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fish are friends

June 30, 2010

Laura Ashmore, an activist whom I have worked with and admire, recently tagged me in a Facebook note that I would like to share with you all. I think this is an important post for several reasons. First, it brings our attention to fish. Fish get the shit end of the stick when it comes to animal rights efforts. Their deaths are usually not even quoted in our counts of how many animals are murdered for food. This is likely because they are measured by weight, not counted as individuals. (If you are wondering, HSUS estimates that 363 animal die EVERY SECOND in the United States alone, fish included.)

The other great part of this post is that Laura highlights the fact that fish are individuals. One of the reasons it has become so easy to exploit animals is that as a society we refer to animals as species rather than as individuals. We assume that each individual within a species embodies all the same characteristics and so it becomes easy to injury one as if it is nothing more than a piece of the whole. This is what Carol J. Adams refers to as “false mass terms”:

Mass terms refer to things like water or colors; no matter how much of it there is or what type of container it is in, water is still water…Objects referred to by mass terms have no individuality, no uniqueness, no specificity, no particularity. (Adams, The War on Compassion)

When treated as objects that lack uniqueness fish become sushi. So let Laura’s note remind us that fish do matter and every single fish is an important, unique individual.

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Fish are friends, not food!

by Laura Ashmore

This weekend I was reminded of the atrocities fish are facing, not only as a group of organisms, not only as species, but as individuals as well. I walked on a pier this weekend where fish after fish were being taken from the water and killed. Then on father’s day my family and I went to a sushi restaurant where the table was covered with dead fish rolled up in rice and topped with another kind of dead fish.

Fortunately this weekend there was also some good news for 800 lucky Bluefin Tuna in the Mediterranean Sea. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society freed 800 Bluefin Tuna from the floating cage they were imprisoned in. While I and a few others were ecstatic about this news, it seemed the news of their liberation was not met with much excitement from many people. If 800 innocent people were liberated from a death camp, the news would most likely be met with much excitement from many people than those few that were excited about the liberation of the tuna. So why do people have such apathy for fish?


Some people believe “fish are not intelligent.” Some believe “fish don’t have feelings, fish don’t feel pain.” This is not true!! A recent report written by…Humane Research Council provides information from studies that provide evidence that fish are capable of learning, memory, and are capable of suffering just like you and I.

I never eat anyone I know personally. I wouldn’t deliberately eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel. They’re so good-natured, so curious. You know, fish are sensitive, they have personalities, they hurt when they’re wounded.

-Dr. Sylvia Earle (one of the world’s leading marine biologists).

I wrote this note to bring attention to the suffering fish go through for the food industry. Also I want to share with you a couple stories of personal experiences I have had with fish in the wild.

When I was a kid I started realizing fish feel pain. With my dad being a recreational fishermen I was around dying fish a lot. When my dad would catch a fish and throw it on board after hooking it in the mouth, he would then put it in a plastic bag to die slowly. I would hide inside the boat so I didn’t have to see the fish suffer but I would still hear it struggling up to an hour or two after being brought aboard.

In the past year I am so grateful to have had two experiences with fish in the wild that really let me see the personalities of individual fish. I would love to share these stories with you. (I know a lot of you that I tagged are already vegan or vegetarian, but I still tagged you because I thought you might enjoy my cute fish stories 🙂

The first experience was in Belize. I was snorkeling and came across a red plastic ball that had a hole in one side. I soon realized there was a fish stuck in this little red ball. It appeared to have passed away in the ball but I thought I would check anyway. I gently pulled on his/her tail and she/he moved! So I was eventually able to get the poor little fish unstuck. It was a queen triggerfish so it probably got scared and put up it’s triggers on it’s fins and got stuck in the ball. When I finally got him/her out we looked at each other for a few seconds and then she/he took shelter under my earlobe. She/he would not leave my side. She/he was also either unable to or scared to descend to deeper water when I tried to lead him/her down toward the coral. She/he would stay by my mom until I returned to the surface and then would return to me and go back underneath my earlobe. She/he must have recognized me because every time I came back to the surface he/she returned to me even though there were many people with us snorkeling. We became really attached to each other and I hated to leave him/her.

The second experience where I got to see the personality of fish was in Catalina. I was scuba diving in the kelp forest working on a research project for a class. I was counting the number and species of fish in the Marine Protected Area (area where no fishing was allowed) and counting the number of fish in the areas that were being fished pretty heavily. In the marine protected area there were many juvenile kelp bass. The kelp bass reminded me of cats because of their curiosity. I would be stationary trying to count fish and some of the kelp bass (especially the young ones) loved to come up to my mask and check me out. Some hung back at a distance but still came over probably to see who was visiting their kelp forest home. I’ll never forget their curiosity. The bigger, older kelp bass didn’t pay much attention to me, probably because they have seen humyn visitors before. This really illustrated for me the mental capacity of fish and their memory. The results of my short-term study did not surprise me; one result was that the population of targeted species of fish were significantly higher in Marine Protected Areas than highly fished areas.

I will fight for the freedom of fish, the same freedom I ask be given to all other animals. I hope that you too will choose to see fish as friends, not food!

I would also urge you to visit [this] website for more reasons why fish are friends, not food: (this also includes information on the damage fishing has on the environment).

You can have your own fish stories… there are amazing fish to visit off the coast of California in kelp forest areas or in rocky areas. And if you travel somewhere near the ocean where the water isn’t too cold, snorkeling is always a fun activity. A mask and a snorkel are all you need to explore a whole new world of underwater friends!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 6:20 pm

    What a terrific post. Thank you so very much. Fish are indeed the “forgotten” ones that suffer with rarely a voice raised on their behalf.

  2. rabbit permalink
    February 25, 2011 4:16 am

    It’s true. I’m a vegetarian and when I tell people that they ask me: “You still eat fish though, right?” as if fish aren’t living creatures that have to be killed to be eaten. When I tell them that being a vegetarian means that I don’t eat anything with a face (or butt) they usually respond with what you mentioned in the beginning of your post – something like: “Oh, but fish are dumb animals. Who cares?” As if a creatures intelligence has anything to do with it’s right to live. It reminds me of Hitler’s opinion on the mentally ill.

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