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Anytime I reveal to someone that I’m a vegetarian, a question that often follows is whether or not I eat fish. That is an understandable enquiry if it is in response to the statement that I don’t eat meat, but otherwise slightly mind boggling.
I try to follow vegetarianism that is defined by The Vegetarian Society and for ethical reasons, so of course that criteria will extend to those living under the sea.
A lot of the times me being asked if my diet includes seafood is simply a probe into what I can have for when I’m out for a meal with friends. But I can’t help but wonder if it ever harkens to the notion that fish somehow aren’t as capable of suffering as poultry and livestock are. A quick Internet search has revealed that I might be onto something.
It seems that for the longest time several misconceptions about fish’s ability to feel pain existed. They were believed as having brains too simple to process pain. Those who admitted to fish feeling pain trivialised it by saying that it wasn’t the same conscious pain people experience.
Today, we know that most of this is untrue. It has been found that the mental capabilities of fish are in more fine-tuned than a lot of birds, and even some mammals. Fish will try to escape situations that cause them discomfort or harm and their bodies, just like ours, produce opioids, which are natural painkillers, when subject to pain.
One study has shown that after being injected with caustic acid, rainbow trout showed delayed responses to Lego bricks being dropped into their tank, a situation that would normally see the fish scuttling for safety.
Moreover, treatment with morphine eased symptoms showing that their reactions to being injected with acid were more than just reflexive. If the rainbow trout were reacting physiologically rather than because they felt pain, then the analgesic wouldn’t have improved matters, seeing that the acetic acid persisted in their bodies still.
So then it’s about time fish are afforded the same moral standards granted to other animals seeing that they obviously display certain signs of sentience. And if you were accustomed to thinking otherwise, the next time you dig into a salmon steak or some crab cakes, best not assume that your meal was without suffering.