World Day for the End of Fishing 2024

World Day for the End of Fishing 2024

30 Mar 2024

Aquatic animals constitute the largest number of animals killed by humans each year. Estimates suggest that around 25 trillion individuals, including fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods, are caught and killed every year. On this World Day for the End of Fishing 2024, we reflect on this atrocity and how to address it. We also discuss the growing aquaculture industry, which kills hundreds of billions of individuals every year.

Are aquatic animals sentient?

Sentience is the capacity to perceive, feel, and experience subjectively. Many studies have shed light on the substantial evidence for sentience in fishes and other aquatic animals, including cephalopods and crustaceans like squids, crabs, lobsters, and shrimps. These beings have centralized nervous systems, including receptors in their brains for substances that block pain – a pretty good indication that they can feel pain. They also have nociceptors that allow them to detect and respond to harmful stimuli such as damage to tissues and extreme temperatures.

Their behaviors demonstrate awareness of their surroundings, adapting to different stimuli to seek positive experiences and avoid harmful stimuli. Fishes, octopuses, lobsters, and other crustaceans exhibit a range of behaviors that indicate they can perceive, feel, and experience their environment in a subjective manner.

Across these diverse groups, individuals demonstrate the ability to learn, remember, and adapt to their surroundings. They show signs of anxiety and stress when faced with threatening situations, often responding by hiding or attempting to escape. They avoid using injured body parts and may rub or groom the injured parts repeatedly. They can solve problems, apply learned knowledge to new situations, and make decisions based on their experiences. For example, fishes and octopuses have been observed using water currents to move objects around and octopuses solve complex problems like opening jars. This indicates conscious thought.

Some of these animals also display behaviors that suggest they can experience positive and negative emotional states. Fishes engage in playful activities (which appear to serve no practical purpose), such as nudging objects or chasing one another. Octopuses also appear to engage in playful or curious behavior, such as picking up objects, repeatedly pushing or pulling these objects and passing them from arm to arm. These playful behaviors suggest that the animals experience curiosity, engagement, and potentially a sense of joy or amusement from exploring and interacting with their surroundings.

Furthermore, many of these animals engage in self-care and social behaviors that are typically associated with some level of consciousness and awareness. Lobsters, for example, groom themselves and participate in social interactions with other members of their species.

While the complexity and extent of their sentience may vary compared to humans or other animals, the presence of these behaviors suggests that fishes, octopuses, lobsters, and other crustaceans possess a form of sentience that goes beyond simple reflexes. They have the capacity to process information, make decisions, and respond to their environment in a manner that indicates subjective experiences and awareness.

Dismissing their sentience or denying them moral consideration based on arbitrary criteria like lack of human-like intelligence or not belonging to the human species are forms of speciesist discrimination.

Fishing and the scope of suffering

The fishing industry inflicts immense suffering on aquatic animals, with estimates suggesting that more than 3 trillion individual animals are caught and killed annually. The process of capturing these beings is traumatic as well as fatal. Fishes may suffocate under the weight of other fishes, have their organs imploded due to pressure changes, or endure excruciating injuries from hooks, nets, and other fishing equipment. Even those who survive the initial capture may face prolonged suffering, trapped in nets for days, suffocating for hours, or being frozen alive.

Due to their smaller size, fishes are consumed in much higher numbers than animals who are farmed on land. There can only be estimates of these numbers because the fishes captured from the oceans are measured by their weight, not by the number of individuals.

The situation is even worse for shrimps and other small crustaceans,1 with estimates of yearly deaths for wild-caught shrimps alone ranging from 6.5  trillion to 66 trillion.2

The spread of aquaculture farms

The aquaculture industry intentionally inflicts intense suffering on aquatic animals, all for the sake of profit. It is still much smaller than fishing and other industries capturing animals in open waters, but it is growing rapidly around the world. Some of the reasons it has not spread faster are purely technical,3 and solving them will make it much easier to exploit aquatic animals.

Fishes, crustaceans like shrimps and crabs, octopuses, and other invertebrates like oysters, clams and mussels are raised in enclosures and sold as food for humans and to feed to other animals. Aquatic farms breed and kill an estimated 78-171 billion finned fishes4 and 255-605 billion octopuses and crustaceans like shrimps, crabs, and lobsters annually.5

The farms deprive these animals of their basic needs and subject them to a life of confinement, stress, and ultimately, premature death. They are denied the space they need to engage in natural behaviors, leading to extreme stress and aggression. Handling and transportation causes additional pain and stress. Egg collection can be traumatic, involving pressing on the abdomen to force the expulsion of eggs and thermal shock to induce egg-laying.

Confinement makes aquatic animals highly susceptible to painful diseases that run rampant in these facilities. The use of antibiotics and other treatments can have negative side effects, further compromising their health. Diseases and the medications and chemicals used to treat the water affect wild sea animals too, causing harm to more individuals.

Aquaculture farms are increasing around the world, particularly throughout Asia. Not only is there rising demand to eat these animals, but concerns over the sustainability of capturing aquatic animals in open waters has led to greater interest in farming them. But talking about the sustainability of animal exploitation considers only human interests; there is no concern for the wellbeing of the individuals involved.

If we want to be fair, we should extend our consideration to all sentient beings, including those who dwell beneath the water’s surface. The majority of sentient animals in the world are aquatic animals. The scale of suffering inflicted upon aquatic animals through fishing and aquaculture is staggering, and it is our ethical responsibility to acknowledge and address this issue.

The first step is to recognize that fishes and other sea animals are sentient. We can then take steps toward a future where their interests are respected and their wellbeing is prioritized.

The problem is not “overfishing” or traditional animal agriculture. It is the intentional harm of other sentient beings. The solution lies not in “sustainable” fishing or eco-friendly aquaculture but in a fundamental shift away from the exploitation and consumption of these sentient beings. That can only be achieved if we as individuals stop consuming them and raise awareness about the harms caused to sea animals.

Please speak out against the farming of aquatic animals before it spreads further.


1 Mood, A. (2017) “Numbers of farmed decapods”,

2 Waldhorn, D. R. & Autric, E. (2023) “Shrimp: The animals most commonly used and killed for food production”, Rethink Priorities, September 08.

3 Hiroshima University (2024) “Scientist taps into lobsters’ unusual habits to conquer the more than 120-year quest to farm them”,, March 29.

4 Mood, A.; Lara, E.; Boyland, N. K.; Brooke, P. (2023) “Estimating global numbers of farmed fishes killed for food annually from 1990 to 2019”, Animal Welfare, 32, e12.

5 Mood, A. (2017) “Numbers of farmed decapods”, op. cit.