Some fish-eaters are convinced that fish is a health food, despite the many studies that have shown fish to be routinely contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals. But there’s a more fundamental reason why people treat fish like another kind of vegetable: Fish are really different from us. They don’t have facial expressions that we can recognize.Thanks to the lungs vs. gills issue, most of us haven’t spent much time interacting with individual fish. Fish are cold-blooded, with scales instead of soft feathers or fur. Fish can’t scream when they’re hurt.

For some, it seems that thinking of an animal as stupid makes it easier to justify that animal’s death for their dining enjoyment. But every year, we learn more about fish intelligence. A long-standing fallacy states that fish have a memory span of only three seconds. This myth was decisively debunked on the television show MythBusters when a goldfish was trained to negotiate an underwater obstacle course and successfully completed the course unaided more than a month later. Another goldfish named Comet learned how to fetch like a dog. Some species of fish even use tools, like the fish who use leaves to transport eggs to a safer location.

OK, so fish are smart, but some might still justify eating them by assuming that they don’t feel pain in the same way that we do. But the scientific consensus is that fish have nervous systems and brains that perceive pain in similar ways to mammals and birds.

Given that fish do feel pain, how humane are our methods of capture and slaughter? A recent study on wild-caught fish lays out some facts: Fish caught in trawling nets are often crushed to death by other fish, and some species suffer excruciating decompression injuries when the net is hauled up from deep water—their eyes or guts may literally pop out of their bodies. Trawling nets may be towed for hours, subjecting fish to extended suffering. Fish caught on long lines may struggle in panic for hours or days before the lines are hauled in, and larger fish are impaled with sharp gaffs so that they can be hauled over the side of the ship. Many fishing methods result in numerous deaths of nontarget fish species as well as sharks, sea turtles, birds, and mammals—all euphemistically referred to as “bycatch.”

Once the fish are hauled aboard, no law requires that they be slaughtered humanely. Some will die of suffocation, some will be disemboweled while still conscious, and some will die very slowly on a bed of crushed ice. Fish may be conscious and in severe distress for more than an hour before they succumb.

Fish experience pain and stress during their capture and death—possibly far exceeding that of many cows and pigs in slaughterhouses. And, as the saying goes, there are lots of fish in the sea. A recent analysis estimates that Americans consume 12 billion fish every year, which is more than the combined total number of chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs we eat. That’s a lot of suffering. Fish aren’t cuddly, and they don’t have good PR like dolphins do, but no animal deserves this kind of agony.

Fish suffer and die in silence, far from public view. If you have compassion for animals and you eat fish, ask yourself this: Is it right to support the suffering of fish with your dollars?

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    Laura Frisk says...

    March 10th, 2011, 4:16 pm

    Great post Lisa. Lots of good information here about our fish friends and the feelings they experience, just like any other animal, including humans! This post would be a good one to pass around to friends and family who think eating fish is acceptable to vegetarians and vegans. I have actually been served fish at dinner parties as the veg alternative to the chicken dishes!! And of course we have all been asked numerous times “but you eat fish don’t you?” I think I am going to print this blog out and keep it in my purse when someone needs a little educating about fish and the pain and suffering they experience when captured simply to be turned into someones meal. Thanks for posting!!

    Regina says...

    March 11th, 2011, 6:14 pm

    Thank you for your article. I am flesh free and get annoyed with people who ask me, “Well you still eat seafood don’t you?” I tell them that seafood is a living being. The horror a fish must face when being caught make me sad just thinking about it. I fight agains sharks being finned! That is just horrid. All animals face such terrible deaths for the sake of feeding humans.
    and the meat eaters, “Oh I need to tear into a good steak every so often.” Little do most people know that our bodies are not designed to eat flesh products. Our intestines are too long for that and our teeth are not designed for ripping and tearing like carnivorous animals. And the effects on our planet for factory farming, know wonder why we have catastrophic occurrences on the planet. Mother Earth is screaming at us to stop the destruction.

    Pat says...

    March 11th, 2011, 6:23 pm

    I never thought of it that way , although I dont eat fish often…AND yes, it is true that fish is the last to go.

    After reading this though it has changed my thinking…
    Thanks,
    Pat

    Sandra says...

