Fish and welfare: do fish have the capacity for pain perception and suffering?
Humans interact with fish in a number of ways and the question of whether fish have the capacity to perceive pain and to suffer has recently attracted considerable attention in both scientific and public fora. Only very recently have neuroanatomical studies revealed that teleost fish possess similar pain-processing receptors to higher vertebrates. Research has also shown that fish neurophysiology and behaviour are altered in response to noxious stimulation. In the light of this evidence, and in combination with work illustrating the cognitive capacities of fish, it seems appropriate to respond to a recently published critique (Rose 2002) in which it is argued that it is not possible for fish to experience fear or pain and that, therefore, they cannot suffer. Whilst we agree with the author that fish are unlikely to perceive pain in the same way that humans do, we believe that currently available evidence indicates that fish have the capacity for pain perception and suffering. As such, it would seem timely to reflect on the implications of fish pain and suffering, and to consider what steps can be taken to ensure the welfare of the fish that we exploit.
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