Wednesday, January 4, 2023

More on Why Not Fish?

I have previously (2016) written about why One Step for Animals does not focus on fish. (Reproduced below.) 

Whenever there is an article about fish and pain, it is forwarded to us by many people. The assumption is that any particular "fish feel pain" article is definitive. 

But of course, any claim of animal pain is going to circulate in the vegan community. However, studies like these don't make the rounds:

Fish do not feel pain and its implications for understanding phenomenal consciousness

This is not to make a factual claim one way or another - just a note that there are arguments "on the other side" [sic] and thus no one should claim absolute certainty. 

OTOH, from this very long discussion of eating animals; note: "We think it is reasonable to say that broiler chickens exist in a state worse than death."

Again: I'm not making a statement about whether fish experience suffering. I'm just pointing out that there are good-faith questions about what creatures have conscious experience. And there are questions as to what extent those experiences matter relative to the suffering of others. This is just one consideration we should keep in mind when deciding how to spend our limited resources.

If I had to pick one lesson I've learned in the past 55 years, it might be to be less certain and more curious.

Why Not Fish? (2016)

We're often asked why One Step for Animals doesn't focus on fish, given that the number of fish killed every year is even higher than chickens. (We are, of course, heartened when people are concerned about numbers, as opposed to only working on things that they personally find most compelling; e.g., cute mammals).

There are several factors that have led us to not focus on fish with our first-line advocacy. Here are some of the factors, in abbreviated form:

  1. Some people focus entirely on numbers, and not the reality behind the numbers. But we don't care about numbers, we care about suffering.

  2. Many if not most "fish" that are killed (just based on numbers) probably aren't sentient / don't suffer (clams, oysters, shrimp).

  3. Most vertebrate fish that are killed are wild fish who would have suffered greatly in their "natural" death if they hadn't been caught. A "natural" death of predation, disease, or starvation, may be worse than a death by suffocation or decapitation. So catching a wild fish doesn't clearly increase the suffering in the world.

  4. Thus, only farmed vertebrate fish might be adding suffering to the world when people choose to eat them.

Chart by Ben Davidow.

  5. The individuals possibly most likely to change their diets - youngish women - don't eat much fish. Elwen says they never saw their high school or college friends eating fish. Always chickens.

The numbers and the suffering are only two of the three factors we must consider. Tractability is also key: will our advocacy actually have an impact? Do we think people will go from a standard omnivorous diet to caring about and ceasing to eat fish? 

At this time, we believe that when advocates start saying things like "people eat 500 fish/ year," we are distracting from where our efforts can, at the margin, have the biggest impact on actually reducing suffering.

And, of course, every time we add something else to our ask ("chicken .. and fish ... and eggs ... and pork ...") we undermine the point of having a single, reasonable, sustainable impactful action.

Our approach isn't based on what is "right" or "consistent" or "popular." We are simply trying to shape our advocacy such that it can have the biggest possible impact in the real world.

1 comment:

Elwen said...

*they never saw their hs or college friends