12 August 2010

Catch and release debate

The New York Times features a debate section on whether anglers should catch and release fish they hook. Unsurprisingly, the vexing question of fish pain comes up again, and it’s interesting to compare the two neurobiologists who write short features (my emphasis in both quotes).

Lynn Sneddon, who was at the forefront of pioneering studies of nociception in fish (e.g., Sneddon et al. 2003), writes:

Pain perception has been demonstrated in a variety of fish, including trout, salmon, zebrafish, carp and goldfish. So it is possible that the tissue damage caused by hooking does indeed give rise to the sensation of pain and possible suffering.

It’s interesting that she says “pain perception” (which I think is problematic, because it veers into animal consciousness) rather than “nociception” (which has rock solid evidence behind it). Whether she is doing this because she is writing for a general audience who might not know what nociception means, or whether she is sold on the notion of fish pain, is not at all clear.

James Rose says:

Some critics of angling have argued that being caught with a hook is painful to fish and that catch-and-release fishing should be banned, accordingly. The evidence presented in support of this view is not, in my view, rigorous or convincing. My research into the neurology of pain has shown that fish brains don’t have the required systems for conscious pain experience.

Right, then. What are the required systems for pain experience? And if you name specific regions of mammalian brains, I shall be cross, because that is pure chauvinism that doesn’t take into account the possibility that there can be alternative solutions to the same problem.

In my estimation, Sneddon and Rose are both being a little cavalier. Now, I freely admit that their statements are so short that it’s possible that they have more subtle views than presented here. But that brevity is a problem. Readers are left with a short “he says she says” that is likely to be confusing and make them throw up their hands and say, “Damn scientists! They can’t agree on anything!”


Sneddon LU, Braithwaite VA, Gentle MJ. 2003. Do fishes have nociceptors? Evidence for the evolution of a vertebrate sensory system. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 270: 1115-1121. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2003.2349

Related post

Book review: Do Fish Feel Pain?

Photo by sun dazed on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

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