Those Pesky Pescatarians

Posted by Lisa Franzetta, ALDF's Director of Communications on February 1, 2011

Many people are otherwise vegetarian, “except for fish”–“pescatarian,” in somewhat-common parlance. Personally, I think it’s unarguably morally inconsistent to be an otherwise-ethical vegetarian and still to consume the bodies of fishes who have, there is no doubt, suffered in their deaths. Our buddy Nemo is certainly a different kind of animal than, say, a dog–but is he, somehow, less of an animal?

What we see is that our law both reflects and reinforces the pervasive attitude–the attitude of many who have, for ethical reasons, even chosen to eschew the flesh of cows, pigs, and chickens–that fish are somehow outside of the basic considerations we offer to other animals. Even many of the pro-vegetarian arguments and campaigns I come across turn to discussions of environmental degradation and species depletion (certainly worthy subjects of concern in their own right) when it comes to fish consumption, rather than focusing on the suffering of these ancient, sentient, underwater beings. It’s pretty easy to imagine that we might seriously be wondering, as a society, if it’s even possible to inflict cruelty upon a fish.

Cue up the video footage of the latest undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals (MFA), showing catfish being skinned alive at a Dallas County fish farm. The video shows workers using pliers to rip the skin off of living, sensate catfish, whose bodies are sliced open and whose heads are ripped off while they still struggle. If you find this video as difficult to watch as I did, you might be asking yourself what the legal implications are in such a situation. According to the Huffington Post,

The most recent scientific evidence strongly suggests that fish feel and process pain much as mammals do. So isn’t this a clear case of cruelty to animals?

Mercy For Animals approached the Dallas County District Attorney’s office with their video to ask just that question. The D.A. refused to file charges, citing the limitations of animal cruelty laws of Texas.

Texas isn’t the only culprit, it turns out. There are no laws in the United States that define cruel treatment of marine life.

In fact, the Animal Welfare Act outright excludes fish (along with birds, rats, mice, and farmed animals) from its definition of an “animal.” Only very infrequently do we see cases where animal cruelty charges are connected to the treatment of fish, as in cases where pet fish are killed within the greater context of domestic violence. (In 2009, a Portland, Ore. man was sentenced to two years of probation after stabbing his ex-girlfriend’s pet betta fish).

Meanwhile, the BBC reported last week that two Scottish men are being charged with cruelty to animals after poisoning more than 6,000 farmed salmon this past August. According to local news reports,

Following an extensive investigation by the Scottish SPCA in relation to an incident at a salmon farm in Shetland, two men have been reported to the procurator fiscal relating to charges under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 for allegedly causing unnecessary suffering and failing to ensure welfare of livestock.

These charges are steps in the right direction–steps towards ALDF’s vision of a world where the law protects the lives and advances the interests of all animals–even the slippery, scaly, fishy-looking ones. Until then, we can all do our part by refusing to engage in behaviors that are predicated on abusive treatment of animals–for me, this includes choosing not to eat my friends, the fish.

Don’t get me wrong–I applaud the decision of anyone to eat fewer animal bodies, whether he or she be a dyed-in-the-wool (so-to-speak) carnivore, or, like the onetime dreamboat “Dirt First” eco-activist crush of Lisa Simpson’s, a “level 5 vegan” (“I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.”). Rather, what I’m suggesting is that when we look at fish on our plates, just like when we look at chicken legs, or lamb, or veal, we remind ourselves that it is in fact the body of a once-living animal that we’re regarding. The law, once pushed to recognize that fish, too, can be the victims of human cruelty in the course of their slaughter, will provide crucial support in this cognitive enterprise.


15 thoughts on “Those Pesky Pescatarians

  1. Kelly says:

    So a man can be punished for stabbing one fish, but a farm that skins them alive everyday is not? That’s ridiculous.

  2. think i can attempt to answer that kelly,… the current laws required for protecting animal’s rights are unfortunately ex nihilo,.. out of nothingness per se and sadly not out of anything previous to build on in history that has to do with animals themselves. The current attempts to give them rights are built on whatever laws are in place currently to protect humans or property. That guy was put on probation for damaging the woman’s property more or less. The fisherman for hire owns the fish and can do whatever he wants with it,.. unless perhaps a petition is created to show that thousands of humans suffer at the sight of it. There is nothing that the fish can say,.. and it doesn’t take experiments with Morphine in some fish and not in others to see they flip and wriggle in pain when tortured to death. At least the worker could have the decency – if it has to be done at all – to give it an instant death by whacking the fish over the head for an instant death and giving it 5 minutes to swim in a big tub of water dead until the nerves die. It’s horrendous. All we can do is make petitions and youtube clips or documentary films that get out there and educate. Especially for children to be able to make choices in my opinion.

    http://www.care2.com/aboutus/partnerships.html

    Poignant article ALDF, Dirt First members unite!

