Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fishing... Like Bowling

Fishing is Cruel

They say that hunting would be a sport if the deer had guns, too. So what about the fish? O-Henry commercials aside, this is definitely not very sporting...

Today I thought I would start to take a look at the killing of fish, because sometimes when you really and truly look at something familiar, you suddenly realize that you didn't really know it at all. Let's start with some of the fallacies of fish killing:

1. Killing fish is okay, because fish don't feel pain.

This is a silly suburban legend, based on modern science's obsession with the body. Since pain is something which occurs in the mind, simply saying that "fish don't have enough brain to feel pain" is not enough. Take a look at this article:

Fish do feel pain, scientists say (BBC)

Here's a list of experts on the subject from Recreational Fishing:

" Fish constitute the greatest source of confused thinking and inconsistency on earth at the moment with respect to pain. You will get people very excited about dolphins because they are mammals ... and about horses and dogs if they are not being treated properly. At the same time you will have fishing competitions on the River Murray at which thousands of people snare fish with hooks and allow them to asphyxiate on the banks, which is a fairly uncomfortable and miserable death ." (Dr B. Runciman, Professor of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, University of Adelaide, Australia) (4)

" Few people have much fellow feeling for fish even though many fish are long-lived, have complicated nervous systems and are capable of learning complicated tasks ." (P. Bateson, Professor of Ethology, University of Cambridge, UK) (5)

" Fish are no mere reflex-automatons, but animals capable of experiencing pain and fear and influenced behaviourally by experience, expectancies and motivational state in a manner analogous to that in higher animals up to man. " (Dr R. Buwalda, Department of Comparative Physiology, Rijks University, The Netherlands) (6)

" It is not surprising that fish possess the peripheral anatomical and chemical prerequisites for pain perception. Simpler life forms, such as gastropods, also share these features and, like fish, they show nociceptive responses which are analogous to those in vertebrates. These responses, which can be inhibited with conventional anaesthetics, are particularly convincing evidence that fish and lower life forms have the capacity for feeling pain. " (Professor Neville Gregory, research scientist) (7)

With regard to pain, there is no difference between warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals. Researchers using fish in experiments recognise that they have to use anaesthetics and analgesics to reduce pain and stress, in the same way that they do for other animals (8).

2. Killing fish is okay, because fish are just dumb animals.

This is the kind of argument they used to justify sterilizing mentally-challenged individuals. It really doesn't hold.

Pain is not a respecter of intelligence. We tend to assume that the stupidest individual we know is capable of feeling as much pain as we do. We don't tend to say:

"Well, Bob is pretty dumb you know. Are we really sure that he felt pain when that truck hit him? Ok. I know he flew 25 feet in the air, let out a blood curdling scream and then thrashed about for ten minutes. But was that just a motor response? Was he really feeling it?"

We just don't. Bob may be dumb, but pain he most certainly did feel. And yet change it around to say:

"Well fish are pretty dumb you know. Are we really sure that fish felt pain when we hauled it 25 feet in the air with a metal hook in its mouth, juggled it, patted ourselves on the back for a bit, took a picture, then weighed it while all the while it is gasping for air (I did throw it back after all!)" And we aren't so sure.

Source: Do Fish Feel Pain? The science behind whether Fish Feel Pain

Dumb they may be, but insensitive they are not. It bears little meaning just because something doesn't experience physical pain, when the worst thing about swallowing a hook has little to do with the piercing feeling it brings with it.

Whether it can be classed as pain or not, Sneddon's work has identified that fish experience prolonged discomfort following an injection that would be painful to humans.

Source: Fish 'capable of experiencing pain'

My goodness, people. a hook in your throat, then flipflopping on the floor of a metal boat until the hook can be removed and you're either thumped to death or put on a chain until it's time to remove your entrails while you're still alive. How would you feel? I sit in meditation sometimes and remember my own victims' plight, and think about how I would feel with a hook in my belly on a catgut cord with some guy on the other end wearing a baseball cap and saying "oh, I throw them back - I'm a sport fisherman". Hey guys, gimme a hook...

Fishing means intense pain and stress for millions of fish every year. Fish are treated in ways which would cause an outrage if cute, furry creatures were involved - but fish suffer just as much.

* Pain begins when the hook pierces the mouth and the fish is reeled in. Many people remove the hook while the fish is still alive. Anyone who has ever had a fish hook stuck in their own flesh needs no convincing that this is extremely painful.

* Pain is further increased if large fish are landed with a gaff hook. This large hook on a handle rips into the flesh of the live fish to pull it out of the water.

* Livebaiting is another barbaric activity that increases pain. A live small fish is threaded up as bait for larger fish. Here is one description of how to do this, taken from a fishing magazine:

"The needle is passed through the front of the eye socket of both eyes. The material is then pulled through so that the hook sits on the head of the baitfish."

Remember that the baitfish is alive and feels pain, just like a dog or a cat (or indeed a human) would.


* Once out of the water, fish suffocate rather like we do underwater. In their death throes fish writhe, gasping and flapping their gills as they desperately try to get oxygen. Anyone who has ever been unable to breathe even for a short time won't need convincing that this is a terrifying experience.

* Intense stress is also caused by livebaiting and "playing" fish on the line, as is done particularly with big game fish such as marlin. Research has compared the behaviour of fish in these two situations with the behaviour of fish in a tank into which alarm substance had been released. Alarm substance is normally released by injured fish. This chemical causes panic in other fish, who flee as quickly as possible. In the experiment, the behaviour produced by the alarm substance was very similar to behaviour produced by livebaiting and game fishing. So, these activities cause panic, like alarm substance, but the fish can't escape and the panic may go on for hours.

Sick, and more sick.

So how can we do it? Easy. In Peace Studies, we learned that the way to condition someone to be able to kill is to create a distance between them and their victim. Calling fish dumb animals really is just our way of overcoming our own revulsion to pain and torture necessary to kill. We just stop caring about them. When I first killed a deer, it was the most difficult thing to do just to pull the trigger. The second time it was much easier (luckily, I missed), and I imagine it gets easier as you go.

I would never have shot a deer or trapped a bear. It seemed violent and unfair. But fishing, I now realize, is no different. It's just hunting in water. I simply failed to recognize it until I began to care about animal rights issues and compassion towards non-human animals.

I remember, as a kid, I'd often use live bait. I'd have to make sure when I hooked the fish through the back that I avoided the backbone. Otherwise, the bait fish would die, rendering it useless. How cruel! It's amazing the way we are indoctrinated with behavior that so often ignores issues related to animal cruelty. From our dinner table to the purchasing of cats and dogs (as opposed to adopting) to such "hobbies" as hunting and fishing, children are raised with little respect for the pain and suffering humans inflict daily on non-human animals.

As we become a more enlightened species (we are, I hope), it's important that issues about compassion towards non-human animals become common subject matter in all homes. Fishing is a great place to start and it's necessary for parents to start teaching their kids that fishing is cruel and that there are other ways to spend long afternoons with family or friends.

Fishing: A "Sport" Baited With Cruelty

--- To be continued in posts to come ---

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