Countering Anglers' Arguments
Pisces Information Sheet A
This information sheet provides answers to the common arguments put
forward by anglers in defense of their bloodsport. We hope it will
help you to correct their opinions whenever possible.
Fish and Pain
1. "There is no evidence to prove that fish feel pain."
Fish are vertebrates with a brain, a central nervous system and pain
receptors all over their bodies, including the lips. It is common
sense that they are able to feel pain. Although it is impossible to
prove beyond doubt that any creature another than humans is able to
feel pain, we can look at their physiology and behaviour and make
Between 1976 and 1979, the RSPCA sponsored an inquiry into angling and
shooting, published as the Medway Report.
The Report concluded that all vertebrates (animals with backbones)
including fish, are able to experience pain to one degree or another.
They also agreed that there is no reason to differentiate between
warm-blooded and cold-blooded creatures (fish are cold-blooded). The
Report added that angling inflicts injury, causes pain and trauma to
the fish and even if the fish is to be returned to the water, death
can still result from handling. Even when using wet hands an angler
will remove the protective outer mucous layer, leaving the fish open
to infection when returned to the water.
Some anglers will come up with the comment that the National
Federation of Anglers (NFA) discredited the Medway Report, but the NFA
are obviously not an unbiased organisation and the report used to
justify this is a literature review which does not actually state that
fish cannot feel pain. Meanwhile the RSPCA still puts forward the
recommendations given in the Medway Report. The RSPCA had a follow up
review in 1994 by Dr Kestin, which did not show any need to change the
current policy. Another comment is that fishes brain's have a small
cerebral cortex (where pain perception is based), but that area is
also concerned with higher thinking, memory, etc., so no conclusions
can be made from that observation alone.
In 1988 and 1992 two reports were published on the work done in
Utrecht in the Netherlands into fish and pain. Scientists gave fish
electric shocks, finding that they react in a comparable way and with
similar pain thresholds to human subjects. The conclusion was that
fish are definitely able to feel pain and that they experience
considerable fear when caught by an angler. They also said that
livebaiting is extremely cruel because of the prolonged stress
Note that a vivisector would need a Home Office licence under the
terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to do the same
things to a fish in a laboratory, as an angler does to fish on the
2. "Coarse anglers put back their catch unharmed."
Coarse anglers (the majority in the UK) make a great deal of the
"fact" that unlike sea and game anglers, they return their victims
ostensibly unharmed. They delude themselves! Coarse fishing is
probably cruelest branch of the "sport".
When a fish is caught, it is deceived into impaling itself on a
(usually) barbed hook, which inflicts an injury. The angler often
"plays" the fish to wear it out and make it easier to land. The fish
is then dragged into a suffocating, alien environment and handled
which (even with wet hands as is recommended by anglers) removes the
invisible outer "mucus layer" which provides the creature's
waterproofing, leaving it open to infection when returned to the
water. Swallowed hooks prolong the suffering and are likely to result
in damage to the fish's gut and possible death. The time out of water
is prolonged by those who want to photograph their victims, with the
incentive of fame in one of the angling magazines who pay cash for
notable or record catches. If the fish survives the ordeal of being
caught, it is either returned to the water, where it must devote its
energy to recovery, or is held prisoner in the unhealthy environment
of a keepnet.
3. "Because it has been known for fish to be caught twice in the same
day, fishing cannot be an unpleasant experience for the fish."
Anglers go to great lengths to disguise hooks with maggots, fake
flies, etc. to trick the fish into "biting". Many anglers will admit
that it requires unusual skill to entice a fish which has been
repeatedly caught to take a baited hook. Although the fish may become
wary if the same type of bait is used, it does have to feed to
survive. Anglers also speak of fish learning to be wary of them,
direct evidence that the fish are not as stupid as they like to make
4. "If fish felt pain, they would swim towards the angler when hooked
rather than resist and struggle to get free."
Fish will fight vigourously when hooked because they are unable to
make the connection between the hook and the angler. Frenzied struggle
is the result of fear of the unknown (or for those who remember being
caught, fear of being dragged out of tlhe water) and their inherent
will to survive.
5. "A hook cannot cause pain because fish eat shell-fish and other
spiky objects. The mouths of fish are designed to be lacerated."
