We assumed fish didn’t care about each other. We were wrong.

Researchers have long thought fish were heartless and cold, incapable of the relationships mammals cultivate, but new research among fish in coral reefs suggests fish can work in long-term paired relationships.

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    A diver snorkels in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s Queensland state. Rabbitfishes from a coral reef have just been found to exhibit reciprocal cooperation, meaning they are the first fish known to take care of each other.
    Fish living in the vast network of coral reefs near Australia are already known to moviegoers for their devotion, thanks to the loving clownfish father-and-son pair in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.”

But in reality, marine researchers have long thought fish were a bit cold and self-centered. A recent study published Friday indicates that their temperament is warming by a few degrees.

Clownfish like Marlin and Nemo do have a symbiotic relationship with anemones, according to PBS, but another inhabitant of the coral reef – the rabbitfish – shows the first-observed signs of what researchers call reciprocal cooperation. This means one fish helps another, and the effort, no matter how small, is somehow returned.

Marine population halved since 1970 – report


Northern bluefin tuna. File photoImage copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The report analysed more than 1,200 species of marine creatures in the past 45 years

Populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 49% since 1970, a report says.

The study says some species people rely on for food are faring even worse, noting a 74% drop in the populations of tuna and mackerel.

In addition to human activity such as overfishing, the report also says climate change is having an impact.

The document was prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London.

A sea cucumber feeds on algae. File photoImage copyright PA
Image caption Sea cucumbers – seen as luxury food throughout Asia – have seen a significant fall in numbers

“Human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries,” said Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International.

The report says that sea cucumbers – seen as a luxury food throughout Asia – have seen a significant fall in numbers, with a 98% in the Galapagos and 94% drop in the Red Sea over the past few years.

The study notes the decline of habitats – such as seagrass areas and mangrove cover – which are important for food and act as a nursery for many species.

Climate change has also played a role in the overall decline of marine populations.

The report says carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the oceans, making them more acidic, damaging a number of species.

The authors analysed more than 1,200 species of marine creatures in the past 45 years.

We Need to Stop Eating the Oceans

Yana Rusinovich Watson

by Captain Paul Watson

For centuries, the oceans have fed humanity. But in the last century, humans has destroyed oceanic eco-systems with an ecological ignorance that is insane.

The fisherman has now become one of the most ecologically destructive occupations on the planet. It’s time to put aside the outdated image of the hardy, independent, and hard-working fisherman working courageously to feed society and support his family.
No longer does the typical fishermen go to sea in dories with lines and small nets. Today’s industrial fishermen operate multi-million dollar vessels equipped with complex and expensive technological gear designed to hunt down and catch every fish they can find.

One manufacturer of electronic fish locators (Rayethon) even boasts that with their product, “the fish can run but they can’t hide.
And for the fish, there is no safe place as poachers hunt them down mercilessly, even in marine reserves and sanctuaries.

We humans have waged an intensive and ruthless exploitation on practically every species of fish in the sea and they are disappearing. If we don’t put an end to industrialized fishing vessels and heavy gear very soon, we will kill the oceans and in so doing, we will kill ourselves.

Scientists revealed that widespread malnutrition is affecting the fish, bird, and animal populations of our oceans. Not only are we depleting their populations, we are starving the survivors.

We are feeding fish to cats, pigs, and chickens, and we are sucking tens of thousands of small fish from the sea to feed larger fish raised in cages. House cats are eating more fish than seals; pigs are eating more fish than sharks; and factory-farmed chickens are eating more fish than puffins and albatross.

With other factors like global warming, chemical pollution, and ozone depletion causing plankton populations to decline, we are waging a global assault on all life in our oceans. The fish cannot compete with our excessive demands. We have already removed 90% of the large commercial fish from the sea. Chinese demand for shark fins is destroying practically every species of shark in the ocean.

