Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

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

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.

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.


We'd love to tell you more

Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.


Find a place to fish

Enter a town or postcode into our fishery search tool to find good local fishing spots

Last Edited: 26 January 2021

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration