Do fish feel pain?

Just as much as your dog, says a new campaign. That's barking, say anglers


Animal cruelty campaigners, who shot to fame with anti-fur adverts featuring naked supermodels, are planning to take on their most ambitious target yet: Britain's 2.6 million anglers.

Fish, insists Peta - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - are "complex and intelligent individuals", cleverer than monkeys, who feel pain "like every other animal". So they are preparing posters and lining up celebrities, and models dressed as mermaids, to try to persuade lovers of Britain's most popular sport to end the "terror and suffering".

But the anglers are fighting back, accusing the campaigners of "a lot of hot air" and retorting that fish "simply do not have the brains" to feel pain.

So far, most anti-cruelty campaigners - while vigorously fighting bloodsports such as foxhunting - have given angling a wide berth. Some prominent anglers doubt that Peta will ever have the courage to try publicly to shame so many Britons, headed by such prominent enthusiasts as arch-inquisitors Jeremy Paxman and Chris Tarrant, performers Diana Rigg and Roger Daltrey, and Michelin-starred chef/restaurateur Marco Pierre White.

But the organisation - which has demonstrated against commercial fishing using naked mermaids outside supermarkets - says it is determined to go on to attacking the sport.

Its move comes as BBC2 prepares to launch a new series next month, The Accidental Angler, in which writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson travels the world trying to hook unusual fish.

"Recreational anglers rarely stop to think that fish are smart, interesting animals with their own unique personalities - just like the dogs and cats we share our homes with", says the group in its campaigning literature. "Imagine reaching for an apple on a tree and having your hand suddenly impaled by a metal hook that drags you out of the air and into an atmosphere in which you cannot breathe. That is what fish experience when they are hooked for 'sport'. If anglers treated cats, dogs, cows or pigs the way they treat fish, they would be thrown into prison on charges of cruelty."

They cite a growing number of studies that show that fish create maps of their surroundings, can be trained to perform tasks and can remember how to repeat actions nearly a year later. And they quote Culum Brown, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, as saying: "In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of 'higher vertebrates', including non-human primates."

Two-and-a-half years ago the Royal Society published what it called "the first conclusive evidence indicating pain perception in fish", concluding that pain produced "profound behavioural and physiological changes in fish over a prolonged period of time, comparable to those in higher mammals".

The singer Chrissie Hynde said yesterday: "A true sport is one in which each party is a willing participant. I support Peta's campaign because angling is making a bloodbath of our beautiful lakes, rivers and oceans."

Carré Otis, an actress and modelwho poses as a mermaid in the posters, adds: "I was in a sushi bar and it dawned on me - how could I discriminate between a cow and a fish?"

But Marco Pierre White, a keen salmon fisherman, attacked Peta: "They obviously lead very boring lives," he said. "If that's the best they can do, they should get out more."

And Dr Bruno Broughton, the director of the Fishing and Angling Conservation Trust, says the campaign is just "a lot of hot air", adding: "Fish lack the parts of the brain necessary for the registration of pain."

On The Ball: living proof that fish are far from stupid

Albert Einstein is living proof that fish are brainy, say campaigners. A three-year-old goldfish, he has been trained by his owners, computer scientist Dean Pomerleau and his son Kyle, 10, who live near Pittsburgh, to fetch a toy football, shoot it into a goal, and even dance the limbo. "I spend half my life telling people that fish aren't stupid," says Culum Brown, a specialist in fish behaviour at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent