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Do Fish Feel Pain? [Hardcover]

Victoria Braithwaite

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Book Description

April 25 2010
While there has been increasing interest in recent years in the welfare of farm animals, fish are frequently thought to be different. In many people's perception, fish, with their lack of facial expressions or recognisable communication, are not seen to count when it comes to welfare. Angling is a major sport, and fishing a big industry. Millions of fish are caught on barbed hooks, or left to die by suffocation on the decks of fishing boats. Here, biologist Victoria Braithwaite explores the question of fish pain and fish suffering, explaining what we now understand about fish behaviour, and examining the related ethical questions about how we should treat these animals. She asks why the question of pain in fish has not been raised earlier, indicating our prejudices and assumptions; and argues that the latest and growing scientific evidence would suggest that we should widen to fish the protection currently given to birds and mammals.

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"Braithwaite is at her best when conveying the sophistication of fish behavior. She does an admirable job of convincing readers that fish are smart." -- The Quarterly Review of Biology

"A timely, important and interesting book."--New Scientist

"Do Fish Feel Pain? is a fascinating excursion through the recent studies of the surprisingly complex behaviour of fish."--Nature

"Do fish feel pain? by the renowned scientist, Victoria Braithwaite, is a very important read for those interested in the general topic of pain in animals, especially because it has been long assumed that fish are not sentient beings and are not all that intelligent."-- Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today

About the Author

Professor Victoria Braithwaite is Chair in Fisheries and Biology, School of Forest Resources, Pennsylvania State University. Her research investigates the evolution of animal cognition, focusing on fish learning, perception, and memory. She sits on the UK Government Animal Procedures Committee, has published numerous research articles, and written for the broadsheet media including the LA Times. In 2006 Professor Braithwaite was awarded the Fisheries Society of the British Isles Medal.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Measured, balanced, fascinating.... May 5 2010
By Chestnut worm - Published on
Refreshingly intelligent book, which trusts the reader and maintains a thoughtful and balanced tone throughout. The author explores the issues around fish pain, suffering and welfare, identifying the questions we might ask, the ways we might try to answer them, and what the answers really mean. At each stage the book gives clear but detailed descriptions of the scientific research supporting each conclusion, making the story accessible to non-specialists and crucially moving the text from a 'trust me, I know' harangue to a 'here's what we know' dialogue.
Considering the general philosophical issues around animal welfare as well as the scientific questions of what fish can experience, the book scrupulously fails to find a bogeyman or call for any knee-jerk instant solutions. Nonetheless, it raises some hard issues, and in a world where we're ready to pay more for free-range poultry, it may be timely to be hearing some unpalatable facts about many of the standard commercial fishing practices used to produce the fish on our plates.
Alongside the exploration of the book's main themes comes plenty of fascinating biology, including the extraordinary and rather delightful story of the grouper and the eel, which I've had to repeat to everyone since reading it. The author is a fish biologist, and the book tells a perhaps unintended third story, that of the scientific process, the honest search for the right question, and then the ingenuity and elegance applied to finding an answer. When the predominant exposure to science is about dramatic breakthroughs or headline-grabbing controversy, this readable, thoughtful and informative book is a tribute to the people quietly getting on with it, trying to find out how things really work. I'm grateful one of them has found the time to share the process, as well as raising some very important issues about our understanding of and interactions with these fascinating and diverse animals.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced, Thoughtful, and Dispassionate May 4 2010
By Chris - Published on
I approached this book with from a rather skeptical perspective, but found myself won over by the strength of the author's argument. It would be easy to slip into simple advocacy - either for anglers or for animal rights - but Braithwaite artfully avoids this trap. Instead, she allows the data to speak for themselves, and takes the reader through the series of well-designed experimental steps that are necessary to defend her contention that fish do indeed feel pain. Whether or not you agree with her conclusions is another matter, but as a biologist I found the data compelling

This is science at its best - clear, methodical, and rational. I'd recommend it highly to students, not just as a study in fish biology, but also as an example of how to present an emotive argument without letting emotion cloud the issue.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Written by Professor Braithwaite, an expert in this field May 9 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
My brother is a keen angler. We've argued in the past about whether fish feel pain. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I don't need to doubt any longer - the proof is in this book that fish can suffer. Boy, am I going to feel smug when I lend him my copy!

Professor Braithwaite is an expert in this field. She, and fellow researchers, began by asking whether fish have the necessary receptors and nerve fibres to detect painful events. Next they wanted to determine whether a potentially painful stimulus triggered activity in the nervous system. If they were able to find positive answers to those two questions, the final test was to find out how the experience of a potentially painful event affected the behaviour of fish and the decisions that they made. The upshot is that Braithwaite did find the pain receptors and fish responded to the pain felt. This is backed up a lot of recent research, some of with is quoted in the book.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It takes better people to understand life of other animals May 2 2010
By Paul P. N. Tung - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is not whether fish can feel pain or not, all creatures want to stay alive just like all humans. The struggle of a fish when taken out of water is no different from a person forced into water to be drowned.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important contribution to the welfare literature. Now people have to read it... Dec 18 2010
By R S Cobblestone - Published on
Victoria Braithwaite asks, quite simply, "Do fish feel pain?" She writes, "Pain is a negative, unpleasant sensation that we try to avoid. It also makes most of us uncomfortable to know that someone else is hurting" (p. 3). And I would argue that many people also feel uncomfortable knowing that animals are hurting. Does this include fish?

She begins by exploring whether fish have the receptors for detecting painful stimuli. Then she discusses whether fish change their behavior upon receiving a painful stimulus, and whether that behavioral change reverts to the pre-pain state when pain-masking drugs are administered. Finally, she points out that experiments show that fish have a memory of pain, and this memory will change their future behavior.

She writes, "This book examines the evidence we currently have for whether fish can suffer, and indeed whether it is meaningful to discuss pain in fish" (p. 23). "To answer the question raised by the title of this book, we need to show that fish have the apparatus to detect noxious stimuli - the nociceptors and fibres that conduct the information - but we also need to ask whether fish are capable of perception and awareness" (p. 41).

The answer is, yes.

The question now is, what do we do with this knowledge?

"Accepting that an animal has the ability to suffer from pain changes the way we choose to interact, handle, and care for it" (p.2).

"Many scientists complain about the lengthy [IACUC] process, but the regulations are important - the training and the writing of the project proposal force researchers to contemplate the real value of the animal work being proposed" (p. 6).

"Animal welfare concerns more than just health and well being; it expresses ideas about the quality of an animal's life and maintains the moral view that animals that are sentient should be protected from unnecessary pain and distress" (p. 16).

People utilize fish in many ways, as pets, as food, and as research animals. However, it is recreational angling and commercial fishing and aquaculture that impacts most fish. The author writes, "What we learn from these studies can be implemented into codes of practice to guide anglers about what is and isn't good for the fish" (p. 164). "Perhaps the biggest negative effect we have on fish, and the least researched, is how we fish at sea" (p. 174).

Apologists tell us that fish are caught again and again in "catch and release" fisheries, so it sure doesn't seem like fish are suffering. And commercial fishers just tell us that they are utilizing techniques dictated by custom and economics.

Yet, isn't this the same argument used 100 years ago regarding livestock and slaughter? Doesn't the National Rifle Association now promote the highest ethics when hunting? People and customs change.

The deaths of fish can be improved. That is the responsibility of those who utilize fish. And the ethical consumer must begin to ask the appropriate questions and vote with their dollars when it comes to sustainable seafood, as well as well-treated fish.

Time to begin the process, and continue the conversation.

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