    March 11th, 2011, 7:01 pm

    When I was a child we used to go crabbing near Virginia Beach. When we got home my Dad would put a huge pot of water on the stove to boil and then drop the crabs in. One day I was standing next to the pot, not the safest place for a 3-4 year old, as he threw the crabs in. I heard this screaming and told my Dad “they are screaming get them out”. He replied, “No, they are just releasing air.” I would not eat crabs, or any other fish ever again except once a “vegetarian” made some Red Snapper for me the first month I became a Vegetarian thirty-nine years ago. I explained to him a very similar discussion. They feel.
    So when our family went crabbing after that incident as a young child, my brother and sister would fix up the crab bait line for me, I would throw it in and for some reason I always had the “biggest catch” for the day, but after that I started throwing them back in. My brother would chase me down the dock trying to get the crab from me as I was getting it off the line to throw back in. We stopped going not to long after that, and I saw a couple of fish sticks a couple of times after that but then I never saw fish, or crabs, or lobster in the house again.
    Thanks for saying so eloquently what has taken forever for me to explain to people I meet. I usually offend them by saying I do not eat anything with eyes and / or bleeds. I agree with Laura, print it out and put in my pocket. Thanks

    Michelle says...

    March 11th, 2011, 8:25 pm

    Alot of people tend to call themselves vegans/vegetarians and still eat chicken or fish, which doesn’t make any sense at all, if you eat something that had a face, you’re not vegetarian, doesn’t matter what shape or form it comes in. Fish have faces, they hurt just like we do, the have feelings, they feel pain, all the same things we feel, fish/seafood is just another form of meat. It’s gross to eat. Fish are meant for us to look at and admire their beauty, and for other fish to eat. Leave fish and all other living breathing beings alone! Veggies are so much healthier to eat!
    Veggies are my best friend!!

    Ramona says...

    March 12th, 2011, 7:41 am

    Bravo…I am so tired of hearing people say that fish don’t feel pain! How absurd is that. Every living being feels pain…no matter what kind of nervous system they have! I’ve tried to explain this several times to people I know but they still persist in their very wrong beliefs. I will share this article and hopefully since it’s not me saying it they will pay attention. Thank you. =) ps I still remember the time as a young girl, that my dad tried to get me to eat a fish he had pan fried. I refused and sat at the table until I fell asleep and my mum removed the plate and led me to my bed.

    Michele says...

    March 12th, 2011, 8:41 am

    I don’t eat seafood. I see it this way if the animal was living and breathing it’s not vegetarian. Hands off! Why do people think that fish is okay I’ll never understand they have a right to live like any other animal. Some people need to go back to vegan school and learn.
    Fish are to be praised for their beauty. THEY ARE NOT FOOD!

    Sharon says...

    March 12th, 2011, 9:41 am

    Thank you for the article. I am a vegetarian who does not eat fish. Actually when people ask “not even fish?” I respond, “I do not eat anything with a face.” I hope more people read this article. It will be an eye opener for many.

    janet says...

    March 12th, 2011, 10:06 am

    this is a great article, really well said. I too have trouble finding the right words to explain why eating fish is unhealthy, cruel, and doesn’t go with being a vegetarian. I need some help in the area of why catch and release is bad! was just talking to someone yesterday about this and feel I could have chosen better words…

    Samara says...

    March 12th, 2011, 5:05 pm

    This is a great article! I do not eat fish, either! But I can not seem to convince any one else to stop, or to convince them that fish isn’t even good for you! There have just been too many “researchers” who say that it is healthy to eat fish! This article also makes me think of how much I dislike “catch and release” fisherman, too! When I was growing up, my father took me with him on “free fishing day”, which was a no license required day! I always hated that the fish had to be caught, but I thought – at least they are being freed! As I got older, I realized that the whole thing was cruel – making an animal suffer for your own entertainment!! I stopped going with him, even though I knew he wanted me to so very much! I still can’t stand that he fishes for food, but, thankfully, he almost never catches anything! I wish people would stop pretending to be superior to animals and realize that we are just another species of animal!

    Candace says...

    March 14th, 2011, 12:23 am

    When I became a vegetarian I never even considered continuing to eat fish – it’s a living being after all. I always said “if it has a face, a pulse, or a mother I don’t eat it”. A friend’s granddaughter said SHE wouldn’t eat anything with eyelashes – reminding me that fish do (I added that to my statement). I also saw something where a goldfish was actually trained to pull a cord attached to a bell hanging outside of the aquarium when he wanted food. I throw that at the people who argue that fish are ok to eat because they have no intelligence!

