Clear Facts, Dubious Morality

Last week the Washington Post published an article stating that fishes can feel pain. Though usually headlines are the result of new data, there is nothing new about this specific article, just another article pointing the obvious. What we find interesting and relevant is its existence half way through 2018 more than its scientific content, as well as a possible implication of this “finding” which is being discussed along the article. We’ll start with the later.

A Cynical Reaction to a Self-Evident “Revelation”

Instead of fishes’ sentience “revelation” leading humans to stop hurting them, the article speculates possible changes in the fishing industry, some of which may lead to humans hurting them even more.

As you know there are no killing regulations when it comes to commercial fishing. The vast majority of the victims of commercial fishing are killed by being pulled from the water and thrown either on ice or left to suffocate in air, both mean slow excruciating deaths for hundreds of billions of sentients. Carps for example keep breathing for almost an hour in an ice slurry and five hours if out of the water entirely.

Currently in most countries there are no killing regulations even in fish farms where it is at least technically possible. The lack of regulation in aquaculture is a case of lack of motivation. Humans don’t even bother to regulate their mass murder of fishes, not even as a lip service.
In commercial fishing, especially in huge trawlers which can net hundreds of thousands of fishes at one time, it is considered “technically impossible” to murder each fish individually, let alone after stunning each one. In other words, humans are such efficient exploiters that they catch so many fishes in so little time, and so can’t regulate the murder of each individual.


So one speculative implication the article suggests is that the “revelation” that fishes are sentients, would lead to growing more of them in fish farms where killing them “humanely” is at least theoretically possible. An absurd solution possible only thanks to human logic.

Fish farming is already where the majority of the fishes’ flesh consumed by humans is coming from, and a World Bank report estimates that by 2030, aquaculture will supply more than 60% of the fishes humans consume, nearly a third more than it supplied in 2006.
Absurdly and so cynically, if humans finally internalize that fishes can feel pain, they might make their lives worse.

But that scenario is very unlikely. Unfortunately aquaculture will become more and more abundant in the coming years, but not for those supposedly humane reasons.
There is no way that humans would stop commercial fishing after recognizing that fishes feel pain and there isn’t a way to ensure each fish is being murdered by “humane” killing regulations on these massive boats (obviously the very idea of regulations is in itself delusional). It is very unlikely that anything will change. Humans would probably keep consuming fishes who slowly suffocate on decks of commercial boats just as they do now, knowing that fishes are undoubtedly capable of feeling pain. They would stop only when the fish population reaches extinction levels. And then they won’t stop eating fishes of course, but consume them from factory farms.

At some point murdering regulations may be applied in some places, but they would be as horrible as the murdering regulations of other exploited animals, those that there is no doubt are capable of feeling pain. Even when murdering regulations are applied “by the book” they are extremely painful and horrible, and they are rarely applied as directed.

And even if murdering regulations are applied in fish 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 (even non-carnivorous fishes, such as Chinese Carp and Tilapia are fed fishmeal to increase their “yields”). It is extremely unlikely that killing regulations would ever be applied to these fishes as well.
These sentient beings, hundreds of billions of them, are even more invisible than the hundreds of billions of sentient beings that humans directly consume.

An estimated 10 to 100 billion farmed fishes are killed globally every year, and about another one to three trillion fishes are caught from the wild. The number of fishes killed each year far exceeds the number of people who have ever existed on Earth.

Fishes are at the lowest of the low among the industrially exploited animals of the world.
In a post called rock-bottom, we argued that fishes are so low at the bottom of the world’s hierarchy, that they are absolutely transparent, the outmost absent referent. The fishes they are fed with, are even beneath rock-bottom.



So despite these “revelations” fishes’ atrocity will probably get even worse.

