RSPCA Medway Report

Authors: Chairman - Lord Medway
Year: 1980

This independent report, written by a panel of experts, was commissioned in Britain by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It said that:

  • Angling is cruel
  • It is reasonable to assume that all vertebrate animals feel pain - including fish
  • The lips and mouth of fish are generously supplied with sensory nerve endings
  • Keep nets cause a build up of gas and waste products, causing harm to the fish
  • When fish are taken out of water:
    • the lymphatic system is disturbed
    • blood pressure is disturbed
    • respiration is disturbed
    • coagulated blood forms around the gills
  • Injury is likely to occur as fish are examined, weighed, photographed and kept in nets
  • Handling of a fish damages its outer mucus layer. This can cause:
    • fluid imbalance with the surrounding water
    • entry of harmful micro-organisms
    • circulatory failure
    • death
  • Playing a fish with a fine fishing line can cause the line to break, leaving the hook embedded in the fish with the line attached
  • Double and treble hooks are likely to cause greater injury
  • Live baiting should be stopped
  • Public money should not be spent on promoting angling

PAIN

"There may still be some people who will argue that we cannot prove beyond question that any vertebrate other than man, feels pain. We, however, conclude that if any do, then the evidence suggests that all vertebrates (including fish), through the mediation of similar neuropharmacological processes, experience similar sensations to a greater or lesser degree in response to noxious stimuli."

"We are unanimous in accepting the evidence reviewed in Section 3, and the conclusion reached in paragraph 57. The apparent universality throughout all vertebrates of the neuropharmacological basis for the perception of painful (and pleasurable) stimuli does not permit us to agree with those who would recognise a difference in this function between ’warm blooded’ and ’cold-blooded’ members. While it may be impossible to prove utterly beyond question that any non-human organism is at any instant feeling pain, we believe that it is only reasonable for mankind to behave on the assumption that all vertebrates are capable of suffering to some degree or another."

"There is no doubt, from the evidence presented to us, that many areas in the lips and mouth of any fish are well endowed with sensory organs, including free nerve endings."

KEEP NETS

"The comparatively slow rate of diffusion of dissolved gases (notably carbon-dioxide and oxygen) and chemicals such as metabolic waste products in water can mean that local conditions within a crowded keep-net might rapidly become adverse to the well-being of fish."

TRAUMA OUT OF WATER

"The degree of trauma experienced by fish handled out of water may not be fully appreciated by anglers. The tissues of a fish, when it is removed from water, are subject in air to pressures greatly reduced and differing in nature from those they are subject to in water. Consequently there arc greatly altered changes in the various peripheral systems affecting lymphatic and venous blood pressure and respiration. Bleeding tends to occur from the gills and, instead of dispersing, the blood coagulates and reduces the effective respiratory surface."

"Competitive fishing or specimen hunting frequently demand that the fish be retained for a prolonged period (in water) in a keep-net, and also examined, weighed and perhaps photographed (in air) before ultimately being liberated. All such procedures must increase the likelihood of injury to the fish."

DAMAGE TO SKIN

"More significant are the effects of desiccation and particularly of handling on the skin and gills. The outer surface of fish does not consist of scales, as is commonly believed. Scales are located within the dermis, or middle layer of the skin. Superficial to them is the epidermis, with its mucus cover. The epidermis is a very delicate transparent tissue which provides the water proofing, i.e., an essential part of the physiological control of fluid balances between the fish and its environment. It is also the barrier between the fish and the wide variety of disease producing micro-organisms found in water. Handling of fish, in a landing net or by hand to remove hooks, will almost certainly involve damage to this delicate layer. Severe trauma is caused by holding a fish tightly in a dry cloth, which will remove the epidermis from considerable areas of the body.

"The epidermis is generally capable of rapid healing. If the damage is severe, however, the outcome will be either osmotic breakdown, with resultant circulatory failure, or extensive infection of the skin. Both conditions usually result in ultimate death. Many anglers assume that, provided no more than a few scales have been removed, the fish has been well handled. We believe that a code of practice should be instituted to prevent the avoidable cruelty occasioned by improper handling, and information and instruction on the topic should be widely disseminated."

PLAYING OF THE FISH

"Prolonged playing is often necessitated by the use of fine or ultra-fine tackle. Among anglers, to fish with very light tackle is often regarded as a mark of skill. Yet many anglers deprecate the habit, bringing as it does increased dangers of breakage and the consequent escape of a fish with hook, trace and line trailing from its mouth."

LIVE-BAITING

"Live-baiting thus appears to be an angling practice that should be discontinued."

"The use of vertebrates as live bait should be banned."

DOUBLE AND TREBLE HOOKS

"The extent and gravity of the injury is likely to be increased by the use of double or treble hooks, or tackles employing sets of multiple hooks."

PUBLIC MONEY

"Yet there will undoubtedly be some people who will question the propriety of spending public money, however it is raised, to promote an activity which, on the face of it, involves a potentially cruel procedure as its basic practice."
Fish Pain