Easter is a time for celebrating rebirth and new beginnings. But what if we could do more than celebrate for one day? What if we could each make one simple change that would help revitalise our planet? All we would have to do is leave fish off our plates.
Although animals who spend their days in the briny depths may be less well known to us than their land-dwelling counterparts, they are no less fascinating. They're social and enjoy the companionship of their friends, showing affection by gently rubbing against each other and grieving when their companions die. They cooperate to achieve goals, and some behavioural ecologists point to fish as having one of the most complex social systems in the animal kingdom.
Fish are also intelligent animals who play, use tools and learn through trial and error. Some engage in Machiavellian strategies to manipulate and outwit predators. And in areas such as memory, their cognitive powers can match or exceed those of non-human primates. It is in part because of these fascinating characteristics that Dr Sylvia Earle, one of the world's leading marine biologists, says she would no more eat a grouper than she would a cocker spaniel.
We do fish a grave disservice by dismissing their unique characteristics, and this serves only to bring about a travesty: we ignore their suffering. Since they have the same kind of nervous system that other vertebrates have and the same response to pain stimuli, there's no doubt that fish experience pain. They also remember pain and will attempt to avoid situations that have hurt them in the past. But because these sensitive beings cannot scream, humans interpret their silence as a lack of feeling and consequently inflict horrendous suffering on them.
And they do indeed suffer: fish are dragged out of the ocean in huge nets, which crush them together with netted debris, damaging their sensitive fins and scales, and finally are hauled on board, where they may undergo excruciating decompression, their eyes literally popping out of their faces. The survivors slowly suffocate and are either hacked apart while they're still conscious or crushed to death by the weight of other animals.
Billions of pounds of "non-target" animals who are also caught in the nets - including dolphins, birds, turtles and sharks - are hauled up alongside fish. They, too, are crushed to death or suffocated or thrown overboard to succumb to their injuries in the water. Altogether, more than 1 trillion fish and other sea animals die at the hands of humans each year. That's about 143 sea animals for every human on Earth.
And the ecological impact goes well beyond so-called "bycatch": as giant fishing nets are dragged along the ocean floor, they tear up whatever stands in their way. Deep-sea trawling is responsible for widespread damage to coral reefs and underwater mountains, and as a result, the ecosystems that depend on these habitats are crumbling.
But while this reckless destruction of the ocean is both cruel and unsustainable, fish farms are no better. About half the fish eaten around the world now come from aquafarms. Crammed into severely crowded tanks or pens, farmed fish sustain countless injuries and endure continuous stress from their intensive confinement. Disease is rampant in these close quarters, and, like hens on battery farms, fish may be forced to live among the decaying bodies of their dead cohorts. Stress, disease and the inability to avoid conflict with other fish lead to death in about 40 per cent of farmed fish before the designated slaughter day even arrives.
Like trawlers' nets, aquafarming is also an ecological disaster. Farmed species such as salmon are fed three times their own bodyweight in wild-caught fish. And fish farms cause rampant pollution - in Scotland, discharge from salmon farms contaminates local waterways, and the resulting nitrogen and phosphorous pollution exceeds that produced by Scotland's entire human population. Fish farms are also breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria - like other farmed animals, fish are fed enormous amounts of antibiotics to keep them alive in horrendous living conditions, and as a result, antibiotic resistance in aquaculture has dramatically increased.
Only one type of "seafood" is good for both animals and the environment: faux fish. Cruelty-free options - like fish-free fish fingers, faux-fish cakes and mock prawns - are delicious, affordable and easy to find.
So this Easter, why not undergo a "rebirth" of your own by saying goodbye to fish for good?Suggest a correction