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." They had also developed a lovely
brown crust. These results echo a 2003 study by researchers from the
University of Edinburgh who shot bee venom into the lips of trout.
The bee-stung fish rubbed their lips in the gravel of their tank and
generally seemed pissed off.
Whenever one of these studies about fish pain appears, animal lovers
start glaring at me and my fellow fishermen. If fish can experience
pain, then angling must be a cruel sport, right up there with deer
hunting, bear baiting, and eating hot dogs. Why can't we just leave
fish alone and do something else?
The online reaction to the goldfish pain study was both typical and
funny—especially in the United Kingdom, where they seem to take
animal news more personally. The assembled mob at the Daily Mail got
very rowdy. In one corner, you have comments like this: "Every time I
see an angler, I say a little prayer that he will get his fishing
hook lodged in his body, and then perhaps he will give some thought
to the barbaric 'sport' he is pursuing." In the other corner,
comments like this: "I'm a trout fisherman and I can tell you all
with 100% accuracy that the trout I catch feel absolutely no pain
after I've smacked them over the head with a cosh." The pro-angling
side rattled off some good jokes about whether or not carrots feel
pain when they are peeled. They also directed a surprising amount of
vitriol toward lentils and those who eat them.