Recognition by the Scientific Community
For centuries, a common belief has been the Cartesian claim that nonhuman animal species were incapable of suffering pain. Thankfully, that fallacy is now rejected nearly universally in regard to mammalian and avian species. Tragically, the ignorance largely continues in regard to fish. While many people intuitively and/or intellectually realize that fish can suffer pain, society at large still views and treats fish as insentient beings. However, the scientific evidence is in: fish feel fear, pain and distress, and they suffer immensely from it.
“The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals…in animal welfare terms, you have to put fishing in the same category as hunting.” – Dr. Donald Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, Daily Telegraph, October 19, 1995
“In summary, most recent interpretations of the results of many studies lead to believe that fish have the structures necessary and the capacity to experience fear and pain and can thus suffer” – Scientific Panel for Animal Health and Welfare, commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority, June 2004 (p. 156)
“Evidence that the term pain is applicable to fish comes from anatomical, physiological and behavioural studies whose results are very similar to those of studies on birds and mammals. The fact that fish are cold blooded does not prevent them from having a pain system and, indeed, such a system is valuable in preserving life and maximising the biological fitness of individuals. The receptor cells, neuronal pathways and specialised transmitter substances in the pain system are very similar in fish to those in mammals.” – Farm Animal Welfare Council Report on the Welfare of Farmed Fish, September 1996
“A powerful portfolio of physiological and behavioural evidence now exists to support the case that fish feel pain and that this feeling matters. In the face of such evidence, any argument to the contrary based on the claim that fish ‘do not have the right sort of brain’ can no longer be called scientific. It is just obstinate.” – John Webster, (Emeritus Professor of Animal Husbandry at the University of Bristol and former President of the British Society for Animal Science), Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden, 2005
Suggestions that finfish responses to pain merely represent simple reflexes have been refuted by studies demonstrating forebrain and midbrain electrical activity in response to stimulation and differing with type of nociceptor stimulation. Learning and memory consolidation in trials where finfish are taught to avoid noxious stimuli have moved the issue of finfish cognition and sentience forward to the point where the preponderance of accumulated evidence supports the position that finfish should be accorded the same considerations as terrestrial vertebrates in regard to relief from pain.
– American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2013 Edition, p. 13
“In the light of evidence reviewed in Section 3, it is recommended that, where considerations of welfare are involved, all vertebrate animals (i.e., mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) should be regarded as equally capable of suffering to some degree or another, without distinction between ‘warm-blooded’ and ‘cold blooded’ members (paras. 56-57,202).”
— The Medway Report, an independent report by a panel of experts, commissioned by the RSPCA, 1980
The Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s independent academy of science, published a paper containing “conclusive evidence indicating pain perception in fish,” which declared that pain produced “profound behavioural and physiological changes in fish over a prolonged period of time, comparable to those in higher mammals” – Sneddon et al., Trout trauma puts anglers on the hook? Proceedings from the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 270 (no.1520), April 30, 2003
“I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals — and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.” – Victoria Braithwaite, Penn State professor of fisheries and biology and author of: Do fish feel pain? (p.153), 2010
“In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of ‘higher’ vertebrates, including non-human primates. Best of all, given the central place memory plays in intelligence and social structures, fish not only recognize individuals but can also keep track of complex social relationships.” – Culum Brown (Associate Professor, Macquarie University), Not Just a Pretty Face, New Scientist, June 12, 2004
“I wouldn’t deliberately eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel. They’re so good-natured, so curious. You know, fish are sensitive, they have personalities, they hurt when they’re wounded.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle, then chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Champion of the Deep, The New York Times Magazine, Peggy Orenstein, June 23, 1991.