This is one of the angler's strongest arguments although its substance
is far from concrete. Animals tend to avoid anything which gives them
the sensation of pain. Therefore, it cannot be harmful for a pike to
eat a perch with sharp gill covers and dorsal fins and for a donkey to
eat thistles, (which humans would find painful), but we don't conclude
that donkeys can't feel pain. It is unreasonable for an angler to
consequently assume that a hook does not produce a degree of pain. A
hook inflicts a deep injury; often completely penetrating a lip. The
wound is aggravated by the often prolonged tension of the fishing
line. Additionally, the hook may be swallowed and become caught on an
internal organ or the fish may be "foulhooked" in another part of its
body. It has been known for the eye of a fish to be pierced from the
Wildlife and Environment
See also factsheet D.
6. "Anglers are conservationists and without them there would be no
Although it is true that some anglers do good work monitoring the
waterways, cleaning up fisheries or taking polluters to court
(primarily the Anglers Cooperative Association), they are vastly
outweighed by those who harm the environment. Tackle is lost or
discarded (see point 7) and litter is left behind, including jagged
bait cans lethal to wildlife and food which attracts rats to the
fishery. Maggots contaminated with Salmonella and Botulism have proved
fatal to wildfowl. Trampling of vegetation often turns banks into
mudslides, while the excessive use of groundbait (catapulted into the
water to attract fish to the angler's "swim" rots, polluting the
Additionally, there are many real environmentalists such as the
conservation volunteers, who do lots of useful work and not just in
areas containing fish. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
is among groups who own waters managed to protect all the wildlife.
Additionally, the Environment Agency has a statutory duty to maintain
the waters they administer.
Claims about the welfare of fish appear particularly hollow when you
examine the angling fraternity's obsession with certain large fish
species which are hatchery reared on special diets and put in often
overstocked fisheries, where overcrowding is exacerbated by the stress
of repeated capture. Huge carp and catfish are being imported from
abroad to satisfy the specimen anglers, while scientists are
genetically manipulating fish to get fatter earlier, by lifting
controls on growth hormones. Such engineered fish put existing stocks
at risk, as there is a likelihood that they may be more competitive
than native fish. If anglers were so concerned for the welfare of
fish, they wouldn't repeatedly move fish around (livebaits and large
specimens), risking the spread of disease.
7. "Only careless anglers leave tackle around."
Nylon line frequently breaks when hooks become snagged on underwater
obstructions or bankside vegetation, or is discarded when it gets
tangled during casting. It is only very slowly biodegradable (that is,
to break down in the environment) and is the cause of death and injury
to millions of animals. Waterfowl, such as swans and ducks are
especially vulnerable. They pick up hooks, line and weights while
feeding and slowly starve to death. Entanglement in line can sever
wings and limbs. Pets and livestock are also frequently affected. It
is left to animal organisations to pay for the rescue and
rehabilitation of the lucky minority of tackle victims that are found.
It needs to be stressed that it is not just the careless few leaving
tackle behind who cause this carnage, all anglers will lose tackle, so
the only way to stop it is to ban angling.
8. "Anglers voluntarily gave up using lead weights."
Every time the subject of tackle victims is raised with anglers, they
say 1) that lead shot has been banned, and 2) that anglers did this
voluntarily. Here are the facts:
1. In 1987, the Government introduced legislation, The Control of
Pollution (Anglers' Lead Weights) Regulations 1986 (SI 1992), banning
the supply and import of lead weights between 0.06 and 28.35 grams (1
oz). In angling terms this means that lead shot from size 14 to size
and lead weights of over 1 ounce can still be used in fishing. Many
animals still dye of lead poisoning. This could be due to swans
picking up lead weights still in the mud from before the ban; anglers
still using illegal weights (anglers have been prosecuted for this in
recent years); or poisoning occurring from the sizes that are still
2. Anglers did not voluntarily cease using lead weights. It was
only the years of public outcry leading to the legislation, which
finally forced the situation to change. Twelve months before the
legislation was passed, the Government's environmental watch-dog, the
Nature Conservancy Council, gave a final warning to anglers that
unless they adopted lead substitutes voluntarily, it would have no
option but to recommend statutory intervention. Consequently, the
National Federation of Anglers, which by now had woken up and realised
the tremendous damage being done to the sport's reputation, made a
last ditch attempt to create a favourable impression by banning the
use of the problem sizes of lead in its competitions. In the event the
battle had already been lost. Anglers clung to their "right" to use
lead and received nothing but contempt for insisting that shotgun
pellets, boat exhausts and overhead power lines killed far more swans.
Now they rely on people's short memories to pretend that anglers were
happy to change to non-toxic weights.
Examples of Tackle Victims
Here are some facts about tackle victims:
* To give an idea of the scale of this problem, one rescue group
based in Northamptonshire dealt with 288 swans injured by tackle in
just the first four months of the 92-93 season, together with ducks,
geese, pigeons, herons, coots, moorhens and a great-crested grebe.
