Our relationship to fishes in the modern era is deeply problematic. We kill and consume more of them than any other group of vertebrates. At the same time, advances in our knowledge of fishes and their capabilities are gaining speed. Fish species diversity exceeds that of all other vertebrates combined, with a wide range of sensory adaptations, some of them (e.g., geomagnetism, water pressure and movement detection, and communication via electricity) alien to our own sensory experience. The evidence for pain in fishes (despite persistent detractors) is strongly supported by anatomical, physiological and behavioral studies. It is likely that fishes also seek pleasure, as evidenced by their willingness to approach divers to receive caresses that may mimic those given out by cleaner-fishes who seek to curry favor with valued clients. Observations of play behavior in fishes present another possible source of pleasure, or at least relief from boredom. Some fishes are also subject to emotional stress and will take action to relieve it. Fishes routinely recognize other individuals. Their social lives involve cooperation, virtue, democracy, deception, and cumulative monitoring. Courtship and sexual behavior are highly variable across species, and parental care is known for about a quarter of all fish species. Based on the cumulative research now available, we may conclude that fishes are deserving of levels of protections comparable to those deemed suitable for any other vertebrate. Currently, however, our treatment of fishes falls far short of such a standard.
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