Do Fish Feel Pain?
I recently read an article for Dr James Ibrahim in the BlueWater Magazine entitled “Do Fish Feel Pain?”. Whether fish feel pain or not often stirs a lot of debate, because we don’t want to be hurting living creatures – we want to cause the least amount of pain and damage as possible, particularly if we are releasing our catch for another day.
Dr Ibrahim ultimately concluded that fish do not feel pain that comes within the definition used by the International Associate for the Study of Pain: “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage”. He concludes that whatever a fish experiences, it cannot be called pain.
I would beg to differ. I agree that fish probably don’t feel pain like humans or mammals do. But they would know when there was something threatening their lives, and they would have an “unpleasant sensory experience” if their tissue was damaged.
The science in the article explains that there are two types of nociceptors – A-fibres and C-fibres. The A-fibres are a very quick signal to warn that something hurts. The C-fibres are responsible for the more severe, dull, ongoing, robbing-type pain that persists after a human hurts themselves. Comparative studies between human nervous systems and that of fish show that human nervous systems contains about 80% C-fibres. Whereas fish have only around 4-5% of their nervous systems being C-fibres. They have a higher number of A-fibres. But sharks and rays don’t have any A-fibres or C-fibres at all!
There have also been studies which show that fish can resume feeding and normal activity within minutes of having a surgical procedure. Also, there are plenty of studies that show a fish can resume its normal behaviour shortly after it is caught and released. This is good to know, and can maybe be contributed to fish having less C-fibres so their pain is not prolonged. But my favourite quote in the article was from Dr Lynne Sneddon who said “just because animals don’t have a human brain does not mean that they can’t have negative feelings associated with injury”.
So let’s treat our catches as best we can, so they can be returned to the fisheries to breed and keep us fishing!
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