Do Fish Feel Pain?

Canadian (Aug. 28, 2013) — We have been asked many times, “Do fish feel pain?” Well, we have an answer for you: the latest research says that they don’t feel pain like we do. A team of researchers of fishery scientists, behavioral ecologists and neurobiologists have reached this consensus.
One of the key contributors of this landmark study was Prof. Dr. Robert Arlinghaus of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries and of the Humboldt University in Berlin.

In July this year, a new law came into effect in Germany called the Revised Animal Protection Act. It is now against the law (in Germany), without due cause, to kill vertebrates or to inflict severe pain or suffering. They face penal consequences as in addition to fines and/or prison. As you can imagine, this new law has far reaching consequences for angling, aquarists, fish scientists and fish farmers. Now the big debate has started: can fish feel pain or suffer?

Scientists from Canada, Europe, Australia and the USA investigated and discussed. They noted that fish don’t have the neuro-physiological capacity to be aware of the pain. Let’s first look how we recognize pain in humans. When we are hurt, this stimulates nociceptors. These send a electrical signal through your nerves and spinal cord to your cerebral cortex. Because of our awareness, we recognize this as pain. Interestingly, some severe injuries may not be recognized as pain. Also emotion can cause an effect on how much pain we feel. Now, these impulses can be blocked through such things as anesthesia.

Fish anatomy and physiology are very different than ours. Fish don’t have a neocortex like we do. Mammals have nerve fibres and can experience pain however boney fish do not have these fibers. Now, they do have simplified nociceptors and do show some reactions to injuries, but is it perceived as pain, we think not. We have seen many fish with multiple hooks in their mouths and they continue to react as if they weren’t even there. While they may react to the injury, they don’t react as we would. We rub an injury against an object and stop eating as a result of the pain, while fish do not. Fish only react slightly to injuries that would cause a major reaction in us and mammals. Another point is that fish do not react to pain killers as we do and mammals. Obviously, fish have no awareness of pain or they react completely different to pain than we do.

Now, what does this mean legally? Well, that will be up to the German courts to debate and decide, but this study severely doubts a fish’s ability to feel pain we humans and mammals do. We are certain that there will be much debate over this for the next few years and as we increase our research, and increase our knowledge base, this may change our perceptions.

Wayne Sheridan for Canadian