Can Fish Really Feel Pain?
I just finished reading an article for Uni, for my lab meeting; Can Fish Really Feel Pain? by Rose et al. My first instinct for this 30-page long paper was to treat it with utter disbelief, because as an animal lover and a student, I fully believe that yes, fish feel pain. But it’s a damn interesting read.
The paper concludes, for those of you who want a quick answer, that no, fish do not feel pain. For the rest of you, here is why:
This review found that most research in which it was concluded that fish feel pain are actually really bad science. One big problem is that most researchers ignore the difference between nociception (“the neural processes of encoding and processing noxious stimuli”) and pain. So, researchers look at fish behaviour and determine from that if it is a pain response, without actually considering that it could simply be pain-free behaviour to remove an unpleasant event or sensation.
The distinction is important because, as it turns out, there is little evidence to suggest that fish even have the physiology to be ABLE to feel pain.
To go a little more in-depth into science, teleosts have quite a few “A-delta fibres”, which are responsible for the first “That’s hot! Jerk my hand away!” reaction. This is a huge survival advantage as it removes fish from an injury-causing stimulus. But they have very small concentrations of “C-type fibres”, which provide the more intense, lasting and suffering-inducing pain, such as ‘burning