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Who'd Fight for a Fish?

Animal Times, Spring 1997 -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People reeled in disbelief when we declared that fish have feelings. Fish?!
Read the arguments for and against the campaign.


They say... "It's a game."


Pathologist John Grizzle claims that fish "enjoy the excitement and travel [of being hooked]. It may be the fish think it is a real thrill." Another fisher wrote: "Hooked fish feel about as much pain as potatoes do when you cut off their 'eyes.'"


Ann Lewis, spokesperson for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, says, "No one can prove to me that the fish doesn't actually consider it a game. Look at pro football players who have just been injured, begging to go back onto the field."


We Say... If fishing's a game, get a root canal for a real hoot. Dr. Donald Broom, animal welfare advisor to the British government, agrees: "The scientific literature is quite clear. The pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals. In animal welfare terms, you have to put fishing into the same category as hunting." Adds Dr. Austin Williams, a U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service zoologist, fish "are sentient organisms, so of course they feel pain."


Fish also experience fear. An Australian study found that when fish are confined or otherwise threatened, they react as humans do to stress: with increased heart rate and breathing rate and a burst of adrenalin.


They say... "What's next? Worm rights?"


We say... Well, perhaps. We don't know about you, but we doubt the average night crawler is eager for an encounter with the "Worm Blower," a plastic squeeze bottle with a syringe-type needle on the end that anglers use to "puff up" worms for bait.


Other animals you might find cowering inside a tackle box of terrors include frogs (now sold live in U.S. vending machines just like sodas), mice (according to fishing lore, one of the "best" bassers in the States used live mice to lure the big ones), rabbits and roosters (artificial flies are often made from rabbit fur or the colorful neck feathers of specially bred roosters who are killed when only months old) and, of course, other fish.


They say... "Anglers are angels compared to commercial fishers."


We say... Didn't your mama ever teach you that two wrongs don't make a right? Factory trawlers are vacuuming the oceans clean of sea life, but the ordinary angler is hardly animal-friendly!


Countless animals and water birds like ospreys and blue herons become entangled in lost or discarded fishing line -- some lose limbs, some their lives. Other animals fall victim to "impregnated baits" (plastic worms with scents inside them), which can look and smell like a swimming smorgasbord. One veterinarian in Florida discovered that some sick otters' intestines were full of undigested plastic worms.


And anglers raised a ruckus over the call for a ban on lead sinkers, which poison birds, saying that it would inflict "unnecessary hardship."

They say... "without anglers, rivers and lakes would be nothing but open sewers."


We say... Right now, they're just anglers' trash cans. A study of one lake in Wales revealed that 64 percent of the litter left by visitors was found along the 18 percent of the shoreline predominantly used by anglers. Discarded bait containers accounted for 48 percent of the total trash!


They Say... "Anglers are great conservationists."


We say... Well, with friends like that... Did you know that government agencies often "reclaim" lakes for anglers by poisoning the waters with pesticides (fish pesticides) -- to kill off unwanted "trash fish" like carp -- and then restock them with "game fish" like bass and trout? Eco-friendly or what?


Artificially introducing "Game Fish" into local ecosystems goes against Mother Nature! The number of frogs in Yosemite National Park has declined dramatically since the early 1900s. One culprit: Trout, introduced into the lakes for sport fishers, gobble up frog eggs, tadpoles and even adult frogs like guppy food.


Until 30 years ago, Glacier National Park stocked its lakes with trout for anglers; the fish have all but wiped out some microscopic animals, changing the entire food chain.


And in Colorado, things have totally spun out of control. In the late 1980s, hatchery trout infected with whirling disease, a fatal cartilage disorder, were introduced into the Colorado River for the benefit of anglers. Since then, 90 percent of the wild rainbow trout in some parts of the river have died of the disease.


They Say... "Nothing could be more P.C. than catch-and-release fishing."


We say... If by P.C. you mean "painful and cruel," we agree. Although some "experts" like John Grizzle claim that hooked-and-released fish are unaffected by their ordeal, others aren't so sure. The German government has even banned this practice, citing the prolonged suffering it causes fish.


Common injuries to hooked fish include ruptured swim bladders (resulting in internal bleeding) and toxic buildups of lactic acid in their muscles (thanks to anglers who "play" fish to exhaustion). Fish can also suffer from the loss of their protective outer coating if anglers handle them, which often leads to dangerous bacterial infections.


They say... "fishing keeps kids off drugs."


We say... Actually, fishing just hooks `em on cruelty, whether or not they're taking drugs.


At the night "tournaments" sponsored by The Bowfishing Association of Michigan (BAM), hunters armed with bows and arrows and bright lights kill as many "trash fish" as possible. Hundreds of fish can be killed in one night; then their bodies are dumped into the local landfill. BAM spokesperson Rick Sanders sounds as if he's been sniffing the bait when he claims these shoots are "a family activity. We encourage anglers to bring their kids." Adds Sanders, BAM promotes "ethical shooting." Sounds like another fish story to us!


"There are three prerequisites for angling -- a hook, a line, and a stinker" -- John Bryant, "Fettered Kingdoms"