“The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
– Jeremy Bentham, 1789
For centuries, people thought fish were so different from humans and other animals that they couldn’t feel pain.
After all, their brains and nervous systems are very different from ours. In the past, scientists thought that fish simply respond to stimulus (something that causes a physical reaction) in much the same way a plant would. For example, some plants’ leaves will fold up when you touch them.
But, unlike plants, fish do have a central nervous system and that system has special receptors, called nociceptors, that detect injury or damage to the body.
It’s the same kind of receptor that makes us pull our hand away if we touch a hot pan on the stove.
But having nociceptors doesn’t prove fish feel pain. Scientists had to establish whether the signals that a fish’s nociceptors send to its brain create the unpleasant state that we know as pain. In recent years, ground-breaking research has been done to determine just that.
These and other scientific studies have led respected animal welfare organizations to conclude that fish can feel pain. The American Veterinary Medical Association, in its guidelines for the euthanasia of animals, states that: “Suggestions that fish responses to pain merely represent simple reflexes have been refuted by studies…” The BC SPCA’s Position Statement on Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate Welfare states that:
The following video contains video footage of commercial fishing operations from 2:01 to 2:37.