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Anglers carp at 'fish pain' theory

The findings were welcomed by animal rights activists.
The findings were welcomed by animal rights activists.

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Would you stop eating fish if you knew they felt pain?


EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Anglers and animal rights activists were further apart than ever on Wednesday after scientists said they had proved for the first time that fish feel pain.

The study on rainbow trout by scientists in Scotland found evidence, researchers said, that fish have feelings, including stress and pain.

But the main angling group in Britain cast doubt on the research, saying that the findings contradicted previous studies.

The Royal Society published on Wednesday the latest findings of experiments on bees stinging trout lips, which caused some of the fish to display a "rocking" motion, according to the Press Association.

The study at Edinburgh University and the Roslin Institute in the Scottish capital concludes that fish have nervous system receptors, or "polymodal nociceptors," in their heads that respond to damaging stimuli.

The ones in trout were the first to be found in fish and have similar properties to those found in amphibians, birds and mammals including humans, PA said.

Dr. Lynne Sneddon, who led the study, told PA: "Our research demonstrates nociception and suggests that noxious stimulation in the rainbow trout has adverse behavioral and physiological effects. This fulfils the criteria for animal pain."

Animal rights organization PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is opposed to all angling, welcomed the study but said fish should not suffer to prove something obvious.

Dawn Carr, director of PETA (Europe), told PA: "It is unfortunate that these animals were made to suffer for this study, because we've been saying for years that of course fish can suffer and feel pain, just as all animals do.

"However we hope that when people see these results, they will think twice about going angling. Marine biologists and common sense tell us that if you trick a small animal into impaling his or herself in the mouth, that animal is suffering.

"It's shocking that people will still go fishing for fun. We argue that for every cruel thing people do, there is a compassionate alternative."

The National Angling Alliance (NAA), which represents one million anglers in the UK, described the conclusions as "surprising."

A spokesman said: "These findings are in direct contrast to the recent work of Professor James D. Rose of the University of Wyoming, who stated in the Reviews of Fisheries Science that fish do not possess the necessary and specific regions of the brain -- the neocortex -- to enable them to feel pain or, indeed, fear."

Dr. Bruno Broughton, a fish biologist and scientific adviser to the NAA, added: "I doubt that it will come as much of a shock to anglers to learn that fish have sensory cells around their mouths. Nor is it a surprise that, when their lips are injected with poisons, fish respond and behave abnormally.

"However, it is an entirely different matter to draw conclusions about the ability of fish to feel pain, a psychological experience for which they -- literally -- do not have the brains."

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