In my youth, over 40 years ago, I was a gifted spearfisherman who won many state tournaments, could dive to 30 metres to spear fish using breath-holding techniques, & embarked on many frontier diving adventures that pushed my diving skills to the limit. Over those years I came to the realisation that fish are in no way different in their behaviour to wild land animals & in so many cases were so much more curious and trusting, and displayed an intelligence indistinguishable from any friendly backyard bird, possum or other land mammal.
Some experiences with wild fish started to make me uncomfortable with the way I was treating them. For instance.. upon being speared a Yellowtail Kingfish would be supported by companion fish often to their own detriment, and if a second diver was present they, too, could fall prey to being speared. Often the companion fish would follow right to the side of the boat, behaviour totally inconsisent with personal survival.
On a local reef which I frequented often, a large moray eel would greet any diver that swam past his cave. Many divers would interpret his greeting as an attack & turn tail, but with familiarity the eel would hang in the water close to a diver he knew & allow himself to be stroked like a domestic cat; as would a large resident sea snake on an artificial reef that I was involved in building at the time (1960s).
Manta Rays are another special marine creature that appear to be as curious of us as we are of them. They will approach a diver who they know poses no threat & will allow themselves to enter into play displays of somersaults & hanging motionless in the water alongside the diver to interact with the diver’s movements. They will often break away from feeding runs just to participate in this behaviour, which means it’s important enough to interrupt a survival activity. These large pelagic rays may be able to recognise a diver & perhaps even the boat of people familiar to them, too, as at the islands where I sea-kayak & dive these days, seasonally resident manta rays will approach my kayak & sometimes allow themselves to be touched from the surface. I have introduced two of my grandchildren to these rays.. much to their delight.
At one time my brother & I kept marine fish in several large aquariums & one contained a large codfish (grouper) of several kilograms who we had raised from a finger-length youngster we’d caught in a tidal pool. This fish could recognise family members & would get so excited when she sighted my brother or I that she would shake her whole body & hit the sides & lid of the tank with enthusiasm. She would do this outside of feeding times as well & come to the surface to allow herself to be stroked. Eventually this fish grew to a size where the decision was made to release her back into the wild, so we released her at the artificial reef that had become a marine sanctuary. Several people on hearing of this wondered why we just didn’t kill the fish & eat her, just as we were doing to her fellow species in the wild, but the emotional bond formed through nurturing this fish wouldn’t allow it, & this began to be the end of our competitive & professional spearfishing exploits.. both of us turning instead to marine photography, scientific surveys & adventure scuba diving.
Today I am a long-term vegan & completely satisfied to observe fish & marine life of all varieties without feeling the urge to hunt them. I try to educate my kids & my many grandchildren towards respecting fish & showing consideration towards them just as they might do for any land animal. The answer always lies with the young.. preferably before they have been overly indoctrinated into the established view of the overculture. It’s a hard task to change points of view overnight, but hopefully change is coming, particularly with scientific studies starting to be done on fish intelligence & emotional behaviours.