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The Rock-itt : June 2012
So much for popular perceptions. Now, what about reality? Let's look first at the question of ability to feel pain. Can fish do so? Resisting the very strong impulse to simply say, ''Well of course they can'' one needn't look far for evidence. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) quotes Dr. Donald Broom, a scientific advisor to the British government, as follows: ''The scientific literature is quite clear, anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals.'' They also cite a two-year study by scientists at Edinburgh University and the Roslin Institute in the U.K., again proving -- in line with the prevalent view among marine biologists -- that (you guessed it) they feel pain, just as all animals do. And they quote research published by various American universities, indicating that fish use sound to communicate distress, and even grunt when they receive electric shocks. This is all quite apart from the unmistakable behaviour -- thrashing, struggling, etc. -- which demonstrates their desire to escape. PETA is of course a part of the animal rights movement, but for anyone suspicious of those with an alleged vested interest in promoting this line of argument, there is plenty of evidence elsewhere. That resolutely non-partisan magazine 'Scientific American', in its September 2009 issue, carried an article entitled, ''Underwater Suffering: Do Fish Feel Pain?" It quoted the conclusions of Norwegian research, by Joseph Garner of Purdue University, to the effect that fish "do experience pain consciously, rather than simply reacting with a reflex ... such behaviour ... is cognitive, not reflexive.'' And it supplied the ghoulish but convincing example that goldfish injected with saline solution and exposed to a painful level of heat in a test tank "hovered" in one spot when placed back in their home tank. Conversely, and equally significantly and illustratively, other fish which had received a morphine injection that blocked the impact of pain showed no such fearful behavior. None of this should come as a blinding revelation once we remember that fish have more nerve endings than human beings do. They die in their billions merely for our consumption, and their demise is often agonisingly slow, whether or not it involves the crude and primitive torture of a hook through the gills. And of course there is no such thing as the preparatory stunning which is afforded to some of our more "favoured'' victims. The tagline for the ostensibly benign documentary ''The End of the Line'' invites us to "imagine a world without fish", and the film addresses the question of "over fishing." But if one takes the view that ANY amount of avoidable suffering by sentient creatures is unacceptable, and has been convinced that fish fall into this category, then it surely follows that the very concept of ''over fishing'' itself is obscene and wrongheaded. Which leads us inevitably to the subject of intensive fish farming, its apologists -- and its horrors. Intensive fish farming or aquaculture consists of breeding -- and, of course, eventually exterminating -- fish in controlled conditions. ''Controlled'' is, in this context, a euphemism for cages in the ocean or tanks on land this consists wholly and solely in the fact that because these fish are not being extracted from the wider sea world, the overall 'stocks' are not being depleted. (The same defense could of course be mounted in favour of the breeding of domestic farm animals, no matter how unspeakably atrocious and horrific the circumstances, or how non-existent the quality of life.) Never mind that the overcrowding can lead to infestation with parasitic lice, high mortality rates and deformity. Or to the fish being hemmed in so tightly that they break their fins and can barely swim ... Or, as is also explained on the website earthoria.com, that the preferred mode of dispatch may be either killing the fish by cutting their stomachs open or suffocating them by draining their tank so that the water is simply drained away. Fishing is utterly wrong on every level and in every form, from the recreational right through to the industrial. Fish are emphatically not vegetables. But a lot of human beings are morally vegetating. References: ''Underwater Suffering: Do Fish Feel Pain?'' Scientific American, Sept. 2009 www.peta.org/issues/animals-used- for-fish/fish-feel-pain.aspx Tina Noga, ''Vegetarianism: A Fish Is Not a Vegetable!'' earthoria.com Fish Are Not Vegetables