Whereas the fishing industry once targeted and destroyed the large fish, they are now focusing on the smaller fish, the fish that have always fed the larger fish. Of the top ten fisheries in the world today, seven of them now target the small fish. If the fish are too small to feed to people, they are simply ground up into fishmeal to feed domestic animals and farm raised salmon or tuna.

And now Japanese and Norwegian fisheries are extracting tens of thousands of tons of plankton from the sea to convert into a protein rich animal feed.

Recently a report on the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture released by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that 80% of all marine fish stocks are currently fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion; including stocks of the 7 largest prey fisheries. Very few marine fish populations remain with the potential to sustain production increases, and more have now reached their limit than ever before.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is based on the ecological reality that commercial fishing is destroying our oceans.

We all know this. We are all aware of this diminishment. We feel it in our gut. The ecological reality is not only staring us in the face. The problem is that we are in absolute denial and we refuse to acknowledge that by stripping life from the seas, we will be undermining the foundation for our survival on land.

The public is becoming aware of the gravity of the ecological predicament that threatens life in the sea. And this is very encouraging. I can’t think of anything more important than the preservation of diversity in our oceans. Perhaps we can adapt to global warming, and perhaps we can survive a mass extinction even of species on land. But I know one thing to be an ecological certainty and that is if we kill the oceans – we kill ourselves.

In diversity is the preservation of life.

We must stop eating the oceans. Eating fish is for all intents and purposes – an ecological crime. There are no oceanic sustainable fisheries – not a one. That little sustainability card that some people carry around to pretend to be ecologically correct.

Some may think that a call to ban all commercial fishing is radical. Sea Shepherd view it as a very conservative and essential policy that we must implement to save the oceans and ourselves.

It looks like the fish are turning the tables on humanity. Not by choice but because ecological realities have boomeranged back upon humankind.

Tins of tuna fish now contain warnings that the product should not be eaten by pregnant women or young children because of high levels of mercury and other toxic heavy metals.

Farm raised salmon contain antibiotics, growth hormones and even a dye to colour the flesh a pleasing pink while still alive.

Long-living fish like halibut, cod, orange roughy and swordfish contain large amounts of heavy metals. When you can live over a century like a halibut, you accumulate decades of toxins. When you live high up on the food chain, you build up mercury and other heavy metals.

Orcas in the Pacific Northwest of the United States are the most chemically contaminated animals in the world. Beluga whales in the St Lawrence River are treated as toxic waste when they die.

We treat the oceans like sewers and then act surprised that the fish that is eaten is polluted.

Humans can be wilfully blind and deliberately ignorant when it comes to food. We would never eat a piece of fish sitting in a bowl of mercury, arsenic and PCBs garnished with a lump of human fecal material on top.

Yana Rusinovich Watson's photo.

Ocean warming puts fish, orcas in peril

It’s too early to say for certain, but this year’s warm weather could have a big impact on future salmon runs as well as the animals that rely on the fish for food.
LONG BEACH, Wash. — Oregon and Washington will experience two big El Niño-like events in combination this year, scientists and fishery managers say. This has never happened before and the events could have major impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries — and ocean species from salmon to orcas — for years to come.

One of these events is a true El Niño — a big one — and brings with it the likelihood of less precipitation and warmer temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.

The other event, the “Blob,” is a warm expanse of water that has persisted off the West Coast for more than a year and only resembles El Niño.

It is an anomaly, a mystery. Formed by a completely different set of circumstances, it has brought about similar results as an El Niño. Scientists believe it could be one reason why Washington has experienced such unusually mild weather since spring 2014. It has certainly warmed the water off the West Coast, driving various ocean species farther north in search of cold water and drawing tropical species to the area.

So there is what everyone knows: The ocean is unusually warm right now and has been for the last two years. When El Niño arrives in full force, the ocean will likely continue to be warm. And warm water is never good for salmon.

Then there are the questions no one can answer yet.

