Do Fish Feel Pain?

Written by on January 15, 2013 in Fish, Marine Life
Cobia caught during a fishing tournament.

Cobia caught during a fishing tournament. Photo credit: NOAA.

Do fish feel pain? According to a new study, the answer is: no.

A team of researchers determined that, even when it is struggling for its life at the end of a hook, a fish does not feel pain due mostly to a lack of brain power. They found that the struggling reaction is an unconscious one, not one caused by pain.

Previous studies have revealed that fish have sensory receptors called nociceptors. In humans, those receptors react by sending signals to the brain that cause the feeling of pain. However, the scientists determined that the presence of the nociceptors does not mean that the fish actually feel pain, it simply means they react to it.

Study leader, Professor James Rose from the University of Wyoming, notes that the fish brain lacks a highly developed neocortex which is also needed to feel pain. The combination means that fish react to pain without actually feeling it.

“I think that fish welfare is very important, but I also think that fishing and science is too,” said researcher Professor Robert Arlinghaus. “There are many conflicts surrounding the issue of pain and whether fish can feel it, and often anglers are portrayed as cruel sadists. It’s an unnecessary social conflict.”

To learn more about the issue of fish feeling pain, check out some of these links:

Surf fishing.

Surf fishing. Photo credit: NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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