All About Animals: The Issues (Ages 14-16): Fishing

Fish have many incredible characteristics that few people know about. For example, they don’t have eyelids and so never close their eyes. And some fish—mouth brooders—hide their babies in their mouths when danger nears. Fish have very sharp vision and they can sense light, chemicals, vibrations and electricity. They can also smell, touch, feel and taste—just like us. But fish also have taste buds on their lips, tongues and all over their mouths—some even have whiskers that can taste, too. This means that some fish can taste their food before it even reaches their mouths!

Fish have very sensitive mouths, and the same kind of pain receptors—nociceptors—that we have. Scientists have proven that fish do feel pain when they are hooked. Once fish are brought out of their environment and into ours, they begin to suffocate. Often their gills collapse and their swim bladder can rupture due to the sudden change in pressure on their bodies. Fish who are released can suffer such severe stress from being “played” that they may die even though they manage to swim away; or they may be so weakened that they become easy prey for predators. The “fight” to survive during catch and release can cause a build-up of lactic acid, making the fish stiff and sore, lessening her chances of survival.

An angler might say…

There are many reasons to go fishing: for relaxation; the enjoyment of being outdoors; the thrill of pitting your wits against nature.

Some anglers accept recent studies which have shown that fish do feel pain, while others remain adamant that they do not. Those anglers say that if fish felt pain, they wouldn’t keep catching the same fish over and over, as the fear of the hook would teach them not to bite. They also cite the species of fish who are able to eat spiny prey and not become injured as a result.

Fish who are caught are sometimes killed immediately and taken home to be eaten. Others are held in keep-nets for several hours and then thrown back. If the fish are handled carefully, they stand a better chance of surviving.

We are conservationists and if we didn’t fish the waters, fewer fish would be introduced. We are often the first to notice and report pollution incidents. Many anglers take an active part in keeping the waterways clean.

People who oppose angling might say…

We can be as sure that fish feel pain as we can be sure that a cat or a hamster feels pain. Fish have a nervous system and nociceptors—the receptors that only respond to a stimulus when cell death could occur. Of course, it is impossible to know exactly how a fish feels, just as it is impossible to know whether one person feels pain the same way as another does, but a recent study by the Royal Society confirms what many other scientists have been saying all along: fish do feel pain.

Some fish have adapted to eat spiny prey but many haven’t, and a hook through the lip, eye, throat or even stomach is not the same as crunching spiny prey. Regardless of any mouth injuries the fish may sustain, the process of being pulled out of their environment into one where they cannot breathe is extremely stressful. A fish getting hooked more than once proves only that he is hungry, since anglers disguise their hooks to look like food to the fish.

If anglers truly cared about the environment, they would ensure the waterways remained clean for the benefit of fish, animals and people, and not just because it means more fish for them to catch.

Even when fish are not killed, they can die from the stress once they are released. Their protective coating becomes damaged when handled, leaving the fish vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections when returned to the water.

There are many other ways to enjoy the countryside that don’t hurt animals: walking, hiking, cycling, picnicking, rowing, canoeing, tree-climbing, bird-spotting, swimming or just reading a book in the sunshine.

You want more info? This is where to go:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Countryside Alliance