Saltwater Fishing photo

I was perusing online magazine Slate yesterday when this column by editor Michael Agger caught my eye. It’s one of the better takes I’ve yet read on the “do fish feel pain” debate and is well worth reading.

From the story:

Here we go again. There is a new study out that contends fish feel pain. A professor at Purdue and his Norwegian graduate student attached small foil heaters to goldfish . Half of the goldfish were injected with morphine, half with saline, and then the researchers turned on the attached micro-toasters. After the heat was gone, the fish without painkillers “acted with defensive behaviors, indicating wariness, or fear and anxiety…”

Agger’s response?

“In my free time, I like to catch what you might call “stream kittens.” My childhood house in Pennsylvania had a limestone-spring-fed stream behind it, and as a teenager, I spent evenings on the water casting dry flies…Like many anglers, I had the experience of catching the same fish twice, even three times. I wasn’t hurting them; it was as though we were wrestling.”

And…”What does my gut tell me about fish pain? Not happening. When I reel in a trout, I may be stressing the fish–making it expend precious energy–but it’s not howling in agony.”

It’s refreshing to see a well-known mainstream journalist like Agger take such an unequivocally pro-fishing stance, isn’t it? While I don’t always agree with his columns (perpetual agreement with someone is unnatural and creepy) as a writer I appreciate his talent and enjoy reading his work in both Slate and The New Yorker.

OK, I have to admit I’m also partial to Agger because last year he mentioned both Field & Stream and me in this Oct. 17 2008 column. My response to Agger’s column can be found here.

As to the original question of fish and pain, I think researchers are simply looking in the wrong place. There’s pain involved in fishing, all right, and plenty of it. I feel intense, lingering pain for every good fish I’ve ever lost, but do those scaly little bastards care? No, they forgot my existence thirty seconds after they broke my line and my heart. What about my feelings, huh?