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February 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Debate About Fish and Pain is Settled -- Or Is It?

from the February, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It is a debate that has raged for years, but now scientists have concluded that fish do not feel pain. Fish do not even suffer when they are hooked and fighting for their lives, according to a new study in the science journal Fish and Fisheries. They say fish do not have a brain system or enough sensory receptors in the nerve cells to experience suffering. While fish may struggle to get free, this does not mean they are in pain. Instead, they show 'little effect' from injuries and toxins that would leave humans in agony.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin inserted needles into the jaws of rainbow trout. Jim Rose, a zoology and physiology professor who led the project, said, "In spite of large injections of acid or bee venom, that would cause severe pain to a human, the trout showed remarkably little effect." Fish also resumed normal activity within minutes of surgical procedures, as well as after being caught and released back into the water.

"It is highly improbable that fish can experience pain," Rose says. "We are not diminishing the importance of welfare considerations for fish, but we do reject the view that mental welfare is a legitimate concern."

But Ben Williamson, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said, "Fish don't scream in pain but they exhibit other pronounced reactions to painful stimuli. To claim otherwise is as sound as arguing the Earth is flat."

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