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The War on Fishing

Wesley J. Smith


Animal rights activists don’t want us eating fish or catching them recreationally. Fish may feel pain, don’t you know. Thus fishing is too cruel.

When the usual suspects advocate destroying a trillion dollar industry, it is one thing. But when an outdoors magazine sympathizes, attention must be paid. From “Fish Have Feelings: Does That Mean We Are Torturing Them?” in Outside magazine:

If fish feel pain, then many of us may have to rethink our life choices. We catch and eat nearly a thousand times more fish than terrestrial animals, and fishing practices in much of the world are barbaric. Conventional fishing kills millions of fish unnecessarily and most certainly subjects the animals to pain. “It really can’t be considered humane,” says Mary Finelli of Fish Feel.

Why do some folks abstain from eating land animals but shovel down pounds of cod? Finelli’s not sure. The Humane Society Institute’s Balcombe is equally puzzled by pescatarians who forgo livestock for moral reasons. “There isn’t any justification for eating a fish instead of chicken,” he says.

Like hunters are prime targets of animal rights activists, sport fishermen are now in the target zone.

When it comes to sportfishing, researchers who study fish pain are less understanding. “You’re talking about piercing an animal through the face,” says Balcombe. “Sometimes through the eye. Probably a sensitive part of the body — they need those organs to sense things and find food. Then you reel it in by its weight, and it gets hauled out by its weight if you don’t have a net, then there’s asphyxiation if it’s not put back into the water.”

“It’s not necessarily intentionally cruel, but from the fish’s perspective, it involves pain,” he says. Brown, the Australian researcher, agrees. “I think most people would be horrified of a picture of someone standing triumphantly on top of an elephant. But fishing is no different. You see trophy pictures of fish all the time. It’s just not treated the same way.”

Remember, this is an outdoors magazine. And note, the story does not present a strong “pro-fishing” perspective.

The irony here is rich. Sharks couldn’t care less about the pain of the flounder, the seal, or the bitten human swimmer, for that matter.

Yet, animal rights activists deny human exceptionalism. Then they turn around and promote the idea that only we are not allowed to cause suffering in any way to fauna, no matter how much that might harm human thriving.

The issue of our moral obligations toward animals, as unique and exceptional humans, is important. But increasingly in the popular media, the arguments against eating meat, hunting, fishing, and all animal husbandry are all going in one direction.

Photo credit: Ramirez, Pedro, Jr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Cross-posted at The Corner.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.