Oregon and Washington are already beginning to see the effects of this big El Niño cycle, though the event itself has yet to arrive in full here in the North Pacific. When the Blob and El Niño meet — as scientists believe they will — what will happen?

And, after this year’s drought, record-breaking heat, massive toxic algal blooms off the West Coast and no snowpack in the mountains, what will life in the ocean look like next year?

Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, has a guess: “It’s going to be a nightmare, is what I suspect we’re going to see. … It’s kind of beyond our experience and all we can say is it’s not going to be good.”

Delicate chains

Heat up the ocean and many West Coast species begin struggling almost immediately.

Coho salmon, for example, have been “acting strange” this year, said Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He and others believe the fish are staying out in deeper water, waiting until the very last minute to enter Washington’s river systems where they will spawn. They are waiting for cooler water.

Sockeye, among the first salmon to run from the ocean to rivers and streams, were in trouble early on this season.

In July, more than a quarter million sockeye, approximately half of the 500,000 sockeye expected to return from the ocean, were dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries due to warm water temperatures.

Meanwhile, salmon that were ocean-bound this spring and the ones that will head out next spring will face unknown conditions when they return several years later, but biologists say they are going into conditions that do not favor their survival; warm temperatures mean the salmon’s regular food sources may not be thriving either. The fish leaving next spring, reared in these conditions, may be even worse off. As for fish laid as tiny eggs in stream and river beds this year — no one knows.

Young salmon were certainly in trouble this summer, though. The warm temperatures led to outbreaks of bacterial diseases in hatcheries, killing off hundreds of thousands of young fish in Washington, Oregon and California.

Trouble for orcas?

Beyond salmon, biologists worry what this all could mean for the ocean species that rely on these fish for food.

Orcas often visit the communities near the Columbia River, but this year it seemed like people were spotting them constantly — NOAA wildlife biologist Brad Hanson says the number of sightings are probably not much higher than any other year; people are just paying more attention.

But, he added, salmon are an important part of an orca’s diet, likely one big reason why orcas flock to the region.

“With this year, with the drought occurring coastwide, it certainly is going to have an impact down the road. If not in the next couple of years, certainly in three or four years,” said Hanson, who was the chief scientist for a NOAA killer whale research cruise this spring. “… We are going to enter a period here in the not too distant future where we’re going to have reduced (salmon) run sizes. So the question is: How will the whales respond?”

Orcas must eat continuously. They can’t starve for extended periods of times the way other ocean mammals can, such as gray whales, living off fat reserves.

Orcas eat many kinds of fish, so Hanson and other biologists believe the large mammals could travel elsewhere for food. As the salmon change where and when they travel, the orcas might follow.

Still, Hanson added, if orcas are eating fish other than salmon, as the data suggests, how abundant is this other prey?

“It’s going to be critical for us to monitor that as best we can in the coming years,” he said.

Inland troubles

In the meantime, salmon fishing has been strong this summer. The Buoy 10 sport fishery near the mouth of the Columbia River ended with record catch rates, surpassing last year’s total catch within the opening weeks. Commercial fishing on the ocean has been brisk and conditions near shore have been normal, or as normal as the ocean, a shifting, swirling black box, ever is.

“When I look at this, I don’t see the warning signs I saw in the ’90s,” Milward said.

In the early ’90s, it was quickly becoming obvious that they were fishing on a very small pool of fish and that there were issues in the wide world beyond: climate shifts and damaged freshwater habitat.

“It’s been a wonderful fishing year in the ocean where I manage,” Milward said.

But it is in the areas beyond his management where he begins to worry.

From a human point of view, communities in Oregon and Washington had a beautiful spring and summer, the best longtime locals can remember.

For many, though, the summer’s beauty was marred by massive wildfires and drought. And with no snowpack to fuel streams and rivers in Washington and little rain, streams and rivers are running at an all time low. In June, the Washington Department of Ecology reported that the state’s snowpack was at zero percent of normal. Though there was still snow at higher elevations and in the glaciers, rivers and streams did not receive the boost they’d normally get from melting snow high in the mountains.

