Should You Stop Eating Fish?


When people decide to give up meat, they often exclude fish. I was no exception, as I initially went pescetarian rather than fully vegetarian.

It’s hard to explain why many of us view fish as separate to meat. From an ethical point of view, some people don’t believe fish feel pain. Others find it harder to empathise with fish than with mammals because they seem so different from us.

I suspect the latter applied in my case – I did feel bad about eating fish, but less so than about other animals. I was still a teenager living at home, and anxious not to make my mum’s life too difficult. That helped me to suppress the guilt .

But it turns out, there are some very good reasons to stop eating fish as well as meat. Let’s take a look at them.

stop eating fish


Though I’m passionate about animal rights, I think sustainability is the most important issue when it comes to fish. Three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are already overexploited or depleted. And some scientists predict we may see empty oceans by 2048 if nothing is done.

This is because commercial fishing methods are highly destructive. Trawling, for example, involves dragging huge nets across the ocean floor, scooping up virtually everything in their path.

Another issue is that many of the marine animals caught are discarded. This happens because they aren’t the target species, and so have little commercial value. It’s not just fish we’re talking about here – some other animals like turtles and dolphins are accidentally caught too. In fact, up to 40% of marine animals caught may be discarded as bycatch. When we buy fish, this is what we support.

Farmed fish is no better. It takes 4.5 kg of small ocean fish to produce a single kilogram of farmed fish feed. When fish are kept in pens in the ocean, their waste can destroy coastal habitats. Confined conditions in these pens lead to the spread of diseases, along with parasites like sea lice. Diseased fish can then escape and pass on their ailments to wild fish,  thus threatening indigenous breeds.

The bottom line is that there is no longer any such thing as sustainable fishing. Watch Bite Size Vegan’s ‘Empty Oceans’ video for more detail on this topic.


What about the animal rights side of the argument? Because of differences between mammalian and fish brains, some scientists have argued that fish are incapable of feeling pain. However, many other scientists dispute this. Experiments where scientists injected fish in the lips with venom and acid showed that they did have adverse reactions. The fish rocked back and forwards in a similar way to stressed mammals. They also rubbed their lips against their tanks, and didn’t eat again for three times as long as the control group. The researchers concluded that this evidence was sufficient to establish that fish do feel pain.

Consider how painful it must be to have your lip punctured by a hook. Even when fish are thrown back into the water, they are sure to suffer. They may even die from their injuries.

What about fish caught in nets? They usually suffocate or are crushed to death. It’s hard to imagine that this could be a pain-free experience.

To me, it seems pretty obvious that fish do feel pain. Pain warns us we’re in danger so we can move away from it. From an evolutionary standpoint, it just wouldn’t seem to make sense if fish didn’t feel pain.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say they don’t. Does that make it ok to kill, crush, impale and suffocate them? As some wise friends of mine once pointed out, you can suffer without feeling pain. We all suffer when our quality of life declines and we can’t do the things we normally enjoy. Anyone who’s seen a fish writhing and gasping as it slowly suffocates would be hard-pressed to argue that fish don’t suffer. If we can live happily and healthily without killing or harming other creatures, why would we ever choose otherwise? I think fish are beautiful, and can’t ever imagine wanting to harm one.


But don’t we need fish to be healthy?

Many people are concerned about whether they’ll get enough Omega-3 fatty acids if they give up fish. Since there are millions of healthy vegetarians and vegans in the world, it’s clearly possible to get enough Omega-3 from plants. But how? There are many plant sources of Omega-3. Some of the best are flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and dark leafy greens. Just a single tablespoon of flax seeds will enable you to meet your RDA for Omega-3.

You can also take algae-based supplements. Fish get their Omega-3 from algae, after all!

Watch this video to hear Dr Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org talk about Omega-3 on a vegan diet.

It’s also worth noting that the Omega-3 in fish comes packaged with some undesirable things. Some types of fish are high in saturated fat, and all fish contains dietary cholesterol. Contrary to some claims made online, these significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease.

As pointed out by Dr Garth Davis in his book ‘Proteinaholic’, animal protein can negatively impact our health in ways that plant protein does not. For example, it puts a lot of strain on our kidneys. This is particularly true of some fish such as tuna.

Also, our oceans are becoming increasingly polluted with heavy metals, as well as toxins like PCBs. These concentrate they move up the food chain, accumulating in the tissues of the fish we eat. When we eat fish, the toxins concentrate in our own flesh, potentially causing health problems. This is why we tell pregnant women to limit their consumption of some types of fish.

Finally, the islanders of Okinawa used to have the longest life expectancy in the whole of Japan. They also had fewer chronic diseases than other Japanese people. Only 1% of their diet at that time came from fish, and less than 1% from meat. So you definitely don’t need fish to be healthy.

I hope this post has inspired you to take fish off the menu! Leave any comments or questions below.


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5 comments / Add your comment below

    1. Apparently I can’t add the reblog button because my site is self-hosted 🙁 sorry about that, how annoying!

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