[Originally published by Andrew Rowland at thewest.com.au]
THE anti-fishing brigade has once again rolled out the “fish feel pain” rhetoric in an effort to convince people that fishing is a bad thing to do.
Any suggestion of equivalence between what fish and humans feel in relation to a hook lodged in the lip has been well and truly dismissed by science. The differences between humans and fish are pretty clear to most people. Fish live in a very different environment and have evolved a very different physiology to humans. Fish have tough mouths and eat hard, spiny and bony food including crabs, prawns, oysters, mussels and fish. It is simply not correct to accept that fish have a human-like capacity for feeling pain. Unfortunately this false argument is something that is continually peddled by groups with a vested interest in ending all recreational and commercial fishing.
These groups fundamentally oppose the use of animals in any form and some believe that using cow’s milk in your morning coffee is enough for you to be branded an animal abuser.
Regardless of the false claims around fish feeling pain, one fact is indisputable. Recreational fishers have great concern for the fish they catch and we have long been focused on fish welfare. Many fishing groups, including Recfishwest, have developed codes of practice to support best fishing practices. Fish welfare and methods to minimise stress and improve survival of released fish are a key focus of these codes. These codes are underpinned with science and are aligned with international guidelines from the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.
These codes promote the use of barbless hooks, replacing treble hooks with single hooks on lures, using knotless landing nets to minimise loss of slime and scales and the use of a release weight when releasing bottom fish to reduce the effects of barotrauma. These codes are continuously improved through continuing investment into research, development and effective communication.
Fisheries scientists, managers, the fishing industry and the community have all provided input into developing these codes that provide genuine fish welfare outcomes. Tagging studies have shown that with appropriate fish-handling techniques and the correct equipment, most species of fish humanely caught and released have a high survival rate.
Recreational fishers who are largely conservationists at heart have the runs on the board when it comes to taking care of fish and the aquatic environment. In the past five years some of the actions WA fishers have taken to improve fish welfare include funding natural reef restoration and deploying artificial reefs, stocking of millions of animals to revitalise fisheries, educating tens of thousands of children in fishing best practice, funding critical research on important recreational species, relocating animals in drying waterways, installing fishing-line disposal bins, undertaking clean-up days and much more.
In Australia we are blessed with some of the healthiest environments and fisheries in the world providing benefits to hundreds of thousands who enjoy wetting a line each year.
Those like me who enjoy fishing are well aware of the need to look after all aspects of our environment including the welfare of individual fish. We have a strong sense of stewardship towards fish and the aquatic environment and we understand our role in protecting the State’s high-quality fishing for future generations.
Fishing has a high cultural value in Australia and provides immense economic, social and wellbeing benefits that often outweigh the joy of catching a fish. People value fishing as a means to de-stress, unwind, escape to the outdoors and enjoy time with family and friends. Fishing in Australia provides us with fresh, sustainable, free-range, organic seafood and it is mystifying that some groups can oppose what is arguably the most rewarding activity that anyone can participate in.
Respectful and ethical treatment of animals, including fish destined for release or consumption, is everybody’s responsibility. Fishers take care of our aquatic resources and environment, I’m proud to say that here in Australia, those who love their fishing do a great job.