BOOKS: Do Fish Feel Pain?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)

Do Fish Feel Pain?
by Victoria Braithwaite
Oxford University Press (198 Madison Ave.,
New York, NY 10016), 2010.
194 pages, hardcover. $29.95.

Victoria Braithwaite, a professor of fisheries biology at
Pennsylvania State University and a visting professor at the
University of Bergen, Norway, had no idea in 2003 that she was
about to make a discovery that would change her life, the direction
of her field, and the perception that much of humanity has of fish.
Braithwaite certainly did not foresee, as an animal researcher,
that she would open a whole new direction in animal advocacy. Even
three years later, when Braithwaite summarized her work in an op-ed
essay for the Los Angeles Times, she was surprised by the intensity
of the response she drew from readers.

All Braithwaite set out to do was to better understand how
fish perceive their world. What she accomplished, however, was the
most convincing demonstration to that point that fish feel and
respond to pain. Though seemingly self-evident to anyone who ever
watched a hooked fish fight, or a netted fish try to flop back to
water, the idea that fish suffer as human food and playthings had
long been resisted by scientists, conservationists, and even some
animal advocates, who argued that fish should be used in
laboratories instead of mice because they purportedly feel less.
Braithwaite is uncomfortable with oversimplications of her
findings, but now argues that the sentience and suffering of fish
should be taken into account. Do Fish Feel Pain? summarizes both her
own work and the work of other scientists who increasingly argue that
fish belong within the circle of compassion.
PETA cited some of Braithwaite’s studies in persuading a
Sacramento restaurant to stop serving live shrimp in early September
2010. The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations
paraphrased Braithwaite in persuading the destination resort company
Club Mahindra to stop promoting angling on their web site. This is
likely to be only the beginning of Braithwaite’s influence.

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