State and tribal fishery managers went into the summer worried about the effects of low-flow conditions on salmon-bearing streams and rivers in the Columbia Basin, conditions that can hamper fish passage and lead to high water temperatures (adding another stress on fish already stressed from their migration inland from the ocean). High temperatures and low flow can lead to less oxygen and put salmon more at risk of bacterial or fungal infection.

“I mean, those fish in the ocean now have no idea that we had no snowpack in the winter and no rain in the summer,” Milward said. The salmon are headed toward areas where “their native stream looks more like a creek than river.”

Red light, green light

Each year, Peterson and other NOAA scientists gather information that informs how fisheries will be run in the next season. They look at more than a dozen different indicators of ocean and fish health. They look at what is in the water, and they note what is missing. For each indicator, they put a red light or a green light next to it. Just like with traffic signals, green light means go. In the 1998 El Niño, all the indicators were red: Stop! In 2008, everything was green. In years where there’s a mix of red and green, it means, Peterson said, “basically we don’t know what’s going on (in the ocean).”

This year, he and state and federal fishery managers are ready for everything to come back red.

“I’m guessing redder than anything we’ve seen before,” Peterson said.

But the ocean is vast, he added, and scientists’ predications have been wrong before. “This could be an environmental disaster, or a blip on the screen that we forget in a couple of years.”

This year, sockeye — the salmon that had half of its total run wiped out by warm water when returning to the Columbia River and its tributaries — found other places to spawn. They ran up streams they’d never used before, streams where the water was still cold, where their young might survive.

To Peterson, salmon are a metaphor for resiliency.

“If you think about what they’ve put up with for the last 50 years and we still have them,” he said. “… They will find a way.”

Government Documents Reveal That Killing Cormorants Won’t Help Columbia River Salmon

August 12, 2015

Contact: Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland, (503) 380-9728 or bsallinger@audubonportland.org
Dan Rohlf, Earthrise Law Center, (503) 484-3943 or rohlf@lclark.edu
Collette Adkins, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821 or cadkins@biologicaldiversity.org
Michael Harris, Friends of Animals, michaelharris@friendsofanimals.org
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund, (707) 795-2533, x 1010 or mbackus@aldf.org
Sharnelle Fee, Wildlife Center of the North Coast, (503) 338-0331 or director@coastwildlife.org

Government Documents Reveal That Killing Cormorants Won’t Help Columbia River Salmon

Despite Findings, Federal Agency Authorized Killing More Than 10,000 Cormorants

PORTLAND, Ore.— Conservation groups today called for an investigation after agency documents, released last week under court order, showed that killing double-crested cormorants will not benefit salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own biologists found that fish not eaten by cormorants would be eaten by other predators, but nevertheless authorized the killing of more than 10,000 double-crested cormorants and destruction of more than 26,000 cormorant nests on East Sand Island near the mouth of the Columbia.

Double-crested cormorant
Photo courtesy Flickr/Mark Dumont. This photo is available for media use.

“Dead set on killing cormorants, the Service ignored its own science,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s own analysis makes clear that its cormorant-killing program is doing nothing to help endangered fish. My heart aches for all the birds that have needlessly suffered and died. The killing needs to stop now.”

Scientists with the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in a 2014 report that salmon and steelhead mortality due to cormorant predation is “completely compensatory.” This means that fish eaten by the birds would have died anyway of other causes — primarily consumed by fish and other predators — making it worthless to kill cormorants to increase salmon and steelhead runs.

The report states that “efforts to reduce predation by double-crested cormorants are expected to result in no changes or benefits to these fish populations in terms of increasing adult returns or abundance.” In contrast, the report concludes that “efforts to reduce mortality during passage through the hydro system are expected to result in increased productivity and abundance of steelhead.”

