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Attitudes to Fish

 It's hard for fish to arouse our compassion. They can't show their agony by screaming. They don't have the sad eyes of a seal pup or a dog.

In an article in The Adelaide Advertiser, Professor Bill Runciman, professor of anaesthesia and intensive care at Adelaide University, was quoted as saying:

"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 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."

Since fish have the same nerve endings, the same chemicals for transmitting and blocking pain, and the same receptor sites for anxiety-reducing chemicals as mammals, it is absolute nonsense to suggest that fish do not feel pain or fear.


Animal experimenters acknowledge that fish feel pain and stress. In one of its newsletters, the Australian Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching advised researchers to reduce the pain and stress suffered by cold-blooded vertebrates (including fish) used in experiments.

The article recommended that: "humane restraint, analgesia and anaesthetic should be adopted whenever necessary. Adequate levels of analgesia reduce apprehension and stress, and decrease or suppress the perception of painful stimuli."


Fish Feel Pain

    If fish can't show their pain, how can we know whether they feel pain at all? There is very strong scientific evidence to show that they do.

    Fish have nerve endings near the skin which are very similar to those of humans and other mammals. We all have receptor cells (called nociceptors) near the skin, which are stimulated by events severe enough to cause damage to body tissues. The lips and mouth of fish are particularly well supplied with nerve endings.

    Fish produce the same pain-transmitting chemicals as humans. There are two main chemicals involved. When a nerve ending is damaged, a substance called bradykinin is released. This causes the nerve cell to fire, sending an electrical impulse along the nerve. When bradykinin is released near the skin, a second chemical, called substance P, is released near the spinal cord.

    Both substances are known to be involved in transmitting pain. For example, if bradykinin is injected into humans, it causes intense pain, even if a local anaesthetic is used. Both bradykinin and substance P are found in mammals, birds, frogs and fish.

    Fish produce the same pain-blocking substances as humans. When in severe pain, humans and other vertebrates (animals with backbones) produce pain-killing chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins block pain by stopping the release of substance P.

    Fish Feel Anxiety

    For any chemical to be able to affect our brain, there must be special areas in the brain, called receptor sites, to which the chemical can attach. Fish, like mammals, have receptor sites for anxiety-reducing chemicals, such as the valium group of drugs. Dr Andrew Rowan, a Dean of Veterinary Science, has said: "This suggests that most vertebrates are capable of experiencing a form of anxiety which is physiologically similar to that seen in humans."

    What YOU Can Do

    Choose ways of relaxing and enjoying the outdoors that do not cause suffering to animals.

    If people you know won't give up fishing, at least try to convince them to kill fish as soon as they are pulled from the water, rather than removing hooks while they are still alive and letting them suffocate.

    In NSW, fish come under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTA). Write to the Minister for Agriculture and say how barbaric you consider gaffing, live-baiting and big-game fishing to be. Say you want them banned as cruel under the provisions of POCTA.     

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