Have you ever thought about how fish feel?
Personally, before being involved in a research project on the welfare of fish, I wasn’t really concerned about their emotions. But that changed, and I will tell you why.
Let me talk you through the procedure of how herring is fished and what a single fish endures during this process:
Imagine being a single herring, part of a huge school, thousands of fish are roaming through the ocean with you. Suddenly you hit a wall of netting, not passable for you or any fish part of your group. You turn together to find a way around it just to find out that you are surrounded by hundreds of meters of net. After a while you realize that the space in the net is becoming less. This continues until you’re crowded together with all the other fish. You get pushed into the net and lose scales and get scratches. You feel that the oxygen in the water around you is disappearing because of the little space and you start to swim faster, trying to escape that situation. This just leads to a higher need for oxygen and you realize that you quickly used all the oxygen available to you. Then you hear a loud noise and fish start disappearing in front of you. They are being sucked into a black tube. This is also your fate and you get lifted up outside the water. Inside the tube you’re getting shaken and pushed around. Your losing more scales and there is no water around you anymore to breathe. Then you finally end up in water again. But this water is freezing cold and quickly everything becomes dark around you and you stop feeling.
You are now inside a tank onboard of a fishing vessel. That does not sound like a nice experience, does it?
Obviously, the fish are being caught for human consumption and worrying about their wellbeing might seem rather counterintuitive. The welfare of fish is only recently being considered an important factor of a sustainable fishery. Creating a more humane way of exploiting the worlds fish stocks is only one of the reasons. The main incentive is to save the fish that are actually not being caught. Some fish are released by opening the net after they endured all the stressors up until being landed using a fish pump. These stressors are usually severe enough to cause them to die, which goes unnoticed by the fishermen, which think they are releasing healthy fish. This way hundreds of tons of fish are being taken from the ecosystems without being used.
That is why, the fish’s welfare is important, and everyone should spare a thought about how fish actually feel. Fish wellbeing and how fish behaviour changes when exposed to stress is a relative novel field of research, trying to help create a more sustainable and humane fishery for future generations.