“The Service’s analysis confirms what we’ve argued for years,” said Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland conservation director. “The federal agencies responsible for recovering endangered fish should take steps to save salmon and steelhead by improving federal dam operations rather than making native birds the scapegoats for human-caused declines in Columbia Basin salmon runs. This is a senseless slaughter and the government knew it and chose to conceal this information during the public process.”

This spring several conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to stop the slaughter of thousands of double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River basin. The lawsuit asserts that the federal agencies are scapegoating the native birds for salmon declines when the real threat is mismanagement of the federal hydropower system. Through this litigation the court ordered the Service to release documents related to whether its cormorant-killing program will actually increase returns of adult fish, which led to last week’s release of the federal scientists’ analysis.

In today’s letter conservation groups called on Dan Ashe, the Fish and Wildlife Service director, to investigate why this information was not disclosed during the public process that led to the decision to kill cormorants on East Sand Island. The groups also demanded that the Service withdraw permits allowing the Army Corps to kill cormorants on East Sand Island, given the documented lack of scientific justification. So far this year, the federal agencies have killed more than 100 adult birds and destroyed thousands of nests, with more killings planned.

Foundation removes 5,667 lost fishing nets from Puget Sound


MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) – The Northwest Straits Foundation has reached a milestone in its efforts to remove lost fishing nets from Puget Sound.

The foundation reported this week that it has retrieved 5,667 of the so-called “killer nets.”

About 260 species of marine animals were found in the nets, including 65 mammals, 1,092 birds and 5,659 fish. Many died while trapped in the nets, including porpoises, seals, otters, diving birds, sharks, salmon, crab and octopuses, the Skagit Valley Herald reports.

Foundation director Joan Drinkwin says between the time the program was launched in 2002 and the work was completed June 30, net removal restored 812 acres of marine habitat.

The organization is working with the fishing industry to prevent nets from becoming derelict. The organization also hopes to eventually recover lost fishing gear from deeper water.

Army Corps resumes killing East Sand Island cormorants


By Katie Wilson

EO Media Group

July 17, 2015 12:01AM

Madeline Kalbach/Submitted Photo
Double-crested cormorants like this one spread their wings in the sun to dry after getting them wet in the pursuit of small fish in the water. East Sand Island near Chinook is the location of a major colony of the birds.



Death toll hit 158 in early July.

CHINOOK, Wash. — Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are once again killing double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island after stopping for a week at the end of June, saying they didn’t want to disturb nesting birds or orphan newly hatched chicks.

According to numbers released on the Army Corps website, contractors killed 33 birds sometime between July 3 and July 9, bringing the total killed this year to 158. The website does not clarify if the birds killed were only double-crested cormorants; the agency’s depredation permit allows for the accidental take of other cormorant species, including Brandt’s cormorants which also nest on the island, and pelagic cormorants that sometimes fly nearby.

No nests were destroyed through a process called “oiling” during this most recent lethal take period, but sometime between June 9 (the last time numbers were published on the website) and June 24 (when killing had been halted for roughly a week) and before July 3 (the beginning of the most recent take), contractors apparently oiled 3,320 nests, bringing the total of nests oiled to date to 5,089.

This is just 790 nests shy of the total take of nests allowed under a one-year depredation permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Oiling prevents eggs from hatching and the bird embryos die in the shell.

Killing authorized

The killing is authorized under a depredation permit the Corps obtained this year as part of a management plan the agency says will protect runs of juvenile salmon by removing a large number of the birds that prey on them.

Two species of cormorant nest seasonally on East Sand Island, a 62-acre island at the mouth of the Columbia River, but only one is targeted under the management plan: double-crested cormorants. The colony’s numbers have swelled in recent years and the Corps says adult birds consume millions of young protected and endangered salmon every year.

The depredation permit, which must be renewed annually, is valid through Jan. 31, 2016. But the birds are only on the island seasonally, arriving in the early spring to begin nesting and departing when colder weather rolls in.

