The Pros, Cons, and Ethics of Eating Fish

Written by on August 29, 2014 in Fish, Marine Life
Goldfish. Photo credit: <a href="">nicoventurelli</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>.

Goldfish. Photo credit: nicoventurelli via photopin cc.

Earlier this month, Vox published an interview with Australian biologist Culum Brown that examined the commonly held belief that fish can’t feel pain and aren’t as intelligent as other animals. Brown, whose research focuses on fish behavior, explains that these beliefs are just plain wrong.

“They’re just not any less intelligent or sophisticated than terrestrial animals,” he told Vox. “That idea is a total myth.”

Fish are capable of learning and have a fantastic memory. When it comes to feeling pain, the answer you will most likely get is “no”, but it isn’t definitive. With that in mind, this interview asks an important question: if fish really are as smart as land animals, what would the ethical implications be?

Would it make you think twice before picking a lobster out of a tank at a restaurant? Would vegetarians who still eat seafood stop eating fish? It’s certainly worth thinking about and the interview is definitely worth a read, but the benefits of eating seafood and the long-term health of the oceans should also be important factors when deciding whether or not to eat fish.

Here’s an overview at a few recent studies and articles that focus on consuming seafood:

Regular Fish Consumption Helps Maintain Brain Volume
Eating baked or broiled fish may help protect you from Alzheimer’s disease as you age. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that eating baked or broiled fish at least once a week helped preserve gray matter (brain tissue that is made up mostly of brain cells and can be hit hard by aging) in regions of the brain associated with memory and cognition.

Why do we love sushi?

Why do we love sushi? Photo credit:Zeetz Jones via photopin cc.

Why do we love eating sushi? Because “fish are so soft.”
In a feature on NPR, biophysicist Ole Mouritsen, author of Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body and the Soul, explains that it’s about gravity. Because fish are in water, they don’t have to support their body weight, which means their muscles are much softer than the muscles of terrestrial animals.

Mercury Rising: Enjoy Fish Without the Risk
There are plenty of benefits to eating seafood, particularly when it comes to brain and heart health, but fish should be chosen carefully. In addition to eating fish that have been sustainably harvested, it’s important to eat fish lower down on the food chain because they are less likely to be contaminated with mercury. Check out this infographic to learn more.

Learning to purchase with confidence.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, but this Powerboat World article does a nice job of breaking it down. Here’s what you need to know when purchasing seafood:

  • How was it caught? Does this gear result in bycatch and/or habitat destruction?
  • Where on the food chain does this species live?
  • Is it wild or farmed?

Seafood substitutions can expose consumers to unexpectedly high mercury
Seafood fraud (mislabeling of seafood in markets and restaurants) is still a huge issue. It’s bad for our oceans, our economy and our health. New research reveals that the worst kind of fraud is fishery stock substitution — when a fish of the same species is said to be from one geographic area, when it actually came from another.

Support local, sustainable fisheries, say the experts
The majority of the most popular seafood eaten by Americans is imported. That comes with a whole host of problems, ranging from seafood fraud to a higher carbon footprint. The good news is that there is plenty of tasty sustainable seafood being caught right off our coasts. This Boston Globe piece discusses the benefits of eating locally and has some suggestions for how to go about doing so.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Zoe says:

    Thank you for writing this insightful article. It seems a link to an infographic about mercury contamination in fish is missing. This sentence – “Check out this infographic to learn more” – should be a link to said infographic, right? I would like to check it out. Please provide the link if you can!

  2. Emily says:

    The title is actually the link to the article/infographic, but here it is again!