Can vegetarians eat fish?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Can vegetarians eat fish?” and will discuss why some vegetarians eat fish.

Can vegetarians eat fish?

No, vegetarians cannot eat fish. Do not serve fish to your vegetarian relatives and acquaintances. Don’t offer the seafood special to a vegetarian diner, if you work in a restaurant. Fish are aquatic creatures. Any kind of fish or seafood, as well as other animal flesh, is not vegetarian. It’s impossible to be a vegetarian if you consume anything from the sea, lake, or river. This includes fish, shrimp, lobster, and crab.

People who follow a vegetarian diet but opt to eat fish are called pescatarian or pescetarian (1). 2.5 million Brits (5% of the population) follow a pescetarian diet. The number rose in 2020, along with other vegetarian diet variants, with around 300,000 people successfully adopting the diet in Great Britain (2).

The differences between vegetarian and pescatarian diets

Vegetarians abstain from consuming animal products such as meat. Consequently, fish and other seafood are not vegetarian if used in this way. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume animal products including eggs, milk, and cheese while being vegetarians. Even yet, fish are off-limits to them.

Even though they incorporate fish and shellfish in their meals, vegetarians who are pescatarians nonetheless refrain from eating animal meat. However, whether or not people are classified as pescatarians depends on how they define the term. Vegetarians are still considered by some to be persons who consume mostly plant-based meals, with just occasional eating of fish or shellfish. Yet, significant proportions of people who self-identify as vegetarian do not follow a strictly vegetarian diet and studies suggest that many self-identified vegetarians may truly be pescatarians—people who eschew red meat and poultry but eat fish (sometimes referred to as pesco-vegetarians) (3).

Other plant-based eating plans, such as the flexitarian or Mediterranean, include fish and seafood for those who adhere to them (1).

There are many reasons why vegetarians could decide to consume fish?

Vegetarians who opt to include fish in their diet for a variety of reasons may be considered pescatarians. Eating fish or seafood may broaden a person’s culinary horizons by providing a wider range of protein alternatives at mealtimes.

Fish may also be consumed by certain individuals for the sake of their health. Aside from protein, fish and seafood are loaded with nutrients like zinc and vitamin B12, which are critical for a healthy immunological and brain system. The intake of certain vitamins and minerals may be insufficient if you follow a purely vegetarian diet alone. Fish protein tends to be high in lysine, sulfur containing amino acids and threonine; these amino acids are limiting in cereal based diets and add significance to the quality of fish and seafood protein sources (3).

 One oyster, for example, is an excellent sourcehas 85 percent of the recommended daily intake of zinc, which acts as a catalyst for over 100 specific enzymes necessary for human metabolism and 78 percent of the recommended daily intake of  of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is important to DNA synthesis, red blood cells and neurological function. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can be associated with megaloblastic anemia, neurological disorders, myelopathy, memory impairment, dementia, depression and cerebrovascular disorders (3).

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are both found in abundance in fish, particularly in salmon, herring, and sardines (DHA). EPA and DHA are present in relatively few plant meals, on the other hand

These vital nutrients are critical for a healthy pregnancy and birth, as well as for long-term brain and heart development and functioning. Health benefits associated with ingestion of n-3 LC-PUFAs include brain and retinal fetal development, cognitive development, mental health improvements (depression, schizophrenia, dementia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), lower risk of coronary heart disease and protection against heart arrhythmia, greater plaque stability and anti-thrombosis properties (3).

You can get omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from some plant meals, but it’s not readily processed by your body into EPA and DHA (or other important facts). Consequently, certain vegetarian diets could be lacking in omega-3 fatty acids (4).

Incorporating fish and seafood into a mostly plant-based diet may be due to the wide range of essential elements it provides for pescatarians.

However, isn’t eating fish a kind of dishonesty?

A lot of vegetarians and vegans have strong feelings regarding individuals who don’t eat meat but do consume fish as an alternative to meat. As a result, some people believe adhering only to fish would not eliminate cruelty from your life.

However, there is a lot of gray area here. According to certain research, fish do not have the same level of pain perception as humans. Because fish are physiologically distinct from humans, inducing pain reactions in them, in the same manner, you would in a mammal (e.g., with rubbing injuries) often results in little to no response observable.

Other researchers, on the other hand, assert that fish are sensitive to pain. For example, biologist Victoria Braithwaite found that when fish were exposed to an abrasive chemical, they beat their gills more quickly, rub the irritated regions against tank walls, and ate less. They seemed to be in distress. 

Studies argument that there is mounting evidence that fish have the neuroanatomy, neuropharmacology, and behavioral responses to indicate that they can feel pain and suffer — and little evidence that they cannot — and thus wonders whether, if fish are indeed sentient beings that can suffer, it is acceptable to use them for human pleasure activities such as recreational fishing and aquarism (5).

The truth remains, however, that without comparable biological components, it is difficult to determine what constitutes pain comparable to that which humanity is capable of experiencing the most difficult component of deciding whether or not to consume fish ethically and philosophically is deciding whether or not to consider fish are enough different from humans to not experience conventional pain. We can’t ask them, but can we make any assumptions about their worldview based on what we know about how they perceive things? Anyone may decide for themselves how morally safe they want to play this game or not.

Concerns about current fisheries’ unsustainable practices and mercury contamination in fish are two further reasons to become a vegetarian in its entirety (6). However, sustainable fisheries and healthy seafood sources aren’t taken into account. However, globally, marine fish and shellfish production has increased over fivefold, from around 20 million metric tons in 1950 to 105 million metric tons during the second half of the 20th century and the marine fish catch has plateaued, and may even be in decline, while the size of the human population is continuing to expand. This leaves the expansion of aquaculture as the only way to maintain, or if possible increase, global per capita consumption of fish. Aquaculture already accounts for 25% of the total marine plus freshwater harvest. But fish farming itself entails some public health issues, including chemical contamination of fish, the promotion of antibiotic resistance, and the growing distortion of the lipid profile of caged fish, fed, increasingly, on land-grown crops (6).

Fish-eating vegetarians can’t be complete conventional vegetarians, but there are valid reasons to be a pescatarian rather than a full vegetarian.

Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.

Did vegetarianism become popular?

Do vegetarians eat dairy?

Do vegetarians live longer?


In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Can vegetarians eat fish?” and discussed why some vegetarians eat fish.


  1. Hargreaves, Shila Minari, et al. Vegetarian diet: an overview through the perspective of quality of life domains. Int j environ res public health, 2021, 18, 4067. 
  2. Shaw, N. 470,000 of us gave up meat in 2020. Wales online. January 5th, 2021.
  3. McManus, Alexandra, and Wendy Newton. Seafood, nutrition and human health: A synopsis of the nutritional benefits of consuming seafood. 2011, 1-10. Faculty of Health Sciences. Curtin University of Technology.
  4. Simopoulos, Artemis P. Omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids: biological effects. World Rev Nutr Diet, 2009, 99, 1-16.
  5. Posner, Lysa Pam. Pain and distress in fish: A review of the evidence. ILAR j, 2009, 50, 327-328.
  6. McMichael, Anthony J., and Colin D. Butler. Fish, health, and sustainability. Am j prevent med, 2005, 29, 322-323.