Orphaned chicks could starve

The Audubon Society of Portland fears killing birds at the height of the nesting season impacts the colony in ways the agencies have not adequately accounted for, since any orphaned chicks will likely starve to death or die from exposure.

Audubon is suing the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps’ contractors — the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — regarding the double-crested cormorant management plan.

The Corps says the contractors are taking care not to shoot nesting parent birds.

“They’re very specific about how they’re only culling adults where they can clearly see there are no eggs present,” said Army Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund.

Under the management plan, the Corps plans to reduce the total number of breeding pairs on the island from about 14,000 to 5,600 by 2018, a move the Audubon Society says unnecessarily slashes a healthy colony during a time when double-crested cormorants are struggling elsewhere.

Fish Smarts: Why Fish Are More Than Just Streams of Protein


Fish are smart, sentient, and know a lot about themselves and others
by Marc Bekoff Ph.D. on Jul 05, 2015 in Animal Emotions

I’m always looking for interesting and “surprising” discoveries about animal cognition and emotions to share with readers and today I learned about two excellent and brief summaries of some of the latest news about the cognitive lives of fish — what they know about themselves and others. In the past I’ve written a lot about fish sentience because fish often get the short end of the stick when people write about the cognitive and emotional lives of vertebrates (please also see “Fish have feelings too: Expert claims creatures experience pain in the same way humans do – and should be treated better (link is external)” in which it is noted, “Fish have good memories, build complicated structures and show behaviour seen in primates – as well as feeling pain like us”). Indeed, fish were omitted from the list of animals mentioned in the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, issued in July 2013 (please see “Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings“) when they should have been included. At the time the declaration was issued we knew a lot about fish sentience and cognition and their omission is regrettable and indefensible..

An excellent review of research on fish cognition and emotions can be found in Macquarie University’s Culum Brown’s (link is external) essay called “Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics (link is external),” published in the peer reviewed journal Animal Cognition. A very interesting and important interview with Dr. Brown by Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Freidrich (link is external) can be read here (link is external).

The abstract for Dr. Brown’s essay reads as follows: Fish are one of the most highly utilised vertebrate taxa by humans; they are harvested from wild stocks as part of global fishing industries, grown under intensive aquaculture conditions, are the most common pet and are widely used for scientific research. But fish are seldom afforded the same level of compassion or welfare as warm-blooded vertebrates. Part of the problem is the large gap between people’s perception of fish intelligence and the scientific reality. This is an important issue because public perception guides government policy. The perception of an animal’s intelligence often drives our decision whether or not to include them in our moral circle. From a welfare perspective, most researchers would suggest that if an animal is sentient, then it can most likely suffer and should therefore be offered some form of formal protection. There has been a debate about fish welfare for decades which centres on the question of whether they are sentient or conscious. The implications for affording the same level of protection to fish as other vertebrates are great, not least because of fishing-related industries. Here, I review the current state of knowledge of fish cognition starting with their sensory perception and moving on to cognition. The review reveals that fish perception and cognitive abilities often match or exceed other vertebrates. A review of the evidence for pain perception strongly suggests that fish experience pain in a manner similar to the rest of the vertebrates. Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.

This weekend I learned about an essay by Abigail Geer called “5 Incredible Fish Behaviors That Show Just How Intelligent They Really Are (link is external)” that nicely summarizes some of the latest research on fish cognition. Ms. Geer writes about mutual cooperation, how fish cheat others, how they form hunting partnerships, how they signal to others using their body, and how they know to eat food that will disappear shortly. She concludes her essay as follows: “As humans, we have developed a very self centric view of the world, where we judge all other species by our own perception of them. For us to develop into a more compassionate society, which is not responsible for the murder of billions of animals each year, we must learn to understand and respect each and every animal on the planet for who they are.”

