This article originally appeared on The Daily Pitchfork.
Do a quick search for "New York Times" and "fish" and, aside from a roasted bass and fennel recipe, you'll find some pretty foul news. Recent reports suggest that fish are, among other things, mislabeled, on the verge of extinction, saturated with toxins, banned from being caught in certain regions, genetically modified, trapped with dragnets, infected with lice, flowing with mercury, and labeled as "sustainably" caught when, alas, they're not.
But what you won't find is perhaps the most important recent discovery scientists have ever reported about fish: they're smart.
Ethically, fish swim in grey territory. Most decent people agree that that the land-based creatures we domesticate for food not only feel pain but live with some level consciousness. Based on this quality, many people have decided to think seriously about how to handle them, or even whether or not we should handle them at all, much less eat them.
Whatever ethical pricks we experience rarely extend to fish. Partly because they literally lurk beneath the surface of our observation, fish have yet to enter this privileged category of analysis. Could it be that the distinction drawn between, say, fish and pigs is as morally capricious as the one drawn between dogs and pigs? Could fish matter more than we've ever considered?