Fish feel pain, British researchers say

Fish feels pain just like humans. Fish feel pain, say scientists in Britain in a breakthrough study that has anglers and animal rights activists at loggerheads.
Fish feel pain, say scientists in Britain in a breakthrough study that has anglers and animal rights activists at loggerheads.

Laboratory tests, in which bee venom and acetic acid was injected into the lips of rainbow trout, suggested that fish have feelings, including stress and pain in the form of "trout trauma."

The research was carried out by the University of Edinburgh and the Roslin Institute -- birthplace of Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal -- and published by the august Royal Society in London on Wednesday.

It sought to demonstrate that fish can feel pain by the existence of nervous system receptors, or "polymodal nociceptors," in their heads which respond to damaging stimuli.

"Anomalous behaviours were exhibited by trout subjected to bee venom and acetic acid," says Lynne Sneddon, who led the study.

"Fish demonstrated 'rocking' motion, strikingly similar to the kind of motion seen in stressed higher vertebrates like mammals," she said.

She added: "The trout injected with acetic acid were also observed to rub their lips on to the gravel in their tank and on the tank walls. These do not appear to be reflex responses."

"Our research demonstrates nociception and suggests that noxious stimulation in the rainbow trout has adverse behavioural and physiological effects. This fulfils the criteria for animal pain."

The findings were welcomed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an outspoken animal rights group.

"Although we are not happy that the animals suffered for the study, we hope that when people see these results, they will think twice about going angling," said PETA director Dawn Carr.

But the National Angling Alliance (NAA) -- representing Britain's 3.8 million sport fishermen -- called the conclusions "surprising."

"These findings are in direct contrast to the recent work of Professor James Rose of the University of Wyoming, who stated ... that fish do not possess the necessary and specific regions of the brain, the neocortex, to enable them to feel pain," an NAA spokesman said.

Bruno Broughton, a fish biologist and NAA adviser, said: "I doubt that it will come as much of a shock to anglers to learn that fish have an elaborate system of sensory cells around their mouths..."

"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."

"Fish cry out in both pain and fear. According to marine biologist Michael Fine, most sound-producing fishes 'vocalize' when prodded, held or chased. In experiments by William Tavolga, toadfish grunted when electrically shocked. What's more, they soon came to grunt at the mere sight of an electrode."

This information is true. For more information, please refer to Dunayer, Joan, "Fish: Sensitivity Beyond the Captor's Grasp," The Animals' Agenda, July/August 1991, pp. 12-18 or

By Vantressa Brown
Published: 5/1/2003
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