Feb. 9: Anglers, rest easy. Fish cannot feel pain. Or so the largest study into piscine neurology has concluded.
An academic study comparing the nervous systems and responses of fish and mammals has found that their brains are not sufficiently developed to allow them to sense pain or fear.
The findings represent a significant victory for anglers, whose sport has been under attack from animal rights activists buoyed by their success in securing a partial ban on foxhunting.
The study is the work of James D. Rose, a professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, who has examined data on animals’ responses to pain.
His report, published in the American academic journal Reviews of Fisheries Science, concludes that awareness of pain depends on functions of regions of the cerebral cortex which fish do not possess.
Rose, 60, said previous studies which had indicated that fish can feel pain had confused “nociception” — responding to a threatening stimulus — with feeling pain.
“Pain is predicated on awareness,” he said. “The key issue is the distinction between nociception and pain. A person who is anaesthetised in an operating theatre will still respond physically to an external stimulus, but he or she will not feel pain.
“Anyone who has seen a chicken with its head cut off will know that, while its body can respond to stimuli, it cannot be feeling pain.”
Rose added: “There are people who aren’t comfortable with my findings, but even those who don’t accept them have yet to raise any scientific challenge.”
More than two million Britons are anglers, making it the nation’s most popular pastime.
Rodney Coldron, from the National Federation of Anglers, said he hoped the new findings would vindicate the sport.