  3. Kjnightwolf says:

    im still confused on one thing. an alligator deathrolls an antelope.an extremely painful death.there are animals who eat others alive.I hate cruelty and other things but in the animal kingdom(yes we are animals too) nothing dies painlessly(or very few) and besides how the government works ,it is hard not to eat fish and or other things because its so damned expensive to keep up the lifestyle of not eating any meat at all especially at my age where a job is out of the question. People say that “eating meat is wrong” but dammit most animals that do are just as ruthless as we are. thats just survival.We do however have idiots that torture them before actually killing them for sustinance.they should be targetted

  4. Melissa says:

    Stop spreading vegetarian nonsense and actually do something to help living animals for once. Sticking your head in the sand in regards to human nature? Waste of time. Promiting the use of humane dispatching techniques and proper rearing methods? That actually gives these animals a reasonable exsistence, and that’s more often than not, better than what nature sets them up for. So what more can you ask for?
    And if that’s not enough, it’s just flat out stupid to ask a being biologically programmed to consume a food to just ‘stop’. It may work for some people but -not for others- and vegetarians always ignore this stone fact. STOP IT. You’re ruining people AND animals lives by adopting useless methods.

  5. kjnightwolf says:

    and to add onto that, there are people who believe plants have souls too. Hell why not starve then? yall never talk about plants as much as the others do but darnit it will get that way eventually. You want to protect your friends ?stop eating altogether.

  6. Debbie says:

    I worked with a woman a few years ago who called herself a vegan but who ate fish. She was, in my mind, a hypocrite who was caught up in the “trendiness” of veganism but who really didn’t understand the ethics or the lifestyle. She, of course, also wore leather. And it wasn’t because she was “slow,” either. She was a lawyer.

  7. Susan says:

    What is the purpose of cleaning the fish alive ???? In the video the main guy tells the other guy to clean it alive. For what reason???

  8. Karen Beliveau says:

    A very good question,for what reason are they skinned alive?
    I grew up in the country and my father always went trout fishing in the spring and summer.
    As children we watched him ‘clean’ the trout, but they were NEVER still alive!

  9. Lisamarie says:

    Truly carnivorous animals-like alligators, tigers, sharks, bear, etc are DESIGNED to eat meat and have to for their survival, hence their claws for subduing prey and their canines for ripping and swallowing their food(NOT chewing).
    We humans, on the other hand, are NOT CARNIVORES, no matter how much you may want to think so! We do NOT have the God-given NATURAL tools to take down prey-we have to use man-made murder weapons to do this. Also, carnivores, as I stated above, do NOT chew their food-they just rip and swallow-we can NOT do this.
    Like it or not, humans are natural HERBivores, and for those who eat animals the true, correct term is CARNIST.
    Animals do NOT exist just for US to use and treat like we want anymore than blacks were made for whites, as in the times of human slavery. Just because they are a different species does NOT mean they should be denied of ANY right to life anymore than we are-they have familes whom they love and want to be with just like we do!
    So yes, Melissa-I agree with you-let’s DO something for living animals.
    STOP EXPLOITING EATING THEM!!

  10. Apologetic Meateater says:

    Just figured I would throw in my .02. I am a meat eater, raised as a vegetarian till my parents switched us over because our iron count was too low. This of course was back in the day when avoiding meat actually meant eating vegetables, not processed soy, shaped and flavored to be like meat. I won’t pretend to be in the “right” here, however my wife is a so called pescatarian hypocrite. I do make fun of her for this inconsistency ( joking ), however I also respect her for at least doing the best she can. I too love animals, and think that any cruelty should be punished. I will also say that I cried when I had to “put down” my 12 inch Oscar fish as it was suffering and dieing ( yes a 33 year old man can cry when he kills a fish ).

    Personally I see a couple of issues :

    1, The Earth is overpopulated and the true problem is consumption : Pollution, global warming, deforestation, territorial war. I am sorry, but these are bigger issues than this poor catfish ( which personally I think anyone who could be this cruel probably belongs in a mental hospital, not a prison ). These posts tend to leave out the mass destruction of rain forests to support the growing cash crop of soybeans. Do we even have the capacity to support a world of vegetarians? And yes I know the average consumption of a cow is ridiculous, but I can’t digest grass… Maybe we should be fighting for human sterilization. Most would argue it is every one’s right to bear children. I would argue I likely eat less meat than most who decide to have a family do. Shall we consider our increasing encroachment on wildlife habitats? If you are a “pure” vegetarian and have 2 kids ( even if they too are vegetarians ) you are doing more damage to this world than I am…

    2, This issue is clouded by a “line” : As a previous poster mentioned, is killing a plant just as bad? What can we eat? Is it about cruelty in life, or just eating flesh at all? What about if we waited till the cow died of natural causes and then we ate it? Shall we make cattle extinct as we use previous cattle farms for soy production, that doesn’t seem very pro-animal rights. I applaud the author for seeing the middle ground. Comments chastising those who choose to make a step in the right direction is a great way to make people not take that step at all. Lets not get caught in the typical “The perfect is the enemy of the good” here. We can all do better, but no one is perfect.

