Skip to content

Fish feel pain and humans treat them cruelly

  • by

For many thousands of years, for aeons, humans have fished both to feed themselves and for sport and entertainment. Trillions of fish have died at the hands of these human activities – a huge, metaphorical pile of pain.

It is now dawning on humans that, unsurprisingly, fish are sentient animals. Like other animals fish are emotional, complex beings. They can suffer and they can feel pain. The great weakness in their relationship with humans is that they are silent. They do not have the ability to voice their pain and suffering. Without a voice they need people to speak up for them. And it is quite shocking that humans are only now beginning to realise this after thousands of years of causing suffering to marine wildlife.

Fish in nets

Fish in nets. These fish that you see in the net are embarking on a journey of horror, pain and distress but the men on the trawler watching are ignorant of it. The photo is in the public domain in my view.

Signs of distress

We cannot see or hear fish suffering especially those in underwater cages at fish farms or as they are hauled out of the sea in nets. Most people are ignorant of the science which shows that fish are sentient creatures. As people do not believe that they feel pain they are treated badly and as unworthy of human concern with respect to their welfare. It has always surprised me to see fishermen on trawlers hauling fish out of the sea in vast quantities and shovelling the bodies into the holds below them. These are living creatures at that moment. There are not objects like nuts and bolts. But the people who are handling the believe that they are nuts and bolts.

At the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh, rainbow trout had bee venom or vinegar injected into their lips in a survey (also cruel but I guess necessary). The fish rocked from side to side and rubbed their lips on the gravel in their tank. Their breathing rate went up to almost double its normal level. They were given morphine to dull the pain and their physical responses to the pain subsided. At the University of Burgundy, last year, researchers found that when female fish who were not paired with their preferred partner became pessimistic.

Farmed fish

It is also shocking that many farmed fish certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council are dumped in ice slurry where they thrash around fighting for their lives slowly suffocating. The Marine Stewardship Council has certified wild-caught fish which have suffered for many hours during capture. These fish have been gutted or had their gills cut off while they were fully conscious. The organisation Compassion in World Farming said that none of the schemes which also include Best Aquaculture Practices, Friend of the Sea and Global GAP had adequate welfare standards which respected the sentience of fish and protected them from unnecessary suffering. The schemes certified fish that are sold by all the main retailers.

Other practices deemed cruel in the seafood industry are starving farmed fish up to 14 days before they are killed and harming dolphins to prevent them from preying on farm fish.

When fish are farmed in crowded tanks they suffer from stress and they can fight each other causing injuries from bites. The charity is calling for an improvement in welfare standards such as providing the fish with adequate space in farms to allow them to behave naturally. They’re also calling for a reduction in the number of days they are starved before slaughter and that their slaughter must be fast and painless.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council in response said that they understood that this has become an important issue for many and they are looking at improving welfare standards.

Fishing for entertainment

Fishing for entertainment is very popular and widespread on the planet. There needs to be education. People cannot entertain themselves while causing suffering and pain. You cannot base entertainment on pain because it can no longer be entertainment.