    Sherry says...

    March 16th, 2011, 12:33 pm

    I have read that fish have a human connection from our very distant past. Fish were some of the first creatures on this earth. Whales hold the akashic record for the earth & they should be honored. All animals deserve respect.

    amen says...

    March 18th, 2011, 2:14 am

    OOOoooohhhh I WAS ONE OF THOSE ! My Mom became vegetarian when I was only 5, weening us (me/her) off of animal flesh. Having fish ONLY once a month. She was very strict & dedicated to that rule. This all happening in the 70’s when food selection was limited for vegetarians so I was allowed with friends to eat fish only IF there were NO other choices. I have since stopped eating fish since I knew & realized long ago what we were doing was NOT vegetarian. But semi-vegetarian. At some point I told everyone I have vegetarian diet at home but eat as well as I can a vegetarian diet outside, but find it so hard when it is so limited in choices in many eating locations. So still semi-vegetarian at that time. So ate eggs too but not once a month, but daily. Vegan is where I am at now. It is awesome & amazing to know & feel how energetic it is to be vegan, & how much one can eat as much as they need to without becoming over weight or concerned of unhealthy obesity. Truly the fat in dead animal flesh & dairy is what is causing heart disease! Happy eating real n true vegetarianism- no need to be calling it vegan really, eggs are liquid chickens & dairy is cruel to the calf sold to slaughter as veal! Try harder & use meditative techniques & a larger selection of colors & types of vegetation as well as grains to get the full nourishment a vegetarian needs. Drinking more types of teas help aswell rather than drinking juice.

    Christine says...

    March 27th, 2011, 10:45 pm

    Thank you for the article – I am with Pat (3/11) and fish is the last flesh to go. I have been completely vegan for a couple of months now. It is fabulous!

    Sarah says...

    November 14th, 2011, 12:04 am

    I don’t think not being intelligent is a good reason to eat something. That’s like saying everyone who fails school should be sent to slaughter. We all have a right to life not just those who are most intelligent. But that aside, I have always expressed my hatred for “fake” veggies. I know lots of veggies (all of the veggies I know actually) who at fish. And I tell them like it is – fish are not vegetables – no matter what your personal opinion of them is, they live, breath, eat, excrete, move, grow, breed and metabolise. They feel pain and stress – in fact fish are incredibly easy to get stressed, any noise or stressful situation can make them terribly ill :(

    I am also VERY against having fish in tiny tanks or bowls as if they are some kind of ornament. A friend of mine has fish in her bath room! because they look pretty. I told her it was dangerous for her fish to be exposed to that kind of environment as they can catch bugs and viruses just like we can. I also hate seeing fish in an empty tank – no plants or toys – because they are too “stupid” no they are not, they need stimulation just like any other animal – quit abusing our finned friends!!!

    You cannot call yourself vegetarian unless you are not eating any meat. Not even semi-vegetarian, there is no such thing – you are either eat only vegetarian food or you are eating at least one form of meat (including fish) If you are eating fish you are still an omnivore not a vegetarian nor a semi-vegetarian. Like if you cut out all meat except beef that would make you veggie…no of course it wouldn’t so why should fish be treated this way?

    By the way, eggs are not liquid chicken, they have to be fertilised to even be able to bare chicks. They only have half DNA just like our eggs inside us – these come out every time we have a period they are not babies. Chickens lay eggs as part of a cycle, just like human periods.

    But that is for a later date :)

    Sujatha says...

    November 1st, 2012, 6:25 pm

    I have never eaten fish until I got married and went on a vacation to Hawaii and there I ate a fish for every meal.. I now regret doing that. But I only ate fish in Hawaii. When I came back to the mainland I didn’t even try because somehow I dind’t feel right.. After reading your article , I have realized that fish can feel lots of pain during death.. From now on I am never ever touching the fish.. People might say you get good skin and hair etc.. from eating fish but I dont want any of that if it is at the cost of other being’s precious life. Sometime I wish there were no pictures of jesus with fish on the dining table.. But people should think twice and thrice abotu consuming fish as there are so many fish supplement options and research is coming up with so many natural herbs and seeds that have equal and if not more benifits than that of consuming fish.. Thanks Lisa for your awesome article.. You rock!!

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