Independent on Sunday. 22 October 2006.
Do fish feel pain? Just as much as your dog, says a new
campaign. That's barking, say anglers.
By Geoffrey Lean and Andrew Johnson
Animal cruelty campaigners, who shot to fame with anti-fur
adverts featuring naked supermodels, are planning to take on
their most ambitious target yet: Britain's 2.6 million
Fish, insists Peta - People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals - are "complex and intelligent individuals", cleverer
than monkeys, who feel pain "like every other animal". So
they are preparing posters and lining up celebrities, and
models dressed as mermaids, to try to persuade lovers of
Britain's most popular sport to end the "terror and
But the anglers are fighting back, accusing the campaigners
of "a lot of hot air" and retorting that fish "simply do not
have the brains" to feel pain.
So far, most anti-cruelty campaigners - while vigorously
fighting bloodsports such as foxhunting - have given angling
a wide berth. Some prominent anglers doubt that Peta will
ever have the courage to try publicly to shame so many
Britons, headed by such prominent enthusiasts as
arch-inquisitors Jeremy Paxman and Chris Tarrant, performers
Diana Rigg and Roger Daltrey, and Michelin-starred
chef/restaurateur Marco Pierre White.
But the organisation - which has demonstrated against
commercial fishing using naked mermaids outside supermarkets
- says it is determined to go on to attacking the sport.
Its move comes as BBC2 prepares to launch a new series next
month, The Accidental Angler, in which writer Charles
Rangeley-Wilson travels the world trying to hook unusual
"Recreational anglers rarely stop to think that fish are
smart, interesting animals with their own unique
personalities - just like the dogs and cats we share our
homes with", says the group in its campaigning literature.
"Imagine reaching for an apple on a tree and having your hand
suddenly impaled by a metal hook that drags you out of the
air and into an atmosphere in which you cannot breathe. That
is what fish experience when they are hooked for 'sport'. If
anglers treated cats, dogs, cows or pigs the way they treat
fish, they would be thrown into prison on charges of
They cite a growing number of studies that show that fish
create maps of their surroundings, can be trained to perform
tasks and can remember how to repeat actions nearly a year
later. And they quote Culum Brown, at the University of
Canterbury, New Zealand, as saying: "In many areas, such as
memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of
'higher vertebrates', including non-human primates."
Two-and-a-half years ago the Royal Society published what it
called "the first conclusive evidence indicating pain
perception in fish", concluding that pain produced "profound
behavioural and physiological changes in fish over a
prolonged period of time, comparable to those in higher
The singer Chrissie Hynde said yesterday: "A true sport is
one in which each party is a willing participant. I support
Peta's campaign because angling is making a bloodbath of our
beautiful lakes, rivers and oceans." Carré Otis, an actress
and model who poses as a mermaid in the posters, adds: "I was
in a sushi bar and it dawned on me - how could I discriminate
between a cow and a fish?" But Marco Pierre White, a keen
salmon fisherman, attacked Peta: "They obviously lead very
boring lives," he said. "If that's the best they can do, they
should get out more."
And Dr Bruno Broughton, the director of the Fishing and
Angling Conservation Trust, says the campaign is just "a lot
of hot air", adding: "Fish lack the parts of the brain
necessary for the registration of pain."
On The Ball: living proof that fish are far from stupid
Albert Einstein is living proof that fish are brainy, say
campaigners. A three-year-old goldfish, he has been trained
by his owners, computer scientist Dean Pomerleau and his son
Kyle, 10, who live near Pittsburgh, to fetch a toy football,
shoot it into a goal, and even dance the limbo. "I spend half
my life telling people that fish aren't stupid," says Culum
Brown, a specialist in fish behaviour at the University of
Canterbury, New Zealand.