HRAE End of Year Address: 'Do Fish Resist?' by Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel

Date: Monday, December 8, 2014 - 17:30 to 19:30

Venue: Linkway, level 4, John Medley (Building 191) (off Grattan St), The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010

HRAE is pleased to announce this exciting lecture by Dr Dinesh Wadiwel from the University of Sydney. Please join us for drinks and canapés at 5.30pm, with the lecture to follow at 6pm. The talk will be followed by an informal end of year dinner at 7.30pm.

'Do Fish Resist?' 

There have been a number of scientific studies on the question of whether fish feel pain. Some studies, such as those conducted by Lynne Sneddon, have suggested that some fish indeed do feel pain and that this significant welfare implications (2003). On the other hand, and against this view, researchers such as James D. Rose have argued that fish do not have the brain development necessary to feel pain (2007). The welfare implications of these questions over whether fish experience suffering are potentially huge. In terms of number of animals killed, the slaughter of sea animals for human consumption significantly exceeds that of any land animals that we use for food, and sea animal slaughter practices frequently lack any basic welfare protections (for example, asphyxiation is a common method used to kill fish intended for food consumption). If fish can be shown to feel pain - or more importantly, if humans can agree that fish feel pain - then this would place a significant question mark over many contemporary fishing practices.

This paper does not seek to answer the question: "Do Fish Feel Pain?" On the contrary, rather than frame this ethical problem in relation to the potential for fish suffering, this paper seeks to ask: "Do Fish Resist"?" Work by scholars such as Clare Palmer (2002), Jason Hribal (2010), Jonathan L. Clark (2014) and Agnieszka Kowalczyk (2014) have explored forms of animal resistance to human utilisation. These works are fascinating in so far as they seek to describe the political agency of animals in relation to their capacity to resist human domination. In this paper, I will explore the conceptual problems of understanding fish resistance, and the politics of epistemology that surrounds this.

Extending further, this paper seeks to develop a conceptual framework for understanding fish resistance to human capture by exploring the development of fishing technologies - the hook, the net and contemporary aquaculture. It will be argued that these are examples of human technological innovation formed in response to the creative acts of resistance of fish themselves to human utilisation. The politics of fishing therefore, is really a long story of life and death struggle: power and resistance between humans and sea animals. I will argue that this is perhaps a useful framing to explore, in so far as it enables us to see fish as not only potentially sentient creatures, but also as political agents.