How Fish Suffer in Medical Experiments

Lindsay Vierheilig, March 7, 2019

When most people think of animal testing, the first animals that come to mind are rats and mice. Another kind of animal that is popular among researchers, but receives very little attention, is fish.

Because the Animal Welfare Act doesn’t count fish as animals (incredible but true), we don’t have an exact number of how many are used in experiments. The best estimate we’ve seen is 15 million per year in the U.S. alone. Although entities doing experiments on fish have to follow the Health Research Extension Act of 1985 (which relates to Public Health Service guidelines that cover fish) that only covers the most basic welfare concerns.

Yes, they suffer like we would

Our understanding of fish is changing everyday as scientists learn more and more about them. We now know that fish are highly complex animals and are far more intelligent than once believed. For example, we now know that they do feel pain (despite what was previously thought) in the same manner that mammals do. Fish form relationships with one another, communicate in their own non-verbal languages, and can learn skills.

Unfortunately, fish are increasingly becoming relied upon by the medical community because of their utility in research settings. Types of fish that suffer most in research are the zebrafish, trout, platyfish, swordfish, and more.

Meet the Zebrafish

Consider the zebrafish as an example: this small, striped fish is popular in labs because they are inexpensive to take care, reproduce and develop quickly, and are easily genetically manipulated. Some of the research areas male and female zebrafish are abused in include genetic development, brain function, and embryonic development.

Because the zebrafish’s genes are easy to manipulate, they are used to model human diseases. They are also used for brain research, where experimenters cut open their skulls and implant an electrode directly to their brain that monitors what happens when different chemicals are added to their water. Researchers don’t think twice about exposing these fish to diseases, disorders, intentionally stressing them with chemicals to see what reactions are observable in their suffering.

Please take a moment to ask your Member of Congress to cosponsor the FACT Act, which would ensure we at least get a count of how many fish are used in toxicology testing each year.