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The Rock-itt : June 2012
FISH ARE NOT VEGETABLES The statement that heads this article may well seem incontrovertibly true and self-evident to you. Fish are, after all, sentient beings. But just consider for a while the myriad ways in which people tend to talk and act as if fish are indeed part of the vegetable kingdom -- if not inanimate objects. If you're a vegetarian you have no doubt long since lost count of the number of times someone -- a waiter, say -- has asked ''But do you eat fish?" (or indeed chicken.) What's more, the confusion -- the sheer misuse of the English language -- goes two ways, because there are plenty of self- described vegetarians who happily admit to being fish- eaters. But this is far more serious than a semantic issue. The false distinction arises because, in many minds, fish are relegated to the level of 'things' which are incapable of feeling pain. Or, even more disturbingly, the question of whether they feel pain is regarded as irrelevant, because fish are supposedly inconsequentially low in some imaginary hierarchy of animal importance. (No prize for guessing which species is at the apex of this hypothetical pyramid.) It's as if such things as agony and cruelty can be weighed up against the perceived evolutionary sophistication of the sufferer, or even the amount of enjoyment provided to its tormentor. If it tastes good or if it's fun to catch, then that's fair enough -- such seems to be the prevailing 'logic'. Not, to put it very politely, a particularly compassionate way of looking at the world. Quite apart from the fact that it is based on a false premise -- but more on that later. As with most iniquities, the dismissal of fish has echoes throughout mainstream culture, and is reinforced by them in a ghastly sort of vicious circle. Fish populations are routinely referred to as stocks or supplies, thereby reducing them to nothing more than a potential human resource whose total loss would be a tragedy only to fishermen or their customers. When the (massively popular) English broadcaster Jonathan Ross described fish as "essentially carrots with eyes" , he wasn't only coming out with a funny one-liner: he was reflecting a standard view. And when Homer Simpson calls the goldfish in a shopping-centre's pond ''unprocessed fish sticks'', the satire is a little too close to reality for comfort. If fish's lives and experiences are seen to count for nothing, it should come as no surprise that the killing of them is not only accepted, but sentimentalised and celebrated. TV commercials feature dewy-eyed and kindly old gentlemen bonding with their grandchildren over the shared experience of fishing. Passers-by cheerily ask recreational fishers whether the fish are ''biting'', and the anglers tend to respond with equivalent breezy folksiness about ''the one that got away'' ... The 'sport' is endorsed, institutionalised, practiced, joked about and mythologised in a way that would be unthinkable about fox-hunting or bear-baiting . A trite rationale for a hunt used to be that the fox enjoys ''the thrill of the chase'': times change, it would seem, but not for every species. A fisherman who eventually releases a hooked fish back into the water is -- mind bogglingly enough -- presented as a good sport who has merely engaged the fish in an exciting contest. Ernest Hemingway, you might say, has a lot to answer for. Fish Are Not Vegetables