Do Fish Feel Pain?
by: David Coulson 12/9/2010
I enjoy browsing current news. Rarely am I looking for anything specific, rather Iíll read whatever catches my eye, be it local, state, national, or even international. My daily routine is to take time to read the local newspaper and browse a couple of internet news sites. Written news is preferable, as radio and television are shallow coverage. When I see a topic of interest, I want detail, lots of detail.
Youíre probably wondering what this has to do with fishing. Yesterday I read an article titled, ďFish Feel Pain Too, Professor Says,Ē http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40552140/ns/technology_and_science-science/. It concerns the book titled ďDo Fish Feel Pain?Ē by Victoria Braithwaite, a fisheries biologist who argues that fish are more intelligent than people believe and are full capable of experiencing pain at the same level as mammals and birds. Intrigued, I ordered a copy of the book last night.
Fish feeling pain is a subject that we should all be interested in. Why? Simply, the general consensus is fish do not feel pain, or at least not as a human or mammal feels it. If however, a convincing argument can be made that fish feel pain as you and I, then it could be argued (actually it is by some already) that many fishing practices are cruel and inhumane. Catch and release fishing is one such practice. Before blowing this off as so much hooey, know that this concept has gained acceptance in some European countries, notably Germany, where it is illegal to release a legal fish. Simply, fishing in Germany is all catch and keep, and there are specific regulations as to how fish must be dispatched. It is considered inhumane and unethical to fish purely for sport.
I feel there is a danger of such thoughts gaining a strong foothold in the U.S. This is further illustrated by an article in today's Coloradoan. A local group has started a petition to ban sales of all pets from stores within the city limits of Fort Collins. The premise being this will somehow lead to more responsible pet ownership, reduce the number of unwanted pets, and reduce/eliminate puppy mill operations. While not fishing, it too strikes hard at the core of how we treat animals, what is acceptable and what is not.
Personally, I feel most of these views are bull. However, I also recognize that these well meaning, and oft misguided, folkís arguments come with a grain of truth and at times come across a reasonable to others who donít have a connect with the natural world. Therein lays the danger, as the percentage of folks hunting and fishing declines, there are greater numbers of folks susceptible to half-truths and that represents a danger my cherished sport, fishing.
What to do? First and foremost, stay informed. That is why I ordered the book. Itís hard to defend against something if you donít know the oppositionís arguments. Stay active. Itís one thing to be vocal on Fish Explorer, itís another to be active by voicing your concerns to the political leadership, be it a town council member, all the way to the president. Express your views frequently, and with controlled passion. Fail to be civil and folks will cease to listen. It may seem futile at times, but failure to speak out will ensure our voices go unheard.
Blog content © David Coulson
ducati, CO 12/9/2010 11:32:30 AM
Any source coming from MSNBC and a fishing biologist on PETAS payroll is a step below a supermarket tabloid and pretty laughable, but agreed there is a percentage of people out there that believe everything they here and can easily be led like sheep, but all and all I don't think there are enough to be concerned about.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO 12/9/2010 12:00:53 PM
A well published Penn State professor, in numerous peer reviewed highly respected scientific jounals, is not someone on a fringe group's payroll. I haven't read her book, but I will soon. I challenge all to pay attention to these "fringe" elements and not blow them off. Most changes that have come about in this country originated with a minority (fringe) group.
ducati, CO 12/9/2010 12:57:34 PM
Ok no offense meant, i'll try it this way. Its a little to far into the realm of paranoia for me to worry about personally.
rowjimmy, CO 12/9/2010 1:10:53 PM
I get sick when i se @sshole holing there bass wrong if its over 5 lbs hold it ass end as well as lippin um yo what the %uck i mean we gatta take care of our lil brothers
brookieflyfisher, CO 12/9/2010 1:17:47 PM
From what I have researched, there have been multiple studies on fish feeling pain both here in the US as well as by the Royal Society in Britain. Most of the results point towards the fact that fish are able to feel pain, but they are all officially "inconclusive". For me, it doesn't matter on a philosophical basis if fish can feel pain or not. Human beings are the only species on earth that is capable of contemplating past, present, and future. We are the only ones able to take an "external" view of our own lives and we are the only ones capable of contemplating death and the meaning of our lives. Therefore, we are the only ones who can interpret pain as suffering. Fish lack the ability to suffer. They may feel pain but they aren't able to suffer from it. No animals suffer. Suffering comes about from the ability of the human to take an external view of the pain. Fish lack this ability. Therefore, pain will only register as a stimulus in a fish rather than illicit any kind of "emotion".
slurp, CO 12/9/2010 1:17:52 PM
Do Fish Feel Pain?
