Human Cruelty Towards Animals -- Even
Fish -- Shouldn't Be Joked About
January 4, 2002
Continuing what seems to be developing
into a Friday night habit, I'll turn from examining the myriad ways in which
humans inflict unspeakable horrors on each other, to the related, equally
grim subject of human violence against animals. (With a cheerful opening
paragraph like that, I'm not sure even I would want to continue
reading. But for those intrepid souls with boundless compassion in
their hearts...read on:)
I've wanted to comment on this
one-paragraph Reuters item
ever since I saw it:
FINLAND: A TRUE FISH
STORY A fishmonger was fined almost $200 by a Helsinki court for
allowing his fish to suffer while on sale at a local market, the
Kauppalehti newspaper reported. A veterinarian took Magnus Ekstrom to
court, complaining that his burbots were moving their gills and wiggling
around on the shop counter, suffering from unnecessary pain. Mr. Ekstrom
whacked his fish to prove they were dead, but when the fish continued to
flop around the veterinarian called the police, who arrived with wailing
sirens, the newspaper said. "I think I am the only fisherman in
Europe, no, in the entire world, that has been convicted with a thing like
this," Mr. Ekstrom said. (Reuters)
I was struck by the somewhat
tongue-in-cheek tone of the writing. How silly, those Finns worrying
about a fish flopping on a fishmonger's counter!
A bit of personal history: I
went fishing only once. This was in my teens, long before I became a
vegan, indeed at a time when I thought vegetarians were idiots. But
once turned out to be quite enough.
On that fishing trip, I first
knew I wasn't going to be a master angler when I couldn't bring myself to
put the worm on the hook. (Okay, while it's true that had I been holding the
worm I wouldn't have been able to impale it on the metal barb, to be honest,
I didn't even want to pick up the yucky worm!)
Another guy on the boat put
the worm on the hook after I made some excuse about not knowing the correct
way to do so. During the day of fishing, no fish bit at my bait.
But others I was with did catch some trout, I think it was. And that's
when I first saw up close a fish with a hook in its mouth, and realized how
cruel that was. I never doubted that the fish could feel the pain from
being cut like that.
After my friends would catch
a fish, they would put it in a pail of water. I believe that was so
the fish would stay alive, and fresh, until slaughtering time.
However, I noticed that other fishermen around us would leave their fish
flopping around in their boats. Again, no great animal rights activist
at the time was I, but still, I couldn't help thinking that the fish were
suffering terribly, a seemingly slow death by suffocation.
Which brings us to Mr.
Ekstrom, the Finnish fishmonger. That's exactly what was happening to
his fish, they were flopping around, suffocating, and a veterinarian
confronted Ekstrom. After Ekstrom somewhat ludicrously claimed that
the fish were actually dead, the vet called the police, took Ekstrom to
court, and prevailed. The Helsinki judge fined Ekstrom nearly $200.
Ekstrom's punishment is fully
Scientific reports from
around the world substantiate the fact that fish feel pain... Hooked fish
struggle out of fear and physical pain. Once fish are brought out of their
environment and into ours, they begin to suffocate. Often their gills
collapse and the swim bladder can rupture due to the sudden change in
pressure on their bodies.
Is it really true that while
in the United States, elephant trainers can get away with drawing blood
from their animals by jabbing them with metal hooks, in Finland fish are
I don't know whether this
case was a fluke, or whether Finland really does have laws prohibiting
cruelty against animals which are both applicable to fish and generally
But there should be
such statutes everywhere. Inflicting pain on sentient creatures -- of
any type -- is wrong, period.