Today is National Go Fishing Day, a day (like any other) to pretend that fish aren’t sentient beings who feel pain, possess innate intelligence, express social behavior, have memories…and who, like us, just want to live their lives. Instead, our species is encouraged by a multi-billion dollar recreational fishing industry to trick them with bait, “play” them on the end of the line, “fight” them on fly rods, and congratulate our skillful selves as victors when we haul them, gasping and suffering, out of the only universe they know. We perpetuate this cruelty by teaching children to disregard their suffering–they are, after all, only fish and objects of “sport”—in numerous summer fishing camps designed to produce enthusiastic little anglers.
Catch-and-release fishing doesn’t let us off the moral hook, either, since mortality rates for hooked and released fish aren’t insignificant, depending on where the hook embeds and how much stress the fish endures. If the hook is deeply embedded, some say it’s best to cut the line and leave it in. You go on your happy way–it’s the fish’s problem now! Yes, one being’s recreation is another being’s agony:
If the hook is difficult to remove by hand, use long-nosed pliers or a hook-removal tool. Do not tear additional tissue by removing the hook. Back the hook through the original wound. If this fails, cut the leader and pull the hook forward through the injury. Regardless whether or not you intend to keep the fish cut the leader close to the hook when releasing large… fishes that are gut hooked. Do not lift a gut-hooked fish out of the water by the leader; this can increase damage to the fish. ~Techniques to reduce catch-and-release mortality, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
“It would be singularly unethical not to increase protection for fish and other animals who we previously thought weren’t sentient,” says evolutionary biologist and ethologist Marc Bekoff (in a column for Psychology Today). “Teaching our children that ever popular catch-and-release programs are inhumane is a good way to go for making the future for fish and other animals a more humane and pleasant experience.”
But here’s the rub: The monied interests are organized. Trout Unlimited is in the classroom and offers a First Cast program–a “new nationwide initiative to introduce youth to coldwater conservation through angling.” (TU is only one organization–there are many; here’s another.) In a country that celebrates a National Go Fishing Day and conflates conservation with injuring or killing sentient beings for sport, how do we reach the more than 10 million kids who go fishing (2013 statistic) with a message about empathy for fish?
Animal activists are swimming against a powerful current, for sure–but this only makes us stronger for the long haul.
- “Fish are sentient and emotional beings and clearly feel pain” by Marc Bekoff; links to additional research, here
- “Animal behavior: Inside the cunning, caring, and greedy minds of fish” – By revealing that fish cooperate, cheat and punish, Redouan Bshary has challenged ideas about brain evolution. In Nature, the international weekly journal of science, 26 May 2015
- Most popular outdoor activities in U.S. 2009-2013, here