top of page

Voiceless Pain

“Pain”, - something we all know about, - and most of us would like to avoid it. But how about the voiceless, - do they also feel pain ?

In this Editorial, we will compare studies, examining how "fish feel", how our industry tackles this issue, and also how we as consumers can make a difference.

Photo by Carl Findahl

At first : Do fish feel anything ?

Though out history, mankind has believed that creatures without voices, or, with voices so weak for the human ear to capture the vibrations, did not have the ability to feel anything… But this assumption, which still today dominates our consciousness about the voiceless beings, - is far from the reality !

The voiceless do also feel “pain”… But how do they feel this pain exactly - like we do ? Here comes the tricky part. What is “pain” ? A very existentialistic question. Do humans feel pain equally ? Can pain be compared ?
Photo by Jakob Owens

And the answer is far from simple… But to keep it short : Most Scientists researching “pain”, agrees on at least one thing : “Pain is individual for all beings”. I may not feel pain the same way as You do, but both of us agrees upon it hurting. The same can be said when it comes to fish and other ocean beings.

An organization called “Fish Feel” has devoted themselves to promote the recognition of fish as “sentient beings deserving respect and compassion.” This organization has made it easy to “understand the feelings”, that of an fish.

They explain :

“Fish have nerve receptors, similar to those found in amphibians, birds, and mammals, which detect painful events. In one experiment, twenty-three pain receptors were found on the face of rainbow trout.

Russian scientists discovered, in various types of fish, that the most sensitive areas to pain were the tail and pectoral fins, skin around the eye, and olfactory sacs. Their pain sensitivity is similar to ours.

When suffering harm, signals are sent to the spinal cord and brain.”

If You are interested in getting to know more - follow the link below !

So one thing is certain - Fish do “feel”.

Moving on to the next question : When having this knowledge - how does our industry tackle this issue ? has crafted some articles about fish feeling pain - and they bring another perspective into consideration…

Photo by Colin Czerwinski

“Do fish feel conscious pain?”

Consciousness is now also in the picture - is pain the same, with or without consciousness - and how do we define consciousness ?

One of the articles by Seafood Source called “Do fish feel Pain ?” (link below) chooses to discuss the topic.

Photo by David Clode

A lot of evidence to prove fish as sentient and conscious beings does serve in the article, like for instance :

“Balcombe stressed this test's significance in proving that fish are conscious and feel pain. He told SeafoodSource, “Fishes who were injected with something potentially painful (acid) left the safety of their home tank to go to a place they normally avoid (a barren chamber with nowhere to hide) where the scientists had dripped a painkiller (lidocaine).”

Yet, at the end of the article, an argument suggesting fish as being unconscious is set : “But in his study, Rose highlighted research showing that animals whose brains and cortex were removed demonstrated emotional responses similar to those shown by the fish in Sneddon's experiments. These emotions are “unconscious...behavioral, hormonal, and neural responses to positive or aversive stimuli or situations.”

With an “open ending” suggesting the debate on fish pain being far from over - we are left with quite a lot “pros and cons” on fish feelings. But the question on how our industry tackles our knowledge on fish feeling pain still remains …

Photo by Jacek Dylag

And now it get´s interesting…

To put it on the table - in comparison to how we commercially (generally speaking) treat our land animals for consumption - the industry does not tackle fish pain at all. But because the publics general knowledge is growing, - change is on the way… Moving slow.

In aquaculture, guidelines for fish welfare has been established, - but the fishing industry fairly still remains.

Roughly :

When a fishing vessel catches fish in the ocean, most of the fish die from suffocation - and others, - when deep sea fishing, the organs of the animals explode on the way to shallow water… This is just two examples of comercial catch methods when fishing.

A video example of this can be found following the link below :

Another example is the classic “shark finning industry” where sharks are caught and “finned” (cutting off the shark fins). Many of the sharks are still alive meanwhile they are finned and thereafter thrown overboard.

Some of these sharks, actually die from suffocation before blodloss, because they need to swim and push water though their gills, in order for them to breath.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually…

A video of shark finning can be found by following the link below.

(CAUTION - graphic content)

This is but a glimpse of the processing before it reaches the consumer…

- So what can we do ?

Of cause - as mentioned in an earlier editorial, (Sustainable Seafood) it is very important that we as consumers make decisions, since we in the end control the market, and therefore the future.

To go a bit deeper :

There are a lot of choices we can make as consumers to avoid unnecessary pain on fish and other voiceless beings…

Just a few exampels :

New Zealand and Switzerland has banned the practice of boiling lobsters alive. A process believed to be the safest way to avoid severe food poisoning. Though - Your nose never fails, and by smelling Your seafood, You will easily be able to tell if You should avoid consuming it. Therefore the practicing of boiling lobsters alive is actually unnecessary…

Here is a video on Lobster “Feelings”, Boiling, as well as the history :

Photo by Matteo Raimondi

Another example is Octopuses and Squids (Cephalopods) in cuisine…

There are many traditions, eating living octopuses and squids. Cephalopods has the ability to keep water in their mantle (the upper part of the body). This gives them a reversed scuba diving equipment, that allows them to store enough water (with oxygen) for them to survive out of water for some time.

This is normally extremely practical for the Cephalopods… Yet - this also gives many chefs around the world, a lot of different options for serving living octopuses and squids, - as well as many common old traditions in private homes.

Photo by Alex Knight

Cephalopods are proven extremely intelligent beings. There are even books about Cephalopods intelligence … But unfortunately Cephalopods lack voices.

In the videos below, living Cephalopods are prepared to be served.

Photo by Owen Beard

These are but few exampels on what we as consumers can avoid directly, by not supporting this type of cuisine. - If we as consumers do avoid this sort of cuisine, and if possible try to learn a bit more about what we consume before we do, we are able to contribute as consumers, for a shift of mentality, and act as voices, for those who have non, but still do "feel pain".

By Blue Reporter, Naja Bertolt Jensen


bottom of page