Not nearly as much pain as I feel when the big one gets away.
Coyute, CO 12/9/2010 1:56:50 PM
Next thing you know they will be telling us that vegetables feel pain - and some opportunistic punk will write a book about it - and people will buy into it - and those buying into it will produce even more moronic offspring - eventually we will devolve into monkeys - and the world will be saved. Sounds legitimate to me. :P
PikeD, CO 12/9/2010 3:44:49 PM
I've been told too that some (maybe most?) native american cultures adhere to the "catch and keep" philosophy. The idea here is that it is disrespectful to release a fish.
If you humanize this it sounds silly. If I was held at gun point I would much rather be released than "kept".
MALLEN, CO 12/9/2010 5:10:59 PM
Fish do not "feel" pain, as in human definition, in there daily routine a fish could be attacked by another fish or bird, turtle.ect...if a fish had to rest and recover every time they felt pain, they would become easy prey...How many times have you caught a fish with a broken off lure in its mouth, if it was feeling human pain, it would not be eating...
paulent, CO 12/9/2010 5:23:10 PM
oh, wasn't this mentioned as a cultural "symptom" in an Ayn
Rand book I read a long time ago? Or was it the vegetable revolution... hmmm, need to go back and check it
IceFishingFool, CO 12/9/2010 5:35:09 PM
To much heavy thinking. I need more cheeze.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO 12/9/2010 7:24:56 PM
I agree fish do not feel pain as we know it. Put a hook in your lip and pull. I'm sure you'll follow, whereas a fish fights against it. Not an expression of pain as we know it. Having said that, in a voting situation, my view is only one vote, if 10 others disagree then I might well lose. This year alone, I've had conversations with several non fishers, who asked how I justified inflicting pain on fish if I wasn't going to keep them. Many people tend to give fish and other animals human attributes, including fishers. As a result they assume if it would hurt (be painful) to us, is must also hurt to the fish. Therein is the danger to our sport, unsupported beliefs by well meaning, and possibly misinformed individuals.
RMTrouter, CO 12/9/2010 11:27:03 PM
I am not a biologist nor do I play one on TV, but as far as fish feeling pain and the mention of the experiments regarding the fish being exposed to pain. I would equate this to Pavlov's dog. Fish are instinctual and they too can be conditioned to react a certain way. Based on my "experiments" and the "experiments" of just about every angler out there, we have all experienced tough days on the water where the fish were just not buying what we were offering. This is the result of two possible scenarios the first is that the fish are just not hungry, or the second, something is just not quite right. Educated fish have been there and done that, and in the back of their tiny little brains, they ability to remember that time they ate that fly that looked close enough to something they ate before, or that poor little baitfish that looked to helpless to pass up, and the bad experience that followed.
Do fish feel pain? Truthfully, I have no doubt that fish experience pain. But I agree with Dave and Mallen on this one, I donít believe that fish process the pain in the same way we do.
On the topic of humanity, if we asked the fish what is more humane, to eat them or release them. I would wager that the fish would say release.
On a serious note. If we are releasing fish, lets keep our hooks sharp and our barbs pinched. Itís easier on everyone involved.
FishinChris, CO 12/10/2010 8:58:24 AM
First of all, I can only find 2 sentences in this article that directly address whether or not fish feel pain, and that's what I wanted to see from this, especially considering the title. So, moving on to the subject at hand, I think it is ridiculous to think that fish can't feel pain. Let me explain: What do your minnows do when you put a hook through their backs? They flip and squirm around trying their damndest to get away. Why? Because they can feel the shank impaled through their bodies! When you catch a fish, what does it do when it gets hooked? It flips out and tries to get away from the hook in its mouth. Why? Same reason your minnows do...it can feel it. Fish fight and try to swim away not because it doesn't hurt, but because, to the fish, the direction it is being pulled (to us, the fisherman) means certain death. So, it can either fight with the pain and live or give up and die. If we have spent 5 minutes watching nature shows, we know that animals will fight through agonizing pain if that means it will live. Pain is as necessary to life as sex is. If an animal can't tell if something is damaging it, then how the hell will it know what is bad for it? If an animal can't tell what is bad for it, how could it continue to reproduce and compete with other animals and not be wiped out? The answers are it can't. That's why all animals react to injury the way they do. Fish have intricate and extremely sensitive nervous systems. Those lateral lines running down their bodies feel the slightest vibrations in the water around them. I would be amazed if such a senstive nrevous system couldn't feel pain. In all likelyhood fish don't feel pain exactly the way humans do. Humans have emotional and logical responses to pain that only our faculties can process. However, it is established that mammals experience emotions, and it is likely that most animals, including fish, have some level emotional awareness. Animals can feel if they are hungry, satisfied, scared, horny, calm etc. These are responses essential for survival. So, a fish may not have the mental capacity of a human, but that does not mean that fish, or any other animals, don't get the same underlying experience from pain - that pain=bad.
