Yesterday was World Day for the End of Fishing, a new initiative that asks for the abolition of fishing and fish farming.
The motivation behind this day, which is organized by the same groups who launched the World Day for the End of Speciesism in 2015, is the absolute indifference to the fate of fishes by the general public.
This day is an exception to the rule which, to a large extent, is a disregard of fishes’ suffering by the AR community. Most campaigns, organizations and activists rarely mention fishes and other aquatic animals despite that they are the vast majority of the victims of animal exploitation.
The marine animals industry is by far the largest exploitation industry in the world. Thousands of billions of individuals are caught in the world’s oceans, seas and lakes. Hundreds of billions of them are caught to feed the hundreds of billions of farmed fishes and crustaceans. Additional billions of individuals are caught unintentionally as bycatch.
But we don’t accuse activist of internalizing a speciesist view which prioritizes the suffering of land animals over that of marine animals. We are sure that the downplay of fishes’ suffering is mostly a tactical move, resulting from activists’ despair of humans’ apathy. Humans are much less likely to relate to fishes than to other industrially exploited animals, and especially mammals. That’s why, more than any other systematically exploited species, fishes are mentioned in many cases as part of a more ecological rhetoric of “empty oceans”, and not as sentient individuals.
The use of egocentric and anthropocentric arguments in vegan advocacy is notoriously popular in the Animal Liberation movement (an issue that should be and is broadly discussed separately). In the case of advocacy for fishes, it is not by chance that egocentric and anthropocentric reasons (mostly in disguise of ecological ones) take centre stage.
Many activists are far from having expectations of humans to change their abusive behaviors for moral reasons. In fact, some are so disillusioned about humans, that in private forums they express the claim that “empty oceans” are a turnout for the better, since they believe the only way for the fishes to stop being abused by humans is for them to be wiped out. Considering the past and present state of affairs, the only likelihood that the exploitation will ever stop isn’t that someday humans will figure out that fishes are capable of feeling pain and suffering, but that humans would devour all the commercially captured species of fishes, a scenario predicated for 2048.
Historically that’s how many species’ abuse was ended. Almost all the large land animals were hunted down to the last individual when humans reached their habitats. These are the lucky ones, as several species, instead of being wiped out, were captivated, confined, controlled, manipulatively bred until being totally domesticated. To this day, they are the poorest species in the history of this planet.
Of course we agree that a world with “empty oceans” is not a problem but an improvement (obviously given the horrors of commercial fishing). However, unfortunately the fact that the oceans are becoming empty of fishes humans like to consume doesn’t decrease the number of victims, since humans once again “solved” the “problem” of “depleting prey” by farming their victims.
As a consequence of the reduction in marine animals capture from the oceans in the last few decades, humans hurt marine animals even more severely by intensively farming hundreds of billions of them. A lifetime of dense confinement in waste filled water, exposure to diseases, and other bodily harms due to genetic manipulation are all forced upon the fishes as a direct result of the decision to switch to farming.
The other, less known result is widening the scope of abuse even further. As a consequence of farming fishes, many of which are of carnivorous species, even more fishes are captured from the oceans, to feed the fishes confined in the farms.
It is estimated that every year between 450 billion and one trillion fishes are purposely caught specifically to be grind up into fishmeal and fish oil, which are mostly used as food for other animals humans rear for food, mainly farmed fishes.
Virtually any fish or shellfish in the sea can be grind up into fishmeal and fish oil, but they are usually produced from small marine fishes that are considered not suitable for direct human consumption.
These sentient beings, hundreds of billions of them, are even more invisible than the hundreds of billions of sentient beings that humans directly consume.
Humans’ relation to nonhumans and especially to fishes wouldn’t be solved by telling them that fishes feel pain too. It doesn’t work with cows and pigs so there is no way it would work with those who are much farer from humans in terms of biological similitude. Even when it comes to cows, many activists use speciesist rhetoric such as “red meat” is bad for your health or that cows have the biggest carbon footprint out of all the considered to be food by humanity, and even with cows it doesn’t work, so the chances for fishes are non-existent.
Fishes are at the lowest of the low among the industrially exploited animals of the world.
If fishes that humans consume are not even counted by the industry as single “items” but in kilograms and tones , and even among the animal liberation movement their misery is rather concealed (probably because activists know how little empathy fishes raise among humans), when will the time of the fishes that are eaten by the fishes humans eat, ever come?
Both of the depressing realizations – the inability to make humans care, and their ingenuity which enables them to keep exploiting animals regardless of natural limitations – must lead activists to change their course of action.
Activists shouldn’t wait for the ocean to be empty of victims so their suffering would finally end, but act for a world empty of victimizers, so all the suffering in all animal exploitation industries would end.