News article created on 2 August 2018

Do fish feel pain? A personal view by John Ellis

Pretty much all living things communicate with their surroundings and so, in my opinion, a fish will be aware of something.

Dead and dieing fish in the canal Dead and dieing fish in the canal

Pick a leaf from a plant and science shows measurable electrical impulse activity. Plants respond to being munched by caterpillars by producing chemicals to deter predation. The brain of a fish is typically less than 10% the size of the vertebrate classes that evolved more recently. Spirited debate had raged for decades comparing human interpretations of pain to whether and how a fish interprets electrical action potentials and interactions of neurotransmitters in the synapses of the cerebrum in the same way. Academics with more letters after their name than in it, cannot seem to agree.

My view is this. If after trying it out for yourself, you conclude you believe fishing is cruel, then it would be silly to go again.

I respect that view. But if you believe in the many positive benefits that fishing clearly has to offer some individuals, then you have found a pastime that can take you in all sorts of directions. It’s an individual choice and we must thank those who fought tyranny over the centuries so that we are free to make choices like whether we can go fishing or not today.

Health, wellbeing and the positive benefits of fishing

Given our ancestry, it’s not at all surprising that there are undoubtedly health and wellbeing benefits from going fishing. These were summarised in Fishing for Answers. We all know of the many benefits of the modern industrial and technological era. But there are challenges too. There is a huge nature deficit and mental health issues in people of all ages and all backgrounds are on the rise. The health benefits associated with angling are now beginning to be appreciated and its future potential in this area recognised.

At our Let’s Fish events, we’ve lost count of the amount of positive feedback we receive. Here’s one example from a grateful young mum:

“It’s the first time I have seen my son relax and just be in the moment since he was a toddler. I can see it in his body language; catching those three little fish will have done wonders for his self-esteem. How do we go about joining the local club?”

Joel's mum
Joel Morris has already returned to half a dozen Let’s Fish events Joel Morris has already returned to half a dozen Let’s Fish events

Best fishing practice

While celebrating the health and wellbeing benefits, we must not be complacent. It’s imperative that newcomers to the sport, whether they are four or 84 are taught up front the correct ways of doing things. The Trust has taken up the mantle in this regard with it Let’s Fish campaign.

We believe that it’s imperative that newbies to the sport learn how to unhook the fish, the appropriate elastic tensions, line strengths and hooksizes as well as proper etiquette when it comes to sharing the space.   

Taking part

You can’t necessarily fit all that into just one 30 minute session. It’s why we’re passionate about the need for ongoing participation pathways working alongside our partner clubs. We all know that angling just like other activities, has its ‘errant component’. Best practice shouldn’t be confined to the behaviour of the individual anglers either. Fishery owner’s also have a moral and legal obligation to make sure fish do not suffer unnecessarily suffering.

Who to call if you see fish in distress

Who to call if you see fish in distress

The most local fishery in the UK

There is one fishery in England and Wales that no fewer than 8 million would have to walk 1 km or less to reach and over 25 million people reside within five miles of it. That fishery is the Canal & River Trust Waterway network. There are millions of people who don’t realise there is a recreational opportunity on their doorstep. That’s why we are holding over 100 Let’s Fish events this summer. But you’ll have to be quick to reserve your place – they’re being booked up very quickly.

About this blog

The fisheries & angling team

The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.

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