I have quite a spectacular goldfish swimming around its tank. His (or her) name is Witchhaven. That is what happens when you let your kids name the animals. I won’t even mention Cork and Spider-man, two former chickens. Anyway Witchhaven is the last of his kind. A decision was made that when all the fish died we would move from cold water fish to tropical ones. Witchhaven continues to stubbornly cling to life long after his contemporaries have moved on.
Interestingly, while we have decided to allow Witchhaven to live out the term of his natural life, I would be perfectly within my rights to shove a sharp barbed hook into his mouth and lift him out of the water with his full body weight hanging by his lip from the hook. This is called fishing. While fish do get a mention in the 1986 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act the act does not apply to any fishing activities authorised by and conducted in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1995 (http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/legis/vic/consol_act/poctaa1986360/s6.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=fishing). Hooks are, of course, regarded as an integral part of recreational fishing and, as the act clearly states, “recreational fishing equipment means any fishing equipment prescribed in the regulations to be recreational fishing equipment.” I love bureaucracy.
Intriguingly were I to pull my cat along by a hook embedded in its lip I would get into trouble as this, no doubt, falls under the definition of someone who “wounds, mutilates, tortures, overrides, overdrives, overworks, abuses, beats, worries, torments or terrifies an animal (http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/legis/vic/consol_act/poctaa1986360/s9.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=cruelty).” Unfortunately it is perfectly fine to do that to our aquatic friends, because that is in the interests of sport, which override all other considerations.
And don’t think you can get out of it by saying fish don’t feel pain. They have a brain and a nervous system and the avoidance of noxious stimuli has the same benefit for them as it does for us. There is certainly no shortage of studies supporting the notion that fish feel pain.
A 2003 study was conducted where a noxious chemical was rubbed onto the lips of rainbow trout and their behaviour compared with untreated fish. The treated fish rocked from side to side and rubbed their lips into the gravel and on the sides of the tank. Their breathing rate also increased. When these fish were treated with morphine, a potent pain killer, these abnormal activities decreased, indicating analgesia (Sneddon 2003).
A similar 2007 study found morphine blocked the effects of a noxious stimulus (acetic acid) that had been injected into the cheeks of flounder (Newby et al 2007).
Koi carp showed a marked decrease in interactive behaviour, food consumption and activity following surgery. This did not occur if the carp were given butorphanol (another pain killer) or morphine (Baker et al 2010).
I could go on but it is pretty obvious that in this day and age the only people who still argue against fish feeling pain are those with a vested interest in perpetuating those painful activities i.e. anglers.
So go forth and fish, if you must, but don’t delude yourself that the marlin on the end of your hook, leaping so magnificently out of the water, is doing it for fun.
Dr. F. Bunny
Baker, T.R., B. Cummings, S.M. Johnson, and K.K. Sladky. 2010. Comparative analgesic efficacy of morphine and butorphanol in koi (Cyprinus carpio) undergoing gonadectomy. Proceedings of the AAZV AAWV Joint Conference. Pp. 203-204.
Newby, N.C., A.K. Gamperl, and E.D. Stevens. 2007. Cardiorespiratory effects and efficacy of morphine sulphate in winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus). American Journal of Veterinary Research 68: 592-597.
Sneddon, L.U. 2003. The evidence for pain in fish: the use of morphine as an analgesic. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 83: 153-162.