Do fish feel pain and distress? An average Joe’s perspective

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Do fish feel pain and distress? An average Joe’s perspective

Last week I put up a Facebook post (Link to Post) criticising a greens group for instigating a Federal Government inquiry to ban recreational fishing. Their basis was that fish feel pain and distress.

While I was quick to dismiss this idea, it’s been on my mind for a few days now. The idea of torturing some poor defenceless animal for my own entertainment doesn’t sit well with me.  So I’m going to share my thoughts with you on whether fish feel pain or not.

Firstly, I am not a marine biologist or scientist of any kind so there will be no scientific backing to anything in this article. Just my observations and a little bit of logic.

So let’s kick off.

When we talk about pain and distress I assume we are talking about the pain of hooking the fish and the subsequent tussle between the angler and fish.

So what does this mean for fish:

Fish seem to live in a continual state of distress

Sit in a tropical creek as the tide starts to fall you will quickly get an understanding of how quick the cycle of life is in a marine environment. It is brutal, ruthless and unforgiving. The predator/prey interactions we see on the surface are only a very small glimpse at the dangerous world fish live in. It goes on like this all day, every day of the year.

Pretty much everything is in a continual state of fleeing from being killed, hiding from being killed or hanging out together to reduce their odds of being killed. From a human perspective this would be highly distressing but it is how fish live.

Does recreational fishing distress fish???  Probably, but nowhere near the scale that fish experience every single day in their natural environment.

Fish do stuff that would hurt us

Crunching up coral with their teeth, breaking open oyster shells with their mouths, eating raw prawns (including the heads), eating spiky baitfish and insects. This is all basic stuff for fish but would cause a significant amount of pain for humans – enough pain for us to quickly find other food sources.

Fish have adapted mouths that enable them to deal with these kind of spiky foods and if caused them significant problems I imagine they would have evolved to eat something else (like seagrass).

From a human perspective a hook through the mouth would hurt us but the diet of fish suggests that it probably wouldn’t bother them too much other than triggering a reaction to flee.

Does hooking a fish hurt it???  Probably not more than they would experience in their daily life.

Pain is a normal part of life

There are no ethics in a marine environment and a painful, protracted death is very normal. Being eaten alive, having huge chunks of flesh bitten off or getting sliced in half is a horrific concept for humans. Pain is just part of life in a wild marine environment and goes on at a level we cannot even fathom.

Imagine the news reports if a group of thugs chopped 500 people into little pieces and left them to die a slow death, their eyes picked out of their dying bodies and whatever is left is fed to the crabs??? This is just a bait ball getting devoured, it happens hundreds of times a day in your local estuary.

But fish still feel pain right???  I think so, but pain and suffering seems absolutely normal in the world of fish.  Humans could never replicate it at the level that fish do it to each other.

So do they feel pain and distress?

Well yes – BUT they live in a world that is different to humans can easily reconcile with.

Just as gazelles probably don’t like being eaten by lions and baby fur seals dislike being eaten by polar bears, fish probably don’t like being caught by humans.

Maybe we have removed ourselves so far from the natural environment that we have forgotten that “humane” is a characteristic that is largely unique to humans.  I can see why the group trying to instigate this Government Inquiry is trying to remain annomous as it is a massive burn of taxpayer dollars.  I’ve also stopped feeling so bad about my Facebook post now.

What are your thoughts about fishing causing pain and distress??

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The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

John Buchan