Fish lack the brains to feel pain, says the latest school of thought
By Rajeev Syal in London
February 10 2003
Anglers rest easy. Fish cannot feel pain, the largest study into piscine neurology has concluded.
An academic study comparing the nervous systems and responses of fish and mammals has found that fishes' brains are not sufficiently developed to allow them to sense pain or fear.
The study is the work of James D Rose, a professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, who has been working on questions of neurology for almost 30 years. He has examined data on the responses of animals to pain and stimulus from scores of studies collected over the past 15 years.
His report, published in the American journal Reviews of Fisheries Science, has concluded that awareness of pain depends on functions of specific regions of the cerebral cortex which fish do not possess.
Professor Rose, 60, said that 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."
Professor Rose said he was enormously concerned with the welfare of fish, but that campaigners should concentrate on ensuring that they were able to enjoy clean and well-managed rivers and seas.
Despite the findings of Professor Rose's study, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has invested heavily in an anti-angling campaign, said: "We believe that fishing is barbaric. Of course animals can feel pain. They have sensitivity, if only to avoid predators."
The Telegraph, London