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The Daily Telegraph
10 April 2006
Foxhunting shadow over 'fish feel pain' debate
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
The question of whether fish can feel pain is to be
considered by Government advisers in a move that will reopen
the debate about whether angling is cruel. Hostilities have
raged for decades between anglers and animal rights activists
about the inner life of fish and how much they suffer.
"We are starting to look at it," said Sara Nathan, the
chairman of the Home Office's animal procedures committee,
whose housing and husbandry sub-committee is to look at the
scientific literature on the issue. "I have recently written
to a fish expert asking him to come on to the group."
Although the remit of the committee is to advise the Home
Office on animal experiments, if it eventually concludes that
fish can suffer it could make angling go the way of
foxhunting. There is always bound to be that worry," said
Paul Baggaley of the National Federation of Anglers.
He believes that the existing evidence is insufficient to
swing the argument one way or the other and the issue "is
something that is going to run and run". Earlier this year, a
study at the Queen's University of Belfast showed that
goldfish can learn to avoid parts of their tanks where they
receive electric shocks and may be smarter than trout.
One of the team, Rebecca Dunlop, said: "This paper shows that
pain avoidance in fish doesn't seem to be a reflex response,
rather one that is learned, remembered and is changed
according to different circumstances. Therefore, if fish can
perceive pain, then angling cannot continue to be considered
a non-cruel sport." Not all scientists are convinced. Prof
James Rose of the University of Wyoming concluded in 2002 in
the journal Reviews in Fisheries Science that awareness of
pain requires consciousness, which fish do not possess.