ducati, CO 12/10/2010 11:11:36 AM
I don't have a clue if a fish feels anything, I have never asked one and will leave that to the biologist using are "stimulant" dollars to figure it out, I know I will sleep better. I don't believe for a second, regardless of what are sea kitten friends feel, that we will go to a mandated catch and keep fishery.
malty falcon, CO 12/10/2010 11:23:09 AM
thanks for that update. Since I am a tree-huggin pantywaist, I am going to quit fishing. I sure don't want to cause any fish pain. I would give away all my fishing gear, 5 boats, and trailers, but that would encourage ppl. to fish, so I'm throwing it all away. I'm also thinking of quitting working, since that takes money away from those less fortunate. I'm also quitting breathing, since that produces CO2 (very bad for the environment) If there was no people on the planet, that would be even better for the environment, so lets all just roll over and perish- would that make the fish happy? But if there were no people to see the happy fish, would they still be happy?
IceInTheVeins, CO 12/10/2010 3:49:14 PM
Yep, I'm not going to believe MSLSD or a PETA biologist. Instead I will look at the facts:
Nociceptive (or injurous) stimuli is detected by the Medulla, which is a brain structure fish do have. However, the Cerebral Cortex is the brain structure that is responsible for conscious awareness of these stimuli. Fish almost completely lack a cerebral cortex. So it is almost certain that fish have no conscious awareness of pain.
IceInTheVeins, CO 12/10/2010 3:50:08 PM
And remember, peer review is not a process desinged to or effective at finding fraud and dishonesty in the scientific process.
J-rock, CO 12/16/2010 9:30:19 AM
This is a ridiculous subject and deserves no attention
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO 12/16/2010 10:42:22 AM
Couple of points. I respect that some don't view this as a serious subject. But then that could be said for a lot of topics. We're entitled to our views. That has also been said of discussions about many fishing and hunting practices and perceived "rights" that have been changed by public (non hunter/fisher) perceptions, to list only one, bear baiting. Like it or not, changed perceptions in the general society can impact our sport. I have the aforementioned book in hand and started reading it. By year's end I should have finished it and will give my view. I fully recognize that peer review does not mean an article/book is free of fraud or that it should be accepted as truth. That can be said of any published work. However, peer review lends a lot more credience than most works that are published with minimal editing/review. It behooves everyone to be critical of everything they read/hear and not accept anything at face value.
Tbubb, CO 12/16/2010 1:49:58 PM
In most 'moral' arguments, it seems to me that a majority of participants pick their side and then select the data set that will support the end and targeted outcome that they desired to reach based on their goals or values. This seems no different to me.
We are not so foolish as to look at this in black and white terms are we?
Anyone who has removed a tough-to-remove hook from a fish knows that they can feel it and don't like it. What is your definition of pain? Do you honestly know how the brain interprets it? Very few people are even aware fo the basic mechanics of sensation.
A neuron either fires or doesn't... Period. Now, depending on one's biology and brain (which is the medium of interpretation) that can be felt as pleasure or pain- again, the neuron does not differentiate, the brain does. This is based on timing, density of nerves firing, and perhaps to some great degree, training and adaptation. Now, this is done for every creature in some are of the brain or another. Even humans, who all have the same basic brain structure have variants and chemical influences (IE the MAOA-L gene) that will change these perceptions due to attentiveness or interpretation by the brain.
So what are we really debating here? Is someone going to quit fishing if it is proven that fish feel pain? If not, then accept that and move on, but move on thinking about it and realize what you are up to, and meanwhile, treat them as if they can feel pain- which means handle them as humanely as you can. I've seen people that don't even treat them as if they are alive and it bugs me. I wouldn't ban fishing because of it, but I do think some pretty negative things of people who step on fish to de-hook them, tear the hook out to save a snell, then kick them into the water.
Got Ice?, CO 12/16/2010 9:09:15 PM
well it takes allot of pain to reel in the monsters I catch so its a wash hahahahaha
proton, CO 12/17/2010 5:05:25 AM
It would be very helpful if we could just communicate with other species, whether it was a mammel, insect or fish. So, we can only speculate if they feel emotions, or pain. In my opinion, if a animal, fish or insect has a brain with a nerve system to communicate, then they must be able to send or recieve physical signals, and this would include pain. Now, they may not be able to reflect pain in there facial expressions because they may not have emotions but they have to feel pain. Take two asprin and call me in the morning.
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