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Do Fish Feel Pain?

This is a question that I didn’t ask myself as I was growing up because, well, nobody really asked that question. If someone would have asked me a decade ago, two decades ago, if fish felt pain – I’d have said ‘No, of course not.’ I didn’t know why, but I also knew that it was a commonly accepted truth that anglers didn’t tend to think about much. Or at all.

Fast forward to 2021. I’ve matured. I’ve meditated. I’ve come to new ideas about most of the major things in my life. I’m creating this fishing website to help people catch more fish.

I saw the question – Do Fish Feel Pain? – somewhere online this morning and I thought I would ask myself the question.

Why ask the question?

I’d like to do the right thing. I mean seriously, if I thought that fish felt pain like we did, I couldn’t keep fishing the same way. I could probably still spearfish, assuming I could hold back until I was 99% sure of a kill-shot. I couldn’t fish with hooks and treble hooks anymore though. I could use a cast net, I guess.

I wouldn’t stop eating fish, but I would definitely change the way I harvested it.

So I wanted to find out.

I’ve always figured that fish just don’t feel any pain because they are able to somehow pull back against the hook. A human being couldn’t really do that, we feel pain too much. If we could do it, we couldn’t do it for long. Unless somehow our brain numbed us to the pain. I remember flying over the handlebars of my bike and scraping along the street and having a piece of sheet metal slice my hand open. I felt no pain. Somehow the brain had shut pain off so I could go to the hospital. I needed both hands to maneuver my bike.

So when we’re numb, we can pull back against a hook and fight someone trying to catch us. If a fish was numb, it could do the same.

Are fish numb for a while and then start to feel pain?

It doesn’t seem like it. Some fish pull constantly for an hour or more against the hook embedded somewhere in their body. What fish could do that if they felt pain?

Anyway, so the answer for me was always that fish don’t feel pain in the same way we do, or possibly not even at all. They do feel the pull of the hook and try to get away from it, but that need not be pain or fear behind it. Fish are self-driven to find food, spawn, sleep, and evade capture by predators. That’s about it. If someone is trying to pull them around by a hook through the mouth, they can simply be trying to get back to what they were doing before – and so pull against the pressure of the hook.

I looked for some research on the subject and found this very interesting paper saying that Fish Feel No Pain. Read it if you have the time or interest. It’s full of compelling arguments against the idea that fish feel any pain because they just don’t have the parts of the brain that allow them to feel pain.

Do Fish Feel Pain? No. >

Do Fish Feel Pain? Yes. >