On the occasion of the World Day for the End of Fishing (and fish farming) in March 2018, various researchers and academics of the world specializing in aquatic animals are alerting to the horror of these practices1.
Speciesism and the Massacre of Fish
Just like us, fish can feel pain and want to live. They endure unspeakable torture and agony at our hands. But we can put an end to the death and suffering caused by fishing and fish farming, since we have no need to eat fish or to feed them to other animals.
Every year, we kill many more fish than there are stars in our galaxy. Between one and three trillion of these intelligent, sentient beings die under terrible conditions, and in total silence2.
Inside the Speciesist System
Our societies are speciesist – we grant ourselves the right to freely choose, according to our own whims, life or death for other sentient beings living on this planet. Yet reason and justice require that we consider the interests, not only of human beings, but of all beings that have interests, that is, all beings with the capacity for pleasure and suffering3.
For humans and nonhumans alike, what we experience is what matters to us. Behaving ethically simply means taking others, and their lives, into consideration, and respecting the importance that their experiences hold for them.
Today we dominate all things and beings on Earth, believing ourselves to be at the center of the universe and above all the rest, while naively viewing other animals as “distant” and “inferior” to us, to varying degrees according to their supposed distance from us. This is an egotistically anthropocentric worldview: we value other sentient beings (albeit to a very limited extent) only insofar as they seem “close” to us based on factors such as appearance, behavior or ways of communicating.
We thus tend to see (large) mammals as more important than birds, which are in turn judged more “evolved” than reptiles. Fish are accordingly deemed “primitive”, “inferior” animals, endowed with only “rudimentary” capacities. As they live underwater and rarely vocalize or interact with us, they are relegated to the margins of our perception4. They inspire neither curiosity nor compassion. We do not think about their experiences or ever ask ourselves what their lives are like. And while large mammals are “only animals” and for this reason are not given any real consideration, they still exist in the margins of our awareness, even if only as game to kill, for example. When it comes to fish, on the other hand, we do not recognize their existence at all: their suffering, their slaughter, is met with total indifference. They are considered merely as resources, like some kind of ore to be mined or plants to be harvested. They are viewed as one kind of food among many.
Going beyond Stereotypes to See Individuality
If we don’t make an effort to peek behind this curtain of convenient portrayals, we can never perceive fish as individuals. Yet the many ethological studies on fish conducted in past decades show that these beings have complex social lives, are able to feel pain and have intelligence comparable with that of land-dwelling vertebrates5.
There is thus much more to their reality than we suspect. They suffer, and we ignore their suffering. The subjective experiences, sensations and emotions of other sentient beings are as real as our own. Anyone who begins to think about what fish endure will be stunned by the suffering hidden behind a wall of reassuring words designed only to conceal and distort the facts.
Many of the fish caught all around the world will suffer for a long time before they die. Captured in the depths and crushed by the weight of the others in the net when brought to the surface, parts of their bodies literally burst from the decompression: swim bladders and stomachs burst from their mouths, and eyes from their sockets. Many, however, are still alive when unloaded on the deck. Some, eviscerated, will writhe in pain for half an hour before dying. Others, suffocating, will die only after an hour of agony, or sometimes up to three6.
Our treatment of fish is one of the most pressing moral questions of our time. The greatest suffering caused by human beings happens at sea. As individuals, we should stop eating fish. As a society, we must call for a ban on fishing and fish farming, and for alternative employment initiatives for the workers in these sectors7.