Primates aren’t all that special 

Ms. Geer’s essay is based mainly on the work of noted fish researcher Redouan Bshary (link is external), who’s groundbreaking research is summarized in an essay by Alison Abbott called “Animal behaviour: Inside the cunning, caring and greedy minds of fish (link is external)” published in the prestigious journal Nature. Both Ms. Geer and Ms. Abbott’s essays are easy reads and I highly suggest them. Research on the cognitive and emotional lives of fish are showing that non-human primates aren’t all that special. Emory University’s world renowned primate researcher Frans de Waal (link is external)notes, “Primate chauvinism may now be poised to decline, thanks in large part to Bshary’s fish work.” Claims about nonhuman primate and human exceptionalism must be carefully re-evaluated because this sort of speciesism can be seriously called into question based on solid scientific research.

Fish should be included in our moral circle

So, what does the latest research on fish cognition and emotions mean in terms of how we treat them? In her very interesting book called Do Fish Feel Pain? (link is external) Victoria Braithwaite (link is external) concluded, “I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals — and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.” (page 153).

It’s high time that we use what we know on behalf of fish and other animals who are used and abused in the countless billions. Fish clearly are not things nor disposable objects or mere streams of protein, but rather sentient and feeling beings, a point stressed in Farm Sanctuary’s “Someone, Not Something (link is external)” project.

In a recent interview with Hope Ferdowsian (link is external) I noted, “There still is a lot of work to be done but there is no doubt in my mind and heart that we can make the world a much better place – a more compassionate home — for nonhumans and humans. It isn’t going to be easy but that’s just the way it is. Every one who can do something positive must do what she/he can do. We need to be activists, not slacktivists. We all must walk the talk and not expect others to do what we can and should do. I remain optimistic because of all the wonderful people who are out there working for all animals and their homes. We must remember that compassion begets compassion and violence begets violence. I love the saying, ‘The world becomes what you teach,’ espoused by the Institute for Humane Education (link is external).”

It is essential that a broad audience knows what we are learning about fish from detailed empirical research. As noted above, Dr. Brown concludes his essay as follows: “Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.” I couldn’t agree more. Fish and all other animals need all the help they can get and we need to use what we learn from empirical research on their behalf.

Note: I just learned of a most valuable essay by B. Wren Patton and Victoria Braithwaite called “Changing tides: ecological and historical perspectives on fish cognition (link is external),” the abstract of which concludes, “Never before has the field had such a wide array of interdisciplinary techniques available to access both cognitive and mechanistic processes underpinning fish behavior. This capacity comes at a critical time to predict and manage fish populations in an era of unprecedented global change.” You can also watch an interview with Dr. Braithwaite here (link is external) about why fish need to be treated humanely.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservationWhy dogs hump and bees get depressed, and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistenceThe Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)

Seafood supply altered by climate change


The global supply of seafood is set to change substantially and many people will not be able to enjoy the same quantity and dishes in the future due to climate change and ocean acidification, according to UBC scientists.

These findings were released today in Japan by the Nereus program, an international research team led by UBC scientists and supported by the Nippon Foundation. The Nereus program was formed to study the future of the world’s oceans and seafood resources. Today it released a summary of the first phase of its research in a report titled ‘Predicting Future Ocean.’ Researchers say that the future supply of seafood will be substantially altered by climate change, overfishing and other human activities.

“The types of fish that we will have on our dinner table will be very different in the future,” said William Cheung, UBC associate professor and the co-director of the Nereus program. “Fisheries will be catching more warm-water species, with smaller size, and that will affect fish supply through our domestic and oversea fisheries as well as imports.”

The report highlighted climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing and destruction of marine ecosystems as the primary drivers of ocean change. Researchers say these changes will lead to a decline in fisheries in many regions and alter marine biodiversity and food web structures.

Researchers say there are solutions to help the ocean and communities prepare for the future. These include improving ocean governance globally to ensure sustainable fisheries and the need to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

“Global marine ecosystems have already been largely altered by overfishing,” said Daniel Pauly, professor at UBC and an advisor to Nereus. “This report clearly points out that any solution needs to deal with the CO2 problem as well.”