Fishing is a popular pastime and ‘sport’. It is also a multi-billion dollar industry in Australia that is decimating species such as Orange Roughy, and creating a new aquaculture industry – that is, factory farmed fish.
There is a popular misconception that "fishing is okay because fish can’t feel pain". This has been disproven in multiple studies. If you were to treat a cat or dog the way fish are treated, threading hooks through their flesh and letting them suffocate to death, you would be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
Beyond the compassion issue, over-fishing and fish farms are causing widespread environmental damage. There needs to be a serious paradigm shift about how much fish is consumed, the suffering fish experience and the destruction this industry is responsible for.
Fish Feel Pain
While there are some contradictory studies, the overwhelming majority of evidence supports the idea that fish feel pain. The problem for fish is the perception that they aren’t associated as an animal, because they aren’t ‘cute’, don’t makes eye contact with us, and can’t vocalise when they are in pain, and thus their suffering is often overlooked.
Fish have the same nerve endings, the same chemicals for transmitting and blocking pain, and the same receptor sites for anxiety-reducing chemicals as mammals. They experience stress and anxiety as a result of being hooked or netted, hauled and left to suffocate to death, often with the hook still lodged in their flesh.
In recreational fishing, live bait are used to lure fish onto the hook. The bait are often small fish who have a hook shoved into their bodies while still alive. The hook is cast into the water on the end of the fishing line, and the bait’s struggling is what attracts the larger free-swimming fish. Using live bait unnecessarily prolongs the inevitable death, and cruelly instills the animal with fear. Worms are the other commonly used live bait.
Suffocating to Death
Once out of the water, fish suffocate much like humans do underwater. In their death throes on the deck of a boat or pier, fish writhe, gasp and flap their gills as they desperately try to get oxygen. It is a slow, painful and unnecessary way to die.
Commercial fishing is one of the biggest environmental problems facing the world today. Human demand for fish leaves natural fish stocks depleted and marine ecosystems on the verge of collapse. Other issues include:
- bycatch, which is the unwanted fish and crustaceans who are caught accidentally when fishing for a particular species.
- discards, who are those fish thrown back into the ocean after being caught, and who are generally thought to not survive.
- bottom trawling, the act of sweeping giant nets across the ocean floor to catch everything in their path, leaving behind massive ecosystem destruction.
Top predators such as tuna, swordfish, marlin and cod are being fished to the point of extinction, causing irreparable shifts in ecosystems as the smaller, plankton-eating fish slowly become all that remain.
Aquaculture, or farmed fish, is where fish and other sea life are purpose-bred as food for humans and livestock. It is also an industry that causes widespread environmental destruction. Farms usually exist in cordoned-off areas of natural marine ecosystems.
Issues with farmed fish include:
- the introduction of antibiotics, which are fed to farmed fish, into natural ecosystems.
- lack of sustainability – for example several kilograms of wild fish are required to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon.
- genetic modification, when farmed fish escape into natural marine environment and interbreed with wild fish.
Fishmeal for Farmed Fish
Fishmeal is a brown powder produced from the bones and offal of fish. It is used to supplement the diets of farmed fish, pigs and poultry due to its high energy and nutrient content (it can no longer be used to feed ruminant animals after the ‘mad cow disease’ scare).
There are many problems with fishmeal:
- wild fish are processed and used to feed farmed fish, depleting wild fish stock and contributing to marine ecosystem collapse.
- fish are not a natural food for animals such as pigs and chickens. The effects of this unnatural diet on the animals and the humans who eat them are not yet known.
- fishmeal is fed to a range of farmed fish, regardless of whether it is a natural food source for that farmed fish or not.