Animal Aid

The Fishing Industry : Introduction

The warnings related to the ocean and farmed fishing industries are coming faster and harder. Species that were once plentiful are being eliminated. Mechanised fishing technologies are also taking their toll on vast numbers of bystander marine animals who are hooked, netted and dredged from the ocean floor as 'accidental' victims. Meanwhile, we treat the world's oceans as dumping grounds for our toxic effluent and imagine that the waste is out of harm's way because it is out of sight.

Can fish taken from this environment be the supremely healthy and wholesome 'brain food' portrayed in official nutritional guides? Or is fish meat fundamentally compromised by the presence of chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects? Then there are the salmon and trout factory farms with their enfeebled, lice-infested inmates swimming in the murk in endless circles. Do their lives matter?

This special Animal Aid report brings together - in succinct, bullet-point style - key data and observations about the environmental, human health and animal welfare dimensions of the fishmeat industry. It is the plight of the fish themselves that, until now, has received precious little attention. The first thing to note is that there is now a scientific consensus recognisingthat fish are sentient creatures. The government's own advisory body on farming (the Farm Animal Welfare Council) stated in a 1996 report on fish farming that fish have all the nerve chemicals and cell receptors necessary to experience pain and stress. FAWC based this finding on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature. A great deal of additional evidence for fish sentience has come forward since.

Given the methods used to catch, haul in and kill ocean fish - all of them ungoverned by any welfare code - the question can reasonably be posed: does ocean fishing represent the greatest animal welfare scandal of our time? Farmed fish fare no better. Welfare protocols have been committedto paper but these still allow as many as 50,000 fish to be confined in crowded cages, swimming in water that is filthy from their own waste. They are killed by a variety of brutal methods, such as being clubbed, gassed and asphyxiated. Some are gutted alive. Others have their gills cut and bleed to death.

The Dutch seem to be leading the way in pondering the question of fish suffering and how to minimise it. Killing experiments - carried out on behalf of the government, the fish industry and an animal welfare body - found that after being gutted, 25-65 minutes elapsed before fish were 'insensible' - that is to say, incapable of feeling pain. In the case of asphyxiation, the time interval was 55-250 minutes.

Champions of fish meat regard, as their strongest suit, the product's alleged health benefits. In particular, there is the omega-3 issue - this being an important polyunsaturated fat found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel and fresh tuna. However, not only is up to 30% of the fat presentin oily fish of the unhealthy, saturated variety, but - according to an expert in the field - vegetarians and vegans can meet all their omega-3 requirements from soybeans (including soya milk and tofu), walnuts, rapeseed oil, flaxseed and dark green vegetables such as spinach. (See pages 14 & 15)

At the end of 2005, European Union countries squandered an opportunity to set meaningful fishing quotas that would have provided breathing space for species such as cod and blue whiting - the latter being the staple food of Europe's salmon farms. Whenever action is proposed, those who make their living from catching fish claim their position will be dangerously compromised, even though present practices are themselves leading the industry to oblivion. Equally, the public is being persuaded that fish can remain on the chip shop menu and on supermarket counters and nothing very much need change. But reality beckons.

This report demonstrates that the ocean and farmed fishing industries hurt the seas, pollute freshwater lochs, are nutritionally dubious and represent an animal welfare nightmare.

Click here for part 2 of The Fishing Industry.

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