  11. DEanna says:

    How about EVERYONE become a vegetarian and quit promoted the death of any living thing for food and ESPECIALLY for $$$$$..The fruits and vegetables can be your meat!!!

  12. Heather says:

    To EVERYONE who has said “well animals eat other animals, why can’t we, its just the way it works”: OTHER ANIMALS HAVE TO EAT OTHER ANIMALS TO SURVIVE AND EVERYTHING IS EATEN! Thats right, from the skin, to the liver, to the intestines, what the lion doesn’t eat, it is let for the hyenas, which is then left for the vultures, etc… Also, animals have to hunt for their prey. They have to do so to survive. They don’t sit in some 4×4 deer stand, 50 ft. up a tree shooting at them with sniper rifles. They don’t participate in unnecessary and inhumane slaughter and the animals that they eat are not raised in cages too small for 1, yet alone 100.
    And I am a part time student/worker. I am a vegetarian. It is VERY affordable. I have been a vegetarian sense the age of 12. You don’t NEED to buy the expensive boca products. Just learn how to spice up pasta, live off pbjs when your to broke to afford expensive taste, read your labels, develop new habits, and most importantly, take your vitamins! They cost like 10 bucks for a years supply.

  13. unapologetic vegan says:

    Wow no. 10, way to wave that moron banner proudly.

    The world ain’t overpopulated, its resources are misused. It takes more calories to raise a cow, a pig, a goat, etc. than we humans get from eating its flesh.

    What crazy jibberish is this, your defense of meat-eating is to cite some folks that say plants are alive. They sure are. But sentient? No.

    “We can all do better, but no one is perfect.”

    Clearly. And clearly there are some bottlenecks in the vegetarian and vegan’s quest when morons don’t know how to balance a diet properly with a multivitamin or eat some beans and spinach.

    Thanks to all you sane commenters. Reminds me why I’m vegan and thankful to groups like this, I don’t have to patience to wade through idiocy.

  14. Moronic Apologetic Meateater says:

    #13, thanks for not actually reading my post as it just furthers my
    point. Read it again and pay closer attention this time. Specifically
    phrases such as : “I won’t pretend to be in the ‘right’ here”. I assumed writing it as “Apologetic
    Meateater” would show that I in fact am not actually defending meat
    eating. Let my try to make my point a bit more concise for you as you
    obviously didn’t get it. I am only defending those who take a step in
    the right direction, who instead of being applauded for their actions
    are told they are not doing enough. What bugs me about some of these
    posts (and vegans like 13) is the total self-righteousness. Those of
    you who see this issue strictly in black and white terms are most
    likely fooling yourselves, and quite frankly not really furthering your
    cause. Unless you are living in a cave and eating only out of your
    garden you are doing damage too. Maybe not directly by killing an
    animal, but indirectly by the food that is shipped to you from large
    scale farming, the car you drive, the outlet you plugged your computer
    into while writing this post. All of this hurts our world, and in turn
    the animals in it. If you are getting all of your food from a local
    farm, that you walk to, then good for you, maybe you are perfect.
    Again, I am not trying to say you are doing anything wrong, quite the
    opposite, you are far better than I, bravo for making the choice. Just
    don’t pretend that you are doing just enough, and anything less makes
    you an idiot. #13 I will say I am impressed that you can call me a
    moron multiple times while concurrently use the word “ain’t” in a sentence.
    You didn’t actually counter any of my points, choosing instead to just
    insult me and my parents. (As an aside, my parents did feed us beans, and spinach, we also took our vitamins but our iron count was still bordering on anemic.)
    The only point you did make was one I already acknowledged with “yes I know the average consumption of a cow
    is ridiculous”. Have you actually done any research on the benefits of
    vegetarianism or did you just make the choice so you could feel
    superior to others? I actually know the counters to my points, and
    they are many. Luckily my main point is to not look down on those who
    are taking steps in the right direction. Your tone and language are
    EXACTLY what hurts your movement.

  15. Pressiana says:

    THIS IS HORRIBLE! i do not eat ANY animals. people who call themselves vegetarian should not eat fish. fish is treated just as cruel as farm animals….

Be a Partner in Protection!

Donate monthly to help animals.

or make a one-time gift »

Stay Connected

Sign up for Action Alerts.


Join Us

Follow ALDF on these networks:

Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest

Stay Connected

Sign up for Action Alerts.