Catch-and-Release Fishing Does Not Hurt Fish

"It's okay ... it's only catch-and-release," he responds.

"Do you go fishing in your own pet fish tank," I ask.

"No way," he says, "I don't want to hurt my own pet."

A child can understand that fishing hurts fish, but it only matters if the fish is his own pet. The idea is that fish don’t feel pain, or if they do, it’s minimal. It has become common to instill in children that permanently mutilating fish is okay. It is encouraged as a “relaxing pastime."

Fish not feeling pain is a huge misconception. While they may not experience pain in the same exact way that humans do, studies show that fish do - in fact - recognize and feel pain. There is no proof that dogs, cats, cows, pigs or other animals experience pain in the same capacity that we do, yet we afford them more humane treatment and legal protections. Putting a hook through a fish's lip is considered "normal" but if you were to do the same to a dog or cat, only then is it considered animal cruelty.

Similar to how humans can’t breathe underwater, fish can't breathe out of water. They begin to suffocate when ripped from their environment. The trauma is so intense that some fish can’t handle the change in pressure, causing their internal organs to burst. Fish are left permanently wounded from hooks, or later suffer a slow and painful death. A recent study at the University at California, Riverside found that hook injuries from catch-and-release fishing inhibits suction feeder fish's ability to eat, completely rendering them crippled and reducing their likelihood of survival.

Encouraging children to fish not only encourages animal cruelty, but also exposures the child to emotional and psychiatric trauma. Deborah Kay Steinken (an animal rights activist, reporter, and domestic violence counselor) describes, “Children who witness cruelty to animals experience psychological and emotional damage that compromises their empathy development because they become desensitized to feelings of kindness, hurt, pain, and suffering in themselves and other living beings.” 

Fishing not only harms fish, but lost lines and hooks can be a life threatening hazard to any animal. Fishing lines can wrap around birds, turtles, and other animals and can become embedded in their skin which can cause injury, infection or death. Hooks can catch on to any object, impaling anything that mistakenly comes across it - whether that be domestic pets, wild animals or even people.

In no way is catch-and-release fishing humane, but there are plenty of ways to connect with nature and water. Instead of fishing, try meditation or reading a book by the water, or relaxing water sports like kayaking, canoeing or boating. Experience and enjoy marine life by snorkeling and scuba diving. Nothing beats enjoying nature by viewing animals in their natural environment.

Catch-and-release fishing
Catch-and-release fishing
Fish caught and placed in a pitcher