It recently came to my attention through an article from Direct Action Everywhere’s blog that fish are underrepresented in the animal rights movement, even though they are exploited, abused, and killed in numbers that tower over that of any other animal species. It is estimated that 2.77 trillion marine animals are killed each year for food, even before counting the non-target marine life that is killed in the process. To put this in perspective, for every 1 land animal that is killed, 46 marine animals are killed.
The slaughter of fish is extremely cruel and violent. There are no welfare standards for fish during slaughter. Fish are often left to asphyxiate, or are left in a bath of ice water to die slowly and painfully. They may be struck on the head, cut, or even skinned, gutted, and decapitated while fully conscious. Crustaceans such a crabs, lobsters, and shrimp are often boiled alive.
Why are marine animals so widely ignored? I think the reason is because it is difficult for humans to empathize with them. They live in water, but we live on land, immediately placing a barrier between us. Land mammals such as pigs and cows are similar to the cats and dogs we treat like family, so it is much easier for people to show compassion towards them. However, most people cannot connect with fish and crustaceans in the same way.
Marine animals have no voice. When we hear the tortured cries of pigs, cows, and chickens, we immediately understand the suffering they experience. But fish, even when being skinned and dismembered alive, can only open and close their mouths. Their screams are silent to us.
It is time to listen to their screams and respond. We must fight our tendency to minimize the suffering of those who look the most different from us. Though they are housed in different bodies, speak different languages, and live a different lifestyle, they are alike in their ability to feel pain and fear, which is all that matters. It is one’s capacity to suffer, and nothing else, that should determine the way we treat them. Killing a fish is no different from killing a chicken, pig, or cow.
Gandhi said, “The more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” Of the animals we commonly slaughter for food, none are more helpless than marine animals. Pulled from their environments and unable to even breathe or emit a sound, they have no escape or defense against death. Marine animals deserve our protection, recognition, and attention more than anyone. Their lives matter. Their pain matters. It is time to recognize the suffering of marine animals as equal to that of other animals exploited for food.