* In 1993 the Westmoreland Branch of the RSPCA had to rescue
ninety-two swans in Cumbria damaged by fishing tackle, 18 of which had
to be put to sleep.
* In January '94 a collie dog in Felixstowe, swallowed a fish
hook, which became wedged in his larynx. A few weeks earlier the
owner's other collie also got a hook caught in her leg. Luckily both
dogs recovered, but a number of other dogs have been injured in
previous years on Felistowe's beaches and at least one died.
* RSPCA and Environment Agency reports continue to show that
angling tackle continues to play a large role in inflicting damage on
river birds - see factsheet D for more details.
There are regular reports of fisheries being closed to anglers due to
litter left behind, which endangers wildlife and children, while
detracting from the beauty of the countryside.
The level of litter left by anglers is difficult to quantify. One
study (Forbes, 1986) at a lake in Llandrindod Wells, Wales, found that
although the site was used by visitors other than anglers, 64% of the
number of litter items (93% of the total surface area of litter) were
recorded in those parts of the shoreline (18%) predominantly used by
anglers. An island in the lake used exclusively by anglers, was
particularly affected by litter. The highest litter densities for the
whole site were found around the fishing platforms on the island, but
other areas throughout the island were also badly contaminated, with a
high proportion of items (48%) being discarded bait containers. (These
are readily seen at many fishing areas.)
Reference: Forbes, I.J. 1986. The quantity of lead shot, nylon fishing
line and other litter discarded at a coarse fishing lake. Biol.
Conserv., 38, 21-34.
9. "Angling keeps young people off the streets and away from
This argument keeps coming up. At least "hanging around on street
corners" does not generally involve inflicting pain on sentient
beings! Violence on the streets or violence on the waterways - what's
the difference? There are plenty of other ways to involve youngsters
in countryside projects and activities. We learn of many cases each
year in which anglers are involved in murder, drug dealing and
violence to each other. One man killed his neighbour because his
parked car prevented him from going fishing! Neil Acourt, one of the
people accused of murdering Stephen Lawrence is an angler.
10. "Anglers are friendly, socially responsible people."
The same claim is made by many other animal abusers. Certainly anglers
tend to be friendly towards (non boat-owning) member of their own
species, but this is of little consequence to the fish they catch.
A prevalent belief among anglers is that they have a greater right to
the use of the waterways than others. Boat owners and canoeists are
treated with contempt and anyone making a noise near an angler or
asking them to move their equipment obstruction a towpath, risks
incurring a mouthful of abuse, while locals are often inconvenienced
by anglers cars and noise, especially where night fishing is allowed.
11. "People have fished since the dawn of time."
At some point during our evolution our intelligence developed to the
extent whereby we were able to catch fish - probably by the use of a
spear and then some form of net. Fishing with rod, line and hook came
Fish were hunted as a source of food. Today we know that we do not
need to consume fish (or indeed any animal products) in order to
survive. All the vitamins, minerals and food groups necessary for good
health are available from non-animal sources. There is therefore no
need for our species to continue fishing and there is certainly no
excuse for inflicting pain upon fish purely for pleasure, as does the
12. "If angling were banned there would be massive unemployment."
The jobs/economy argument was used by those defending the human slave
trade back in the 19th century and is used by other bloodsports
enthusiasts today. It is basically true that if angling, or indeed any
other form of animal abuse, were banned, people would become
unemployed, but society would have to re-organise itself and re-create
employment opportunities elsewhere. Also, the money currently spent on
angling could be spent elsewhere, and be used to boost other leisure
economies that do not depend on cruelty to animals.
13. "Anti-anglers have no right to interfere with the pleasure of
millions of people pursuing a popular and legal leisure activity."
What right have anglers to inflict pain and suffering upon sentient
beings? Just because angling is legal and widely-practised does not
make it morally acceptable. If child battering is considered wrong,
then there is no logical reason why the same moral code should not be
applied to other living creatures possessing a similar capacity to
suffer. Most anglers would intervene if they saw a dog being beaten in
the street. Why does their sense of outrage stop at fish?
14. "Angling is relaxing."
Many anglers claim that the main reason they go fishing is because in
the countryside they are able to escape the stresses of modern living.
However, it should be possible to enjoy the peace and quiet of the
countryside without feeling the need to abuse its inhabitants. Anglers
are in effect taking out their human-created stress upon an innocent
third party. There are many other leisure activities which do not
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