Outdated ideas regarding fish include the 3 second memory myth, that they do not feel pain and the general notion that they are very basic, stupid, simple creatures.
In reality, fishes are very finely tuned in to their surrounding environment. They all leave a chemical trail through their secretions, which are then used to communicate information, such as leaving warning of danger. Studies have also shown that fish can discriminate between joining a shoal with less parasites than one with more. They are also more likely to choose to join a shoal of fish they are familiar with over a shoal of strangers. In order to do these things fish have amazing levels of perception, awareness and intelligence.
“Predator inspection” is when one or more fish leave their shoal to inspect a potential predator. It has been observed that many species engage in this behaviour including guppies, sticklebacks, minnows, damselfish and mosquitofish. Fish actually have favourite partners they prefer to team up with for this dangerous task – this heavily implies the essentials of friendship; certainly at the very least they have complex social lives with a detailed sense of awareness whereby they are able to recognise each other as individuals. The ability to like and dislike other individuals in itself shows that every animal being is a unique individual. All livings creatures have an equally valid stakehold in life that deserves to be respected and valued.
“People just don’t interact with fishes in any meaningful way…the aquatic world is completely different from the terrestrial one, and fundamentally, if you haven’t seen an animal work in its environment and understand how it works, you’re really never going to fully understand it.” Culum Brown, Australian Biologist
It makes perfect sense that fishes are the last major animal group to be thought of as intelligent and worthy of moral consideration – whilst they may live on the same planet, they live in a different world. It is difficult for us to understand that they are still fundamentally the same as ourselves.
This lack of relatability makes harder to for us to recognise their inherent value; we must remember that all things considered, we are still only monkeys with natural limitations on our ability to empathise with other living things. This is our special ability as a species – let us use it for good. We have the intelligence to be aware of our surroundings so well that we have the potential to build a paradise.
Let us respect fish; enough to not kill and eat them.