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Do Fish Feel Pain?

Submitted by admin on 2010-07-22

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Before I got involved with scuba diving I was fairly apathetic on the issue of fishing, I'm not a vegetarian and I do eat meat, fish included. Though after a short period I soon became very opposed to sport fishing, and here is why.

Some of you may have heard in the past how fish may react to pain, but that they do not feel pain in a conscious way and it is rather just their bodies natural reaction to the incident. This is a common conception derived from experiments done in the past, though later experiments have shown that this may not be the case.

I'll share with you the information that made me turn from an apathetic fence sitter into one who strongly opposes sport fishing altogether...

Last year a report was published by a science journal, where in-depth tests were done on the subject of pain in fish. The experiment which was conducted comprised of two groups of fish, one of which was given morphine and the other, a placebo. These two groups of fish were then treated to exercises that would involve pain, though remain un-damaging to the tissue of the fish.

When this action was performed the fish reacted as expected. Though this is where the study took a different turn to the common question on whether fish can feel pain- once the pain inducing exercise had finished the two groups of fish had distinctly different behaviour patterns. The fish whom were on morphine continued to behave the same as they did prior to the experiment, while the fish that were not on morphine were now riddled with behaviour patterns in association with fear, they were far more defensive, anxious and wary. This proved that the reactions fish have to pain are not just one of reflex, but that they perceive pain consciously.

The reason for the fish whom were on morphine's reaction is one not of pain, but rather being generally uncomfortable. Professor Garner stated it using a metaphor which humans may be able to relate to, "If you think back to when you have had a headache and taken a painkiller, the pain may go away, but you can still feel the presence or discomfort of the headache."

Another study which was conducted near the same time also showed that crabs feel pain too. A topic which leaves me in hot water (excuse the pun), as I am a big fan of eating seafood, especially crayfish- though with this study suggesting that the crayfish feels pain throughout the cooking process (which is typically done while alive) it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

It was discovered that majority of marine creatures had far more advanced pain receptors than had previously been assumed. Another study performed earlier on in the decade also showed that rainbow trout for instance had nearly 60 pain receptors in their lips alone. So each time someone is reeling in a rainbow trout, that hook in it's mouth is most certainly causing pain to the creature in the process.

Now of course the situation with cooking crayfish is that you're still using them for food, which in my mind is leaps and bounds from the practice of sport fishing. But if crayfish are feeling pain throughout the cooking process, I for one don't really want to be a part of that.

I'm aware many of you are muttering to yourselves about just how much you don't care about how animals suffer, since you can't hear them screaming. But this is not an attempt to convert people into vegetarians, or an ambush against those whom are apathetic towards such things. But if anything I urge you to follow your conscience on this one after reading this, and hopefully help educate people as to the results of these studies.

Pain itself is a tricky subject, there is no way to truly measure it as it's completely relative. People have various pain thresholds, and it's no different for animals I would assume. Scientists are still struggling to fully understand pain in humans, so it will likely be a while still before they completely understand pain in animals, especially marine life. Though I think it is important to remember that just because we are not familiar with a specie's thoughts or emotions, that we continue to treat them with a degree of respect and understanding.

If you were looking for a short answer on whether or not fish feel pain, then yes, yes they do.


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Realy interesting thank you :)!
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very interesting. and a little depressing.

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