Fishermen transport their catch after docking in the main port...

Fishermen transport their catch after docking in the main port in Dakhla city, Western Sahara. Credit: AP/Mosa'ab Elshamy

Scott Miller is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

In English, the name of planet Earth derives from a Germanic word — Erde — which means “ground.” We tend to think of the ground as something we stand on. There’s even an old saying, "stand your ground," which means not to retreat in the face of adversity.

Humans can’t stand on water, which makes it easy to forget that there’s ground underneath the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. It’s just a little deeper down. And so on Earth Day (April 22), let’s not overlook aquatic environments and our fellow Earthlings who live there: fish.

Earth’s fragile oceanic ecosystem is in trouble: Ninety percent of large fish populations have been exterminated by fishing. The commercial fishing industry responsible for this devastation also unintentionally kills more than 650,000 marine mammals a year, including whales, dolphins, turtles and seals. But fishing as a pastime also creates a cycle of destruction: It contributes to the abandoned or lost fishing equipment that accounts for much of the plastic waste wreaking havoc on the environment.

If we’re going to act on Earth Day’s call to save the planet, we must begin by saving fish. How do we do this? That part is simple: Stop eating them.

Perhaps because these remarkable species may appear exotic and don’t walk on land, many people don’t understand them. But that’s an unjust, illogical excuse to exploit them — and it doesn’t hold water. Fish first appeared on Earth 530 million years ago, give or take a couple of years. They’ve evolved into the most diverse group of vertebrates by far. In stark contrast, humans made their first appearance around 6 million years ago. We are the newcomers — and probably incomprehensible to fish.

If you wouldn’t eat a dog or a cat, why eat a fish? Gilled animals are every bit as complex as the four-legged companions who share our homes. They’re emotional individuals who can experience joy and pleasure and feel fear and sadness. It wouldn’t even be far-fetched to compare a fish’s abilities with those of a human. Studies show that fish can count, tell time and plan ahead. They also pass the “mirror test,” which means they recognize themselves in a reflection. Certain species of fish sing together in a chorus. And just like humans, fish talk to each other — using sounds emitted through the vibrations of their muscles. These communication skills allow them to better navigate their surroundings. Fish, dog or human — we’re all just trying to find our way.

Even though they can’t scream the way humans can, fish have nervous systems and feel physical pain when a hook is ripped from their mouth or when they’re suffocating in a net pulled out of the water. Every animal is someone. Earth Day is about protecting every someone.

Having a healthy biosphere requires making changes in the way we live, from our energy use to what we eat. And eliminating fish from our diet is easy. Vegan alternatives deliver mouthwatering taste without cruelty and suffering — and they’re plentiful in supermarkets around the globe. Cruelty-free food brands offer delicious fishless fillets, tuna-free tuna and much more.

An authentic Earth Day is one that denounces speciesism, the false assumption that humans are superior to the planet’s other inhabitants. Stop eating fish. Let others know why. Don’t be afraid to speak out. Stand your ground — so that fish can keep swimming above theirs.

Scott Miller is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


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