Fish rights were discussed on one of the most popular talk shows in the US earlier this month.
Ryuji Chua, an animal rights activist also known as Peace By Vegan, appeared on the Daily Show to discuss his documentary How Conscious Can A Fish Be? with host Trevor Noah.
Chua’s documentary explores the evidence that fish are “conscious beings” and challenges the stereotype that they are mindless animals.
In a clip shared on YouTube, Noah described the issue of fish consciousness as a “really interesting conversation.”
He said: “This documentary, in particular, is one where some people are shocked. They say ‘Ryuiji, you’ve gone too far.’”
“You’re saying that fish can be conscious?”
This question prompted a laugh from the audience, and Ryuji then replied: “Growing up, I didn’t think this. Like many people, I grew up thinking that fish were these stupid, unconscious animals that have a three-second memory and can’t feel pain.”
“That would have been fine, forgivable, if I was in like 1703. But today there is a mountain of evidence produced through years of research that suggests that fish feel, think, and suffer, like dogs, cats, and other animals.”
Noah asked Chua about the ethics of eating wild-caught fish, to which he replied: “Fishing causes tremendous suffering to an immeasurable number of fish. And that’s the issue to me. And for me, an issue is an issue when there is someone who suffers.”
“I’m not going to sit here and say I emotionally feel compelled to care about fish in the same way as I do dogs,” Chua continued. “I didn’t grow up around fish. I grew up around dogs.”
He added: “Because they suffer, and their suffering matters to them, that’s why I flag it as an issue.”
Can fish suffer?
As stated by Chua, humans have historically tended to view fish as unconscious and unintelligent animals. But much of what we think about fish has been denounced by experts.
In her book Do Fish Feel Pain?, biologist Victoria Braithwaite said that “there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals.”
Fish have nervous systems which release endorphins that relieve suffering. This has been seen as further proof that they are capable of feeling pain.
There have been a number of studies conducted on fish that appear to demonstrate their ability to feel pain. When a rainbow trout had a painful acid injected into their sensitive lips, they stopped eating, rocked back and forth on the floor of their tank, and rubbed their lips against the tank walls.
Do fish really have three-second memories?
It has also long been claimed that fish have a three-second memory, something that experts in the field have denied.
Culum Brown, an expert in fish cognition at Macquarie University in Australia, previously stated: “We’ve known about the reasonably good memories of goldfish since the ’50s and ’60s… Despite what everybody thinks, they’re actually really intelligent.”
He believes that guilt is one of the reasons why the three-second memory myth persists, given that it’s so common for them to be kept as pets in small tanks.
How Conscious Can A Fish Be is available to watch now on Peace By Vegan.