Bengal is home to that familiar declaration: "Of course, I am a vegetarian, I only eat fish." I don't know if fish eaters are fully aware of the facts, so this piece will endeavour to enlighten them.
1) Fish have fully developed brains and nervous systems. They see, smell, feel; all their senses are acutely tuned to stimuli. They do feel pain and, in fact, their excessive sensitivity probably makes them feel more pain than most creatures.
2) Those fish caught by the huge trawlers, that the government is giving our seas over to, are left on the decks to suffocate slowly. There are over one million large, and twice as many smaller, fishing boats out killing fish even as you read this. Each large trawler has fishing nets which spread over half a square kilometre. These nets catch millions of fish every day. But each fish has to have a "minimum landing size" - which means that 20 percent of fish, that these nets catch, are thrown back into the sea, for being the wrong size, either dead or dying because of internal injuries suffered while being caught, loss of protective slime and fatal exhaustion. Which means that, for every fish that you eat, many have died and have been discarded for being too small, or fat or long, etc.
33333) When the fishing boats/fishermen want a particular species of fish, everything else is thrown back into the water as the boat reaches the shore – in dead or dying condition. (In the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, for every one kg. of shrimp caught, 22 kgs of fish are "thrown away".) Offshore India has become a major trawling range for tuna. For every tuna fish caught, more than two other fish, that travel with the tuna schools, are killed. Dolphins, whales, sharks, pilot fish, and turtles are just some of the species thus destroyed needlessly.
4) According to the UN, there is such massive overfishing that international fish “stocks” are declining sharply so much so that there will be a 25 million tonne shortfall in the oceans by 2,000 AD. What does overfishing mean? It means that the human being will merely switch to eating something else, but that every creature of the sea is, even now, starving to death. Whales, sharks, otters, etc. Most of these species are on the verge of extinction because you are eating their food and destroying a large part of it without eating it (None of these creatures will touch the dead fish thrown back into the oceans by the fishing industry.) The sardine is the most important component of the diet of pelicans, gannets, and other marine birds. However, due to intensive sardine fishing for - (guess what?) artificial meal for hobby aquarium fish – the birds have become rare. Consequently, bird dung or guano, which in itself was a major industry for many islands, is dying out, making them poorer.
5) To protect their stocks, fishermen kill thousands of sea animals, and fish-dependent creatures, as part of "predator control". For instance, in just a small part of Scotland, to protect the salmon farms (of course, the salmon are also killed), in one year over 1,000 seals, 1,000 otters, basking sharks and thousands of herons and cormorants, are shot or drowned by "anti-predator nets". In the peak driftnet season (main fishing time), in just one ocean - the Pacific - 23,000 whales and dolphins are killed by fishermen so that they do not eat the fish. In South America, the piranha fish, which plays an extremely important role in keeping the rivers clean and in preventing diseased fish from creating epidemics, is being systematically poisoned as a predator. (It has been discovered that, from any river where the piranha has been eliminated, the other fish die out as well).
6) All over Southeast Asia, fish are caught in the sea, not for eating, but for commercial breeding in the villages. The one to two cm-long young of the milkfish are caught in their millions, put into shallow breeding ponds where they feed on algae produced by horse/cow manure. The ponds grow extremely crowded and the fish are killed for the market even before they reach sexual maturity. Which means, that more have to be caught afresh in the offshore waters again.
How are fish caught and bred? What cruelties are perpetrated on them thinking they are insensitive vegetables of the sea? In butchering them, how do we shorten our own lifespans and the life of the earth?
The new government policy is to encourage fish and shrimp farms. A report in 1992, by Compassion In World Farming (CIWF), revealed the horrors of fish farming. Salmon and trout are extremely confined, highly stressed and are at high risk of disease and parasitic infestation. They are starved prior to transportation and slaughter – salmon, for up to three weeks. There are no strict guidelines for fish slaughter anywhere in the world. ("What difference does it make when the creature cannot scream," seems to be the logic.) Several methods of killing are used: asphyxiation (killing through deprivation of oxygen), bleeding (by slitting part of its body), concussion (by hitting it on the head) and electrocution.
All the killings are slow and usually badly executed; the same people who object to the slow and tortuous method that halaal butchers use on animals will happily eat a fish even though it has been killed in the same manner. Many fish are not killed – a piece of their bodies is cut off and they are thrown back into the water. For instance, shark fin soup is from the dorsal fins of sharks which are sliced off before the creatures are thrown back, bleeding and dying, into the water. Caviar is got by slitting open the stomach of a live, pregnant sturgeon, extracting the roe (eggs) and then throwing her back into the water with her entrails hanging out.
If killing fish for the table was the only thing being done to deplete their stocks, it would still be too much. But, in addition to that, millions of fish die because raw and untreated sewage is being poured into the oceans and rivers. Twenty-three percent of the people in India live beside the Ganges river and every single one of them (23 percent of 900 million) pour their filth and sewage into its waters, every day. The fish that survive this are 'vishkanyas' – so toxic that they destroy your body when you eat them. Remember, fish can store huge amounts of PCBs (Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls) - up to nine million times more than a human can. This pesticide, that we use in our fields, is extremely carcinogenic. Shellfish are particularly vulnerable. Scientists say that they have not come across a fish, in the last 20 years, that does not have toxic chemicals in its flesh.
Killing for eating is only one reason for the mass genocide of fish. What are the other idiotic reasons?
1) Foreign fish are introduced artificially into lakes and rivers to fight insects that trouble us. For instance, Gambusia is a favourite mosquito fighter in India. Introduced into all sorts of unlikely dam catchment areas to eat mosquitoes, it usually finishes off all the local fish, eliminating the resident populations before it even gets to the mosquito-eating stage. Again, wherever trout have been introduced, all the local fish are usually poisoned and killed from before.
2) Humankind's quest for energy has led to the building of thousands of nuclear and thermal plants. These suck water from rivers, mangling hundreds of fish in the machinery. When the plants spit back heated water, many more fish die, because the discharge raises the rivers' temperature and nitrogen levels. Most power plants slaughter a million or more fish a year (For instance, in Massachusetts, USA one plant kills one million fish a day.) So, whenever you switch your light on and you know your power is coming from a sea-based or estuary-based power-plant – like in Bombay or Calcutta – remember that hundreds of fish die for your lighting.
3) You have those wonderful anglers for sport. You can watch their activities, on the Star TV sports channel, as they show you what a wonderful sport the catching of inedible fish is. Millions of fish, like the Atlantic tarpon, the ladyfish, northern pike, and the alligator gar, are killed and thrown away, after their pictures are taken with their hunting heroes.
Other reasons include fertilizers, for dog food and cat food, silvery scales of the herring, and bleak used to cover glass beads, which are called artificial pearls. They are also used to spray textiles for an iridescent sheen; for lipstick gloss; for isinglass or fish gelatine made from fish bladders, which are used as clarifying agents for wine.
While Greenland sharks are killed for bookbinding leather, seahorses are powdered and sold as aphrodisiac.
Fish are also killed for making sandpaper (known in the industry as shagreen) and for rope which is made from sharkskin.
Certainly, eating fish is neither good for you nor good for the fish. And the end of fish will mean the end of the oceans and the end of life.