In John Nickum’s article, “Anti-Catch-and-Release?” in High Country Angler from Summer of 2012, he speaks on two subjects (1) a relatively new European movement that wants to ban catch and release angling and (2) the beliefs of animal rights activists that a fish can feel pain when it is hooked. Nickum does not believe fish feel pain.
Nickum states, “Perhaps the most common anthropomorphic belief is attributing pain and fear to hooked fish that are struggling to escape.” Most certainly if a hook penetrates human skin there is pain associated with it, but to make the leap that fish feel that same pain is not in line with neurobiology.
He goes on to explain that pain is a psychological experience and in order to feel pain, you must have the part of the brain that interprets pain. We all know people who can have extensive dental work done and not have a need for any anesthetic. Pain is certainly differently just within the human species.
It makes sense to me that when a human is given medication that blocks the passage of the stimulus and thus feels no pain, that a fish could not have that part of the brain that allows it to experience pain. For humans, it is essential to have pain signals in order to prevent ourselves from injury. For fish, living in water, their survival requires different capabilities. What gets confusing for many people is seeing the fish struggle when hooked. This struggle is not because of the pain but is rather escape behavior.
Returning to the non catch and release movement in Europe, the goal is to do away with recreational fishing and only allow subsistence fishing. In Nickum’s opinion, “it is not acceptable to impose an individuals personal believes and personal versions of ethics on other individuals…”
This is not the first or last article I have read on this topic. If I really thought I was hurting these creatures, I would not be doing what I am.