Abundant Evidence, Absent Motivation

More than its content, what we find interesting and relevant in this article is its very existence.
Fishes’ sentience isn’t even supposed to be a serious question. An unbiased observation of fishes’ life in their natural habitat as they aim to avoid sources of pain or stress, and have complex relationships, is sufficient. Witnessing their response and behavior when taken out of the water, or get hit on their heads, leaves no room for doubt. That is in addition to the ethical guideline that whenever there is doubt, there is no doubt. And so even if there was truly room for doubt about whether certain species are sentient, they should have got the benefit of the doubt from humanity.
All it takes is common sense and basic evolutionary understanding. Pain perception is a fundamental aspect of an individual’s short-term survival, as well as long-term survival of the species. Without the ability to perceive pain, an animal would have no interest in avoiding predation. Over hundreds of millions of years, fishes have evolved complex adaptations for sensing and avoiding sources of dangerous stimulus and pain. Like mammals and birds, fishes have an interest in avoiding pain and are strongly motivated to find low stress environments. Fishes have evolved to have many behavioral and physiological adaptations for coping with stress. Most of the adaptations are similar to those seen in other vertebrates (which all evolved from fishes), such as rapid and erratic movements, seeking shelter and chemical secretion.
Increasingly, researches are suggesting that emotional states may be more closely tied to primitive parts of the brain. Fundamentally, fear is a cognitive process with many physiological consequences, such as increased heart rate and activation of pain receptors. As other animals, it is very likely that fishes experience fear in anticipation of severe stress or pain.

However, half way through 2018 apparently many humans still feel there are doubts. It’s amazing how persistent humans’ denial attempts are when it comes to animals’ emotions, mental capabilities and of course sentience.

In the last couple of decades an extensive amount of information was gathered regarding fishes mental life from fear and pain perception in Rainbow Trouts1, fear and anxiety in Goldfishes2,3, sound communication among predator fishes4, and corresponded behavioral response among mud crab5, refutation of the short memory myth6,7, multitasking8,9, “Feature cues” (recall the location of objects using feature cues)10, “Social Buffering” among Zebrafishes11, pain among shore crabs12, pain among prawns13, cooperation and reconciliation14, tools use15,16, fear and pain in Zebrafishes17, and stress among Crayfishes18,19.
Since these findings are based on cruel experiments we don’t specify them here. And in any case that is not the point of this post, obviously animal liberation activists don’t need experimental indications that point the obvious. The point is not to provide the conclusive proof that fishes feel pain, but that despite that on every level – both intuitive and scientific – the knowledge that fishes undoubtedly feel pain exists, humans stick to their convenient deny. There are so many strong evidences which were achieved by so much violence and torture and were published years ago (one of the most unequivocal studies is from 15 years ago), yet this issue is publicly presented as an open question.
Obviously none of these cruel experiments should have been conduct in the first place, but after such conclusive findings, even the most cynical humans can’t claim there’s any doubt. The least that they can do is implement these conclusions and stop harming fishes.

Humans’ indifference towards fishes is not a result of lack of knowledge but of a lack of motivation.
They don’t need more facts they need more caring. There is no similar debate regarding other species humans systematically abuse, and it is not that humans have stopped consuming them despite that they are aware they are sentient.
There is no doubt that other animals feel pain and of course no major changes have happened in their lives, except than for the worse.
“Realization” of sentience didn’t help mammals and birds so it would definitely not help fishes.


Some activists find these kind of publications which supposedly reveal that fishes can feel stress and other complex emotions encouraging (as well as extremely annoying since it is pointing the obvious) hoping that they would encourage humans to see fishes differently. But humans are so indifferent to the fate of others, all the more so when they are so different from them, that knowing they have complex mental lives doesn’t lead them to empathize with fishes.. Realizing that fishes can feel fear and stress as well as pain, doesn’t mean that humans would care more about them. The growing evidences about fishes’ cognition reveal the extent to which their lives are actually even worse than was previously thought. They don’t provide reasons for optimism. It is extremely depressing to find out just how deep fishes’ internal world is. It reveals once more how horrible this world is, as even more individuals are deprived of their complex needs.

Humans won’t experience an ethical revelation after this scientific “revelation”. The question is how many disappointments from humanity you need to experience before you finally have your revelation?


  1. Fish do feel pain, scientists say
  2. Fish feel pain. Now what?
  3. Fish feel pain study finds
  4. Fish Use a Variety of Sounds to Communicate
  5. Fish intelligence sentience and ethics
  6. Fish Long-term memory
  7. Fish memories last for months say scientists
  8. Fish can multitask
  9. Fish can multitask scientific review finds that fish are both cognitively and behaviorally complex
  10. Studying visual cues in fish behavior: A review of ethological techniques
  11. Mechanisms of social buffering of fear in zebrafish
  12. crabs-feel-pain-expanding-the-circle-sentience-club
  13. crabs-feel-pain-expanding-the-circle-sentience-club
  14. Fish intelligence sentience and ethics
  15. First photo of fish using tools
  16. Fish use problem solving and invent tools
  17. Fish feel pain. Now what?
  18. The Emotional Lives of Crayfish: Stress and Anxiety
  19. Anxiety-like behavior in crayfish is controlled by serotonin

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