Closeup of a sea fish looking towards camera

Fish have feelings too!

The Recreational Fishing Code finally acknowledges that fish can feel pain and suffering!

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated June 6, 2011

The fact that fish feel pain is another of those inconvenient truths that many in our society would rather ignore. This is why Animals Australia is pleased that we achieved major changes to the national recreational fishing code.

Fishing — even catch and release — is far from enjoyable for the animals who, once caught, fight with everything they have to simply survive.

Scientific research has proven that the lips and mouths of fish are particularly sensitive, and fish show the physical and behavioural signs of pain and fear when hooked or netted. Little Nemo’s reaction to capture and separation from his family is not so far-fetched.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A hand taking fish out of water

More than 15 years ago Animals Australia strongly argued at the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare for fish to be protected by law, and for the introduction of a strong Code of Practice to educate fishers. Fisher representatives were so concerned that they lobbied to have our representative (Glenys Oogjes) removed as chair of the sub-committee drawing up a national position on recreational fishing.

Not surprisingly, the fishers’ representatives would not even admit fish felt pain. Reluctantly they merely accepted that fish they caught could be ‘damaged’ and be less likely to survive (if released) and thus should be treated ‘humanely’.

Since then the scientific literature and public debate have progressed — some fish species have been found to have long memories, to recognise individuals, and even to warn others of dangers.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A fish tangled in fishing net underwater.

In 2010 the recreational fishing industry leaders (as part of an Australian Animal Welfare Strategy initiative) finally reviewed their deficient 1995 Code of Practice. Yet again they tried to avoid any focus on fish welfare.

It took a scathing submission and complaint from Animals Australia, but significant changes have been achieved. There is now a new emphasis on reducing suffering — both of fish that are captured and released (a common practice), and on killing fish quickly and effectively if they are to be retained. The next challenge is to have this improved Code enforced!


Learn more about fish and other marine animals