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The Daily Telegraph
10 April 2006
Foxhunting shadow over 'fish feel pain' debate
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

The question of whether fish can feel pain is to be considered by Government advisers in a move that will reopen the debate about whether angling is cruel. Hostilities have raged for decades between anglers and animal rights activists about the inner life of fish and how much they suffer. "We are starting to look at it," said Sara Nathan, the chairman of the Home Office's animal procedures committee, whose housing and husbandry sub-committee is to look at the scientific literature on the issue. "I have recently written to a fish expert asking him to come on to the group." Although the remit of the committee is to advise the Home Office on animal experiments, if it eventually concludes that fish can suffer it could make angling go the way of foxhunting. There is always bound to be that worry," said Paul Baggaley of the National Federation of Anglers. He believes that the existing evidence is insufficient to swing the argument one way or the other and the issue "is something that is going to run and run". Earlier this year, a study at the Queen's University of Belfast showed that goldfish can learn to avoid parts of their tanks where they receive electric shocks and may be smarter than trout. One of the team, Rebecca Dunlop, said: "This paper shows that pain avoidance in fish doesn't seem to be a reflex response, rather one that is learned, remembered and is changed according to different circumstances. Therefore, if fish can perceive pain, then angling cannot continue to be considered a non-cruel sport." Not all scientists are convinced. Prof James Rose of the University of Wyoming concluded in 2002 in the journal Reviews in Fisheries Science that awareness of pain requires consciousness, which fish do not possess.

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