A topic that arises from time to time in my fishing conversations is that of the ethicality of catch-and-release fishing. I enjoy catching fish of all species, and I will occasionally harvest some fish such as walleye for the dinner table. However, when it comes to largemouth bass (my favorite species to target) I am strictly 100% catch and release.
Some folks say that if you’re going to cause pain to a fish simply for the enjoyment of catching it, then you shouldn’t mess with it at all in the first place. As anglers, we do well to consider this point-of-view and have an answer ready for those who question the ethics behind catch-and-release angling.
I want to point out that I am not a biologist in any sense of the word. I have read a few articles on the subject, but the most credible source on the subject of fish pain that I’ve read comes from the infamous book entitled “Knowing Bass” by Keith Jones, PhD.
From the book, Jones begins by talking about how humans feel pain in regards to how our brains work. Long story short, humans sense pain primarily through the neocortex of our brains. Jones goes into much greater detail than this introducing the topics of how we have skin receptors to detect temperatures, pressure, etc. but I won’t go into detail with that. I just want to point out that fish don’t have the extensive receptors as humans in order to detect those types of things to the same extent as we do. Going back to the neocortex, because fish do not have one, they definitely do not sense pain the same way as humans do. This doesn’t mean that fish don’t sense pain in any way, shape, or form, however. It is possible that their brains have other means to detect pain that is unknown to scientists at this time.
In the end, Jones concludes that although it is a possibility that fish do indeed feel pain, there are at two things we know for certain. First: just as fish do not see or hear the same way humans see or hear, they neither feel pain the same way humans feel pain. Second: their pain perception will not come along with all the emotional baggage that humans tend to attach to painful events.
If you are interested in learning more about the biology of the largemouth bass, and how that knowledge can help you in your angling, then I would highly recommend reading a copy of “Knowing Bass”. It is a highly sought-after book for good reason and might be a very good item to put on your Christmas list this season!
Nice write up Scott. Honestly, if we start worrying too much about fish feeling pain, we might as well all stop fishing altogether. At that point it won't matter how you fish, if your hooks are barbed or not barbed.
Interesting write up. In my opinion using barbless is probably the smartest way to go about it if you're trying to reduce the tear on the fish.
Good book, dry but informative.
Even if it could be emphatically proven that fish feel pain, I'd still fish. Call me a sadist. I prefer 'angler'. No doubt about it, fishing is a blood sport and I'm fine with that. People who aren't shouldn't fish at all, even the ne'er-do-well and holier than thou C&R posturers who figure they've never harmed a fish in their lives. )
"Some folks say that if you’re going to cause pain to a fish simply for the enjoyment of catching it, then you shouldn’t mess with it at all in the first place." If I run into such people, then the conversation will abruptly end because I just realized I am talking to a buffoon. :)
Thanks for the blog Scott. It's been stagnant here in regards to worthwhile reading.
No problem Coyute. I've been reading through the book recently and it's like a back and forth between science terms that go over my head and then the application of the science which is where I find the book has value. Speaking of value, I looked it up online the other day and it's currently selling for $300! It's a good book but I don't know that it's $300 good.
Definitely not worth $300 to me. A friend lent it to me to read awhile back.
$300, man I could get a nice G-Loomis Rod, TFO rod for fly fishing.