It always intrigues me when people ask this particular question. Is fish not flesh? That being said, I do understand how fish can be perceived differently than eating cows, goats, pigs or chickens. Seafood is different from the usual form of meat, far less substantial and much lighter overall. Plus, are fish really all that sentient? Aren’t crustaceans, for example, just like big insects?
I personally don’t eat fish for two main reasons: I do feel that sea creatures are sentient, and I am opposed to the havoc wrought on the environment by fishing, which is destroying the oceans and all the sea life that inhabits them.
Growing up, I used to love when my father would bring home lobster. Not only was it delicious, but the celebratory atmosphere that accompanied eating it was lovely, a rare and blithe occasion. I remember the first time I saw him put a lobster into a pot of boiling water; I was young, about seven or eight. As I watched, I felt a jolt of sadness for the creature – with my vivid childlike imagination I envisioned being the unfortunate sea animal. How it must feel to die in a pot of boiling water like that. My father said they died quickly, but that still didn’t mean it wasn’t an unpleasant experience for the dying crustacean. I continued to eat lobster, but I never again watched him put them in the pot (and refused to learn how to cook it myself).
Some people attest that fish most likely do not feel pain, so there is really no footing from a humane standpoint. However, that is a belief we have been designed to uphold as a result of the ideology of our culture, as well as a lack of information. The evidence opposing this viewpoint is accumulating; there have been numerous studies conducted that readily illustrate that fish do, in fact, feel pain. Fish also demonstrate an aptitude for learning, as well as the ability to cooperate with others of their kind (as demonstrated by shoaling and schooling). For me, it is infeasible to view these animals as non-feeling, mindless creatures.
From an environmental aspect, fishing ships are floating horrors. Commercial fishing is accomplished by trawling, where a net roughly the size of a football field is dragged through the ocean (or along the ocean floor in the case of bottom trawling) and then hauled up with the catch. This causes severe damage to aquatic environments such as coral reefs and sponge communities. The boats themselves also kill an abundance of sea life with their rudders alone. Additionally, the trawls also bring up “by-catch” like sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and even sea birds. In some cases the sharks are de-finned and then tossed back in the water to sink and die; the fins are used in establishments that sell shark fin soup. Scientists estimate that the world’s population of seafood will run out by 2048 or 2050.
Yet, beyond those two there is a third reason: the health implications of eating fish. Yes, it’s true – seafood can be harmful to one’s body. While it is known that eating fish does possess some health benefits, there are none that cannot be obtained from a plant-based diet – chia seeds, for example, contain more Omega-3s than salmon, as well as an abundance of other nutrients (hence their classification as a “super food”). Additionally, farmed fish are full of antibiotics and pesticides, just as farmed land animals are. They are also detrimental to the environment; farmed fish that have escaped will breed with the wild fish and disturb the natural gene pool. Fish also contain mercury; although it is advised that this is fine in moderation, it is not recommended (in any amount) for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under the age of six, anyone whose immunities are sensitive to metals or those with impaired kidney function. Why eat something at all if it is not good for everyone – at any stage of life and level of health?
Thus, when faced with this kind of information, I no longer maintain a desire to eat fish based solely on the fact that I liked doing so. Yes, I do at times miss it; as much as I love an avocado roll, I know just how delicious a shrimp tempura roll is. It’s just that I value the animals, my body and the environment far too much to ignore my beliefs towards them – especially for a few brief moments of merely selfish enjoyment.