Fish: Unconsidered Victims of Animal Research

The Rise for Animals Team, July 5, 2023

Fish are among the most exploited nonhuman animals on the planet, including in laboratories where their use is estimated to be second only to mice. In fact, the increasing use of fish (along with mice) is far outweighing any claimed reductions in the use of other species (such as dogs and cats).

The exploitation of fish for biomedical research has been climbing for decades, as fish – in astronomical numbers – are forced to “model” human disease and toxicity and are subjected to experimentation aimed at farming them more profitably for human consumption.

Fish used as research subjects are not protected in any way.

The Animal Welfare Act – the only federal law establishing any protections for nonhuman research subjects – does not apply to fish. Indeed, fish are included in the over 95% of all animals used in research today who can have anything done to them for any reason and whose exploitation is not even counted in the USDA’s annual report on animal usage.

Yet, the exploitation of fish is characterized by the animal research  industry as a positive step for nonhuman animal research.

Adding insult to injury, the industry asks us to applaud its brutalization of aquatic animals. You read that right: we live in such a speciesist society that the use of fish is asserted by researchers to be a “good” thing – an alternative to or replacement for traditional animal research (which uses mammals) – and much of the human public accepts this as true. 


Because humans are not as sympathetic to fish as they are to other nonhumans. Nothing more.

Exploitation of fish reflects our “bias”, as a consequence of which we show greater moral concern for nonhuman animals viewed as being ‘human-like’ or having ‘higher mental abilities’”. 

The human tendency to empathize with animals depending on their “status, use, attractiveness or believed intelligence” is so common as to be described as “innate”. But, innate or not, this bias-predicated tendency is wholly unfounded.

Science has proven that fish are the same in all ways that matter as the other nonhuman animals exploited by humans.

Scientists readily acknowledge that “fish are capable of nociception, and of experiencing pain in a manner analogous to that in mammals” and that fish experience “pain, stress, and distress”, “suffer in laboratories”, and “have complex social, emotional, and cognitive lives”.

The answer is abolishing the victimization of anyone in research, not merely changing who we victimize.

The use of fish (and other nonhuman animals like insects) raises the same moral and ethical problems as the use of any nonhuman animals as means to human ends. 

All are subjected to forced breeding, confinement, enslavement, denial of agency, emotional and physical torture, and killing.

And, all need us to rise for and liberate them. Fish included.

We believe that all sentient beings should be protected. Read more.