By Daria Zeoli, Guest Contributor

A friend of mine recently had a discussion with several people who did not believe fish was meat. Some of their reasoning came from the fact that according to Catholic doctrine, they are allowed to eat fish on days where meat is prohibited.

Two weeks after this discussion was related to me, I had my own fishy experience at work. Paul McCartney’s Meatless Monday campaign came up and a co-worker asked me if one could eat fish on meatless days. When I said no, that fish is meat, an animal, I was met with a “No they’re not!” Why? My co-worker raised her hands to the sides of her head, flapping them back and forth like gills. “They just go ‘glub glub glub.’” I explained that fish actually are social and feel pain, and was met with a skeptical look. The existence of a nervous system was also met with less than enthusiasm.

I did not roll my eyes (I’ve discussed why in a previous post), but unfortunately, this is not an uncommon opinion. Earlier this week I read the following comment on a gossip blog discussing Anne Hathaway and her vegan shoes for Les Mis: “I don’t eat meat but I do eat fish and chicken.”So how do we break this misunderstanding? Biologist Jonathan Balcombe currently has a survey on his website, “What do you think of fishes?” that will help with research he’s currently doing for a book on “fish biology and behavior, human attitudes toward fishes, and the diverse and evolving relationships humans have with fishes.” This is obviously a topic that needs discussing!

It seems to be human nature not to be able to relate to things that are different from us. It’s easier for us to see a mammal as “like us” because, we are, after all, mammals. Insects, amphibians, fish, and birds do not have similar qualities – facial expressions, for instance – that make it easy for us to conclude that they are “like us.”

Is this why it’s so easy for people to go fishing and not even think of the pain associated with a fish having a hook through its mouth? Is this why we don’t think twice about burying our pet goldfish “at sea” in the toilet bowl at the end of its life? Is this why the depletion of our oceans isn’t seen for the very real crisis it is by much of the population?

The miscategorization of fish as “not animals” by human animals is just one example of the great disconnect that occurs when it comes to relating to other living beings on this planet.

What has your experience been with fish? How do you think we can go about changing the perception that they aren’t animals?

Photo:  Dive Site – Seychelles