It's offishal: last week, scientists discovered that the old adage "fish don't feel pain" is a red herring. They heated two sets of goldfish in foil jackets, after tanking up one set with morphine, and found that the non-drugged fish later showed signs of wariness, proving they'd had a cod-awful experience.
Perhaps angling for controversy, the director of Animal Aid railed, "Fish are probably the most abused group of animals in our culture. Fishing is seen as a poetic, meditative practice, but it's barbaric, cruel and should be banned."
But a spokesman for the Angling Trust carped, "This research doesn't really demonstrate anything about angling, as we don't fish with toasters," probably leaving the anti-fishing brigade wishing he'd jump into the bath with one.
From a scientific perspective, the experiment is interesting, coming after years of studies that often concluded that fish are too brain-free to feel anything. Yet, in practical terms, piscine pain is fairly low down in most people's priorities, and the new findings won't change their eating habits. They have bigger fish to fry.
Despite the best efforts of Finding Nemo, A Shark Tale and the Peta marketing team who brought you "sea kittens", most of us still feel nothing for fish except the odd pang of hunger. There's no other creature where, if its head appeared on your plate, you wouldn't yelp in horror. Fish don't elicit the same emotional response as mammals and birds, and because of this, I've always eaten them but rarely meat.
I have a close friend, though, who is so vegan, if he sat on a bee, he'd self-flagellate for three days; and we often argue about the fish issue (aka "the fishue").
"For cod's hake!" he'll snap (usually while ferrying a beetle to safety), "eating fish but not meat is inconsistent and illogical." He isn't: he doesn't eat honey, wear leather or suede, and refuses to swat flies even if they settle on his nut roast.
Over the years, this moral conundrum has given me a haddock. I've had to concede to my friend that I'm not sure I could kill a fish, that maybe I do have no sole, and that no, having a hook through my face isn't on my to-do list. But until last week, I could always comfort myself with wishful thinking and play the "it doesn't hurt them" trump card.
Now I'm faced with the prospect of a fishless existence: I'm forced to admit that the nervous systems of fish may never have been my main concern. I know that my friend is right, and that everyone else in my life is wrong, yet I'm finding it difficult to incorporate this fact into my diet. I like fish, and I'm very used to eating them. Like most people, I don't outwardly agree with hurting any living creature, yet my purchases silently condone it.
Because while my friend speaks an unassailable truth – that there's no reason for any sentient creature to die so we can eat – it's also an inconvenient one, and one we're protected from daily by breadcrumbs and sauces, supermarkets and industry spokesmen. If we had to kill the fish or meat ourselves, regularly view their suffering, or even experience disapproval from the people around us, most of us would stop eating animals very quickly.
But we don't. Which means that, no matter how much pain creatures we view as "food" are scientifically proven to experience, 94% of us will go on fuelling demand for them, sticking our fingers in our ears and yelling, "la la la, they taste nice, so shut up and let me eat them!"
And excuses don't get more shellfish than that.