Do fish endure pain? Catch-and-release wise either way
Updated 5:34 pm, Saturday, January 19, 2013
Recently a long exchange of increasingly irate posts and responses happened on a forum maintained by a popular fishing website.
The topic was one that comes up a lot in the dead of winter, when anglers have too much time on their hands. Do fish endure pain and suffering when they are hooked?
I have no intention of weighing in on this highly volatile debate that has raged on for decades, maybe centuries, but some recent news causes me to bring the subject up. The web debate was triggered as best as I can tell by a post from an angler whose wife had expressed the opinion that the practice of catch and release would be better termed "torture and release."
More InformationShort casts WINTER FLY FISHING: Guide, author and Trout Unlimited leader Jeff Yates will describe how to safely and comfortably enjoy fly fishing during the winter at the January meeting of the Nutmeg Trout Unlimited Chapter. The meeting will take place Monday at 7 p.m. in the lower level of the Burroughs Community Center, 2470 Fairfield Ave., in Black Rock. There will also be a discussion of the plan to draw water for the University of Connecticut and surrounding towns from rivers in the Farmington Valley. Trout Unlimited opposes the plan. Because Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the club will take time at the meeting to honor Dr. King's life and work. -- CHARLES WALSH
The dominant, if rather self-serving, opinion among anglers, some of it based on "scientific" studies, is that fish are cold-blooded, insensate creatures that do not feel the pinch of the hook or the strain of the battle. More skeptical anglers look askance at those studies, claiming that common sense dictates that fish must suffer when hooked and fought. They suffer even more and longer when caught on fly and light tackle.
Now comes news that might ease any lingering guilt anglers may feel when allowing a striped bass or brown trout to slip back into the water. A team of international scientists have determined that, indeed, fish do not suffer when hooked. The study, a link for which can be found at www.ConnecticutSaltwaterFishing.com, found that fish lack that brain system and sensory receptors in their nerve cells to experience suffering. Though fish may battle fiercely when on the line, it does not mean they feel pain, the scientists say.
Fish quickly recover and return to their natural activity when released, the study, reported in the scientific journal "Fish and Fisheries," found.
Not surprisingly, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had a different take: "Fish don't scream in pain, but they exhibit other pronounced reactions to painful stimuli. To claim otherwise is to claim the Earth is flat."
Whatever position one takes in this endless debate, it never hurts to refresh the memory on the do's and don't's of catch-and-release fishing.
Don't overplay the fish. Even when using light tackle, a fish should be reeled in as quickly as possible so it will not be totally exhausted.
When landing the fish, never grab it by putting your fingers into the gills (unless you plan to kill to for the table). In general, handle the fish as sparingly as possible.
Don't hold a fish out of the water for more than two minutes. If you have not gotten a picture in that much time, let it go and try for another.
If possible, don't even take the fish all the way out of the water. Remove the hook at the boat's side and give the fish some reviving swishes before allowing it to swim off.