Do Fish Feel Pain?

Well, yes they do. They probably also feel fear. Or for them fear is the same thing as pain. Or pain is fear. Or whatever. The conversation has dominated the animal ethics community for the past couple of years, even exciting PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to ask that fish be renamed “sea kittens.”
Fly fisher Michael Agger just published a very good piece in Slate magazine on the controversy, citing the science and the writing that has explored it in recent years. “The 2003 Edinburgh study confirmed that trout have polymodal nociceptors around their face and head–i.e., they have the ability to detect painful stimuli with their nervous system. But, according to some definitions of pain, the detection of painful stimuli is not enough. The animal must have the ability to understand it is in pain to really feel pain.” (Thanks to readers Zach Matthews and Jim Phillips for this link.)

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  • J. A. Kissane

    Fish have the receptors necessary to detect trauma, threatening circumstances, movement, color, noise/vibration, pressure differences, temperature, etc. – but that’s only part of what it requires for them to “feel” pain. The receptors do their job – and the signal is sent to the brain – the processor. Extensive research has defined the part of the brain that processes the information and results in us feeling pain, and that part of the brain does not exist in fish. The do sense the signals, and a response is programmed into them, but that response does not include the sensation of pain.
    Anthropomorphism is a strange road to go down for adults. We don’t live in the world of Disney/Pixar – cold-blooded creatures do not process neural stimuli like we do, and they cannot “feel” the things we feel.