The fishing industry: Fish feel pain

All animals possessing a nervous system and pain receptors are capable of suffering the effects of pain. This includes fish. Fish feel pain out of biological necessity, just as mammals do. Without the ability to feel pain, they would not survive.

Much research has been done over the past thirty years and there is now scientific consensus recognising that fish and other sea creatures are sentient. For example:

  • In pain sensitivity experiments performed at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, fish had a toxin and acid injected into their lips. They exhibited a ‘rocking’ motion, similar to the way higher vertebrates – e.g. humans – rock to comfort themselves. They also rubbed their lips against the tank walls and gravel, and took three times longer than normal to resume feeding.
  • In tests at Oxford University, Mexican cave fish – genetically blind – built a mental map of their surroundings by memorising the position of objects in their tank. They quickly reacted to changes in the set-up. This task defeats some small mammals.
  • At the University of Edinburgh, spotted rainbowfish remembered how to escape from a net in their tank 11 months after initially working it out.
  • Various studies over many years have found that crabs exhibit a defensive reaction to electric shocks, and that this reaction can be reduced by administering morphine.

And yet, crabs, lobsters and prawns are often boiled alive, and many seafood suppliers rip off the legs or abdomens of live animals to sell. And on shrimp farms, the females have their eyestalks removed, as this mutilation induces the maturation of the ovaries. Scientists have said the procedure is ‘cruel’ and ‘traumatic’.

When hauled up from the deep ocean, wild caught fish undergo excruciating decompression. Frequently, the intense internal pressure ruptures the swimbladder, pops out the eyes, and pushes the oesophagus and stomach out through the mouth. Most fish are gutted whilst still alive or are left to suffocate. The whole process is totally ungoverned by humane protocols, let alone laws, and – in terms of numbers of victims – is the greatest animal welfare scandal of our times.

Farmed fish may be killed by having their gill arches torn or cut so that they bleed to death, often without being stunned first. For some fish (for example, sea bass and bream) death is by asphyxiation. They are removed from water, which causes their gills to collapse, and they suffocate to death.

Dr Donald Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, has stated: ‘The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals…in animal welfare terms, you have to put fishing in the same category as hunting.’

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