From the Central Oregon Farm Fair, held February 3 2016,…
Next time you hook a fish, show some respect. For your own entertainment, you have tricked this poor creature into biting a sharp hook that penetrates its mouth tissue. We don’t know conclusively if a fish feels pain from a hook. Studies indicate not. But let’s put pain aside and consider trauma, suffocation and death.
From the fish’s perspective, being hooked probably represents a terrifying life and death battle. So it struggles, fearfully, with all the strength and energy it has, to remain alive. You are the one inflicting this trauma.
Let’s assume you bring the fish to the bank or into your boat. Just when this creature needs oxygen the most (think of how you gasp for breath after a sprint), you remove it from its only source of oxygen. The second this fish leaves the water, it begins to suffocate. Imagine you have just finished your sprint, painfully out of breath, when somebody puts a plastic bag over your head. Not a nice thought, is it?
If you have caught a fish of any size, you probably want to admire it. Maybe you want to show it off to your buddies or your partner, or your dog. Maybe you want a photo. So you hold this poor creature out of the water for five, ten, maybe fifteen seconds. You see its mouth open and close pathetically as it tries to breathe. Imagine how that would feel, needing air desperately with no relief.
Now if this is a “lucky” fish, you have handled it gingerly. You have wetted your hands so your grip removes little of the slime that protects the fish against disease and parasites. You place it back into the water and hold it gently until it regains energy and slips away. Who knows what those precious seconds without oxygen have done to the fish’s brain? If nothing else, it has endured a very unpleasant experience.
If this is an unlucky fish, you find a stick and club it to death. Or you bash its head against the rocks.
If this is a really unlucky fish (and if you are a total clod), you throw it onto the bank, or into a cooler, without killing it swiftly and humanely. And so it endures an agonizing death by suffocation. Maybe you slip it onto a stringer, without killing it, and put the stringer in the water to keep the fish alive. With a hunk of rope or metal jammed through its gills, the fish hangs there in the water, trapped and confused and afraid. You are, in effect, torturing another living being while you congratulate yourself and open another beer.
Few of us fish because we must do so to feed ourselves or our families. Which means we are tricking and hooking fish mostly for fun. So respect and honor these creatures, dead or alive. If you are a catch-and-release angler, see our post about proper handling to minimize injury and trauma. If you are keeping your fish for the table, kill it swiftly—and also read our post on the killing of fish and game. When you eat it, take a moment and remember that this fish gave its life for your amusement.