Françoise Armengaud, Philosopher, M. C. Honorary University of Paris X – Nanterre (France)
Christiane Bailey, Doctoral Student in Philosophy, University of Montréal, Québec (Canada)
Jonathan Balcombe, Biologist, author of What a Fish Knows (USA)
Judith Benz-Schwarzburg, Philosopher, Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal Studies, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Austria)
Jonathan Birch, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, London School of Economics (UK)
Yves Bonnardel, Essayist, Researcher associated with SFR Pensée critique, Grenoble (France)
Sabine Brels, Doctor of Law, Director of the Global Animal Law (GAL) project
Florence Burgat, Philosopher, Research Director at INRA (France)
Paola Cavalieri, Philosopher, co-editor of The Great Ape Project (Italia)
Stephen R. L. Clark, Philosopher, Emeritus Professor at University of Liverpool (UK)
Emilie Dardenne, Lecturer in English and Animal Studies, Rennes University 2 (France)
Nicolas Delon, Philosopher, Post-doc at the University of Chicago (USA)
Élise Desaulniers, Author, Québec (Canada)
Philippe Devienne, Veterinarian and Philosopher (France)
Sue Donaldson, Philosopher, Writer and Advocate (Canada)
Mylan Engel Jr., Professor of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University (USA)
Robert Garner, Professor of Political Theory, University of Leicester (UK)
Martin Gibert, Philosopher, Researcher in Ethics at the University of Montréal, Québec (Canada)
Valéry Giroux, Lawyer, Philosopher and Coordinator of the Centre de recherche en éthique de Montréal, Québec (Canada)
Astrid Guillaume, Semiotician at Sorbonne Université, Co-president of the French Society of Zoosemiotics / Société française de Zoosémiotique
Laurence Harang, Professor and Doctor of Philosophy (France)
Stevan Harnad, Professor of Cognitive Sciences, University of Québec in Montréal (Canada)
Catherine Hélayel, Lawyer, President of Animal, Justice and Law Association (France)
Oscar Horta, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Santiago de Compostela and co-founder of Animal Ethics (Spain)
Ramona Ilea, Associate Professor & Department Chair, Department of Philosophy, Pacific University, Oregon (USA)
François Jaquet, Philosopher, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Birmingham (UK)
Kathie Jenni, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Human-Animal Studies, University of Redlands, Redlands CA (USA)
Robert C. Jones, Associate Professor of Philosophy, California State University (USA)
Will Kymlicka, Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Kingston (Canada)
Renan Larue, Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara (USA)
Thomas Lepeltier, Essayist, Associate Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (UK)
Ninon Maillard, Law historian, University of Nantes (France)
Jeffrey Masson, Author of books on the emotional lives of animals (UK)
Josh Milburn, Philosopher, University of York (UK)
Susana Monsó, Philosopher, Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal Studies, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Austria)
Richard Monvoisin, Dr. Didactic Doctor of Science and Epistemology, Research Engineer, Co-Director of SFR Critical Thinking, Grenoble (France)
David Olivier, Philosopher (France)
Angie Pepper, Postdoctoral Researcher, CRÉ, University of Montréal, Québec (Canada)
Pierre-Yves Quiviger, Philosopher, Professor at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (France)
Philippe Reigné, Professor of Law, Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (France)
Estiva Reus, Cahiers antispécistes Editor (France)
Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist Monk and Author (Nepal)
Bernard E. Rollin, University Distinguished Professor, Professor of Philosophy, of Animal Sciences, of Biomedical Sciences, Bioethicist, Colorado State University (USA)
Mark Rowlands, Writer, Professor of Philosophy, Miami (USA)
Alain Roy, Doctor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Montréal, Québec (Canada)
Pierre Sigler, Author specialized in neuroscience and cognitive ethology of fish (France)
Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University (USA)
Enrique Utria, Philosopher, Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Rouen (France)
Tatjana Visak, Ethicist, Mannheim University (Germany)
Dinesh Wadiwel, Political Theorist, University of Sydney (Australia)
Steven M. Wise, Lawyer, Professor, Writer, President of the Nonhuman Rights Project (USA)
- This op-ed article, signed by a group of researchers, was published in March 2018 by the French newspaper Le Nouveau Magazine Littéraire on the occasion of the under the title “Halte au carnage des poissons“. Translation into English by Elisabeth Lyman.
- As is the case for hundreds of billions of cephalopods, octopuses, cuttlefishes, squids, and countless crustaceans, lobsters, crabs and shrimps. See chapter 19th of the report The worse things happen at sea : the welfare of wild-caught fish, 2010.
- Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, HarperCollins, 2015 .
- Joan Dunayer, “Fish: Sensitivity Beyond the Captor’s Grasp“, The Animals’ Agenda, July/Aug. 1991.
- On the ethology of fish, please see:
– A reference work: Culum Brown, Jens Krause et Kevin N. Laland (éd)., Fish cognition and behavior, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
– A bestseller: Jonathan Balcombe, What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, Oneworld, 2017.
- Alison Mood, “The worse things happen at sea : the welfare of wild-caught fish”, 2010.
- A worldwide campaign “Another perspective on fishes” aims to raise awareness about sentient aquatic animals as individuals whose interests warrant moral consideration. It leads the way to the World Day for the End of Fishing.