March 25th, 2023 is the World Day for the End of Fishing. Created in 2017 in Switzerland by the association Pour l’Égalité Animale this day sees participation from animal advocacy organizations all over the world to call for an end to fishing and aquaculture farms.
As part of this initiative, Animal Ethics calls for the abolition of fishing and aquatic farms because it inflicts death and suffering on sentient beings. The scale is enormous and still growing, and we must try to end it before it spreads further.
Fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods make up the largest group of animals that are killed each year for food. Estimates suggest that up to 2.3 trillion individual animals of all species are killed annually.
In addition to fishes, massive fishing operations target decapod crustaceans like crabs, crayfishes, shrimps and lobsters. Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and other cephalopods are caught and killed as part of intensive fishing operations.
The process of capturing fishes is traumatic, stressful, and causes injuries if not immediate death. Some animals are trapped under the weight of thousands of other fishes, causing them to suffocate, some get impaled in fishing hooks when used as bait or when caught. Some have their organs implode due to changes in pressure when they are taken from the depths of the ocean.
Even if they make it through all of this, they eventually are “processed”, frozen alive, cooked, or eaten while still alive and conscious.
Huge numbers of invertebrates also go through immense suffering during fishing operations when they are scooped up in huge nets and left to die in immense pain on fishing boats. More than 400,000 trawlers from 65 countries catch 1.3 tonnes of shrimps that are caught and killed annually. This equates to trillions of individual animals. Due to their small size, these animals are consumed in much higher numbers.
Another area of growing concern is the quickly advancing aquaculture industry. It is estimated that 167 billion individual fishes are bred and then killed for food every year. These figures do not include over 604 billion invertebrates like crustaceans that are also bred and eventually killed.
Invertebrates like shrimps, crabs, lobsters, octopuses, squids, and crayfish are increasingly being bred in intensive fish farms. largely because it is being pushed as a sustainable alternative to fishing in the open seas. But this means that far more individuals will suffer. Looking at the issue of fishing in terms of sustainability misses the most crucial factor: the wellbeing of the victims of the practice.
Because of the nature of this kind of farming, the animals are vulnerable to diseases which are often excruciatingly painful and very often lethal. These diseases also spread to wild sea animals, causing even more suffering. The antibiotics used to treat the diseases often end up causing side effects.
There is evidence as acknowledged by the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness and various behavioral studies that show fishes and many invertebrates are sentient. This means they have the capacity to feel pain and suffering as well as joy. Invertebrates like crustaceans meet many of the physical, neurophysiological, and behavioral criteria that are associated with sentience.
Despite this knowledge, every year trillions of aquatic animals are killed because of human disregard for their wellbeing. The fact that they are counted in tons rather than individuals indicates not only the scale of the operations but also the degree of disregard for the animals themselves. These are individual beings who are being harmed and killed.
Many justifications are used by humans as excuses to continue causing these harms. These arguments are based on factors such as mere species membership, size, habitat, or lack of human-like intelligence. Such differences are irrelevant to the wellbeing of these animals. Disregarding their interests is simply speciesist discrimination.
We know it’s unfair to discriminate against human individuals based on the color of their skin, their gender, or their cognitive capacities, but simply due to the fact that humans have the ability to feel pain and pleasure. We now know that fishes and many other aquatic animals can feel and suffer too. Let’s give them the same consideration.
We must use this opportunity to spread this message on a wider scale to elicit change now and prevent future suffering for the many individual aquatic animals who will exist in the future.