Fish Have Friends, Study Finds (So Maybe Go Vegan and Stop Eating Them?)

Fish Have Friends (So Maybe Go Vegan and Stop Eating Them?)

If fish is the only part of your diet keeping you from going vegan, you may change your mind after reading about the latest research that says fish are social creatures capable of forming emotional bonds.

The groundbreaking new study, published in the journal Nature, says fish, specifically the zebrafish, form social bonds and friendships similar to behaviors exhibited by humans and other mammals.

Dr Penny Hawkins, head of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) research animals department, told The Independent that as a result of the findings, fish should not be viewed as lesser animals.

“[If] you are going to think it’s okay to eat any animal, then you have to realize what you are doing,” she said.

The researchers observed zebrafish who were exposed to a substance they secrete naturally when danger lurks. When alone (in laboratory tanks), the fish were more fearful than when with other fish.

While sentience has long been observed in marine mammals including dolphins and whales, according to Hawkins, the findings highlight greater levels of sentience and camaraderie than previously understood about fish.

“But if you think of friendship in terms of being with another individual who you are familiar with and whose company you seek and who makes you feel positive emotions, then these are fish friendships,” she says.

“They are not just ornaments or play things for people, they are individuals, they are sentient.

“There’s quite a lot of research going on into fish personalities. Some fish are bold, some are shy, there’s a whole lot more going on in the fish tank than people than people thought previously.”


“You are causing the death of an animal who is sentient, who has experiences, interests,” Hawkins said.

Fish are frequently lumped  under the vegetarian diet label, often called pescatarian diets, where people say they’re “mostly vegetarian” except for fish.

While fish is often pointed to as a healthy animal protein rich in omega-fatty acids, the RSPCA research says the findings make the argument that we need to view eating fish in the same lens as other animals. Plenty of plant-based foods are rich in essential fatty acids as well as the reduced risk of heavy metals and other contaminants found in seafood.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.