When we think about animal abuse and environmental destruction on factory farms, we think about cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, but we often don’t think about fish. However, fish are abused just as awfully as land animals and fishing is destroying our planet just as quickly as factory farms are.
Aquacultures (Fish Farms)
Aquacultures are essentially underwater factory farms. The fish are over-crowded into tanks fully of filthy water (pools full of of fish feces, hormone and antibiotic-laden fish feed, and diseased fish carcasses) and fed a diet that consists of corn, soy, antibiotics, and hormones. Because of the extremely cramped conditions, cannibalism is common.
From the book Eating Animals:
The Handbook of Salmon Farming, details six “key stressors in the aquaculture environment”: water quality, crowding, handling, disturbance, nutrition, and hierarchy. To translate into plain language, those six sources of suffering for salmon are: (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals begin to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; (5) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (6) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalization. These problems are typical. The handbook calls them “integral components of fish farming.”
In the filthy tank water, sea lice thrive. These lice attack and feed on the fish, creating painful open wounds and sometimes even eating down to the bone on a fish’s face. This is so common that it has a name: “the death crown.” Salmon farms generates sea lice in numbers 30,000 times higher than naturally occur.
The fish that manage to survive the fish farms (a 10 – 30% death rate is seen as good by the salmon industry), are starved for 7-10 days prior to slaughter, to diminish their bodily waste. They are then killed by having their gills sliced off and being tossed aside to bleed to death. The fish convulse, in no doubt what is pain.
For more about fish farms, read my previous post here.
So, with fish farming being just as bad as factory farming, are wild-caught fish a better alternative?
The most common ways of fishing are longline fishing, trawling, and purse seines. Longlines are heavy fishing lines, covered in hooks, that can stretch as far as 75 miles. Hundreds of these lines can be deployed by a single boat and there are thousands of boats in commercial fleets. An estimated 27 million hooks are deployed every day.
But longlines don’t just kill their target species (like tuna or salmon). One study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch in longline fishing every year, including 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles (including many endangered species), 75,000 gulls and sea birds, and 20,000 dolphins and whales.
And this doesn’t even come close to comparing to the bycatch deaths caused by trawling. As the trawl is pulled along the ocean bottom, it not only sweeps shrimp, but also everything else in its path into a funnel-shaped net. It doesn’t matter what ends up in the net – fish, sharks, rays, crabs, squid, turtles – all will die. The average trawling operation throws 80-90% of the animals is catches back into the ocean, dead. The least efficient operations actually throw more than 98% of their catch, dead, overboard.
We are literally destroying the diversity, vibrancy, and entire ecosystem of the ocean. It’s like clear-cutting a forrest with thousands of species in it to create a massive field. One quarter of the world’s fisheries are already classified as over-fished or depleted, and the rest are being fished harder than ever. It is predicted that the remaining commercial fish species will be exhausted by 2050, meaning no more wild fish, at all.
For every 10 tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans 50-100 years ago, only one remains today. Second only to climate change, overfishing is our biggest sustainability problem. On a daily basis, we remove tons of life from beneath the waves, in shockingly destructive ways. Bottom trawlers with giant nets rake the ocean floor, decimating coral reefs and scooping up all animals that are in the way. If the ocean ecosystem dies, the O2/CO2 balance in the atmosphere gets all out of whack and then we’re really screwed.
Longlines and trawling aren’t just ecologically devastating, they are also cruel. In trawlers, hundreds of different animals are dragged for hours, crushed together, bashed against corals and rocks, and then pulled from the water, causing painful decompression (the decompression sometimes causes the animals’ eyes to pop out or their internal organs to come out of their mouths). On longlines, the animals face a slow death. Some live on the line until they are pulled up and killed, some die from the injury caused by the hook, and some are held captive as they are attacked by predators.
Purse seines are net walls dropped around a school of fish, and any other creatures in the vicinity, then the bottom of the net is tightened and pulled onto the deck. Fish tangled in the net are pulled apart, but most of the animals die on the deck, where they slowly suffocate, or have their gills cut off while conscious and are left to bleed to death. Sometimes the fish are tossed onto ice, to keep them “fresh,” which actually prolongs their death. According to a study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, fish die slowly and painfully over a period as long as 14 minutes when tossed into ice.
Although one can realistically expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.
– Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
What would it take to convince you not to eat fish? Would you still choose to eat fish if the label told you how many sea-lice lesions were on the body prior to slaughter? What if it told you that the fish’s eyes were bleeding from the pollution in the factory farm water? Or if it listed that for the 1 pound of shrimp you’re buying, 9 pounds of rays, sharks, or even dolphins were killed? Or that the boat that caught your fish is contributing to the complete and total decimation of the ocean ecosystem? Are sushi, tuna, or salmon really that important to you?
Breakfast: Smoothie with mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) and banana
Lunch: Vermicelli noodle bowl with tofu and veggies from the Vietnamese restaurant by my office
Dinner: Quick & easy chili (even though it was 107 degrees here today): pinto beans, black beans, crushed tomatoes, green chilies, onion, jalapeno, chili powder