An Australian scientist is calling for more consideration to be given to fish welfare and anti-cruelty issues following research that shows fish cognition and their sensory perception are generally on par with that of other animals.
Culum Brown's review focuses especially on bony fish. It suggests that fish are, in fact, far more intelligent than many previously believed. Fish have very good memories, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals, and can learn from one another. This helps to develop stable cultural traditions. Fish even recognise themselves and others. They also cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence, such as cooperation and reconciliation. They build complex structures, are capable of using tools, and use the same methods for keeping track of quantities as humans do. For the most part the primary senses of fish are just as good, and in many cases, better, than that of humans. Their behaviour is very much the same as that of primates, except that fish do not have the ability to imitate.
The level of mental complexity fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates, while there is mounting evidence that they can feel pain in a manner similar to humans. While the brains of fish differ from other vertebrates, fish have many analogous structures that perform similar functions. Brown concludes that if any animals are sentient, fish must be considered to be so too.
"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," concludes Brown, who acknowledges that such a move has implications for the fishing industry, among others. "We should therefore include fish in our 'moral circle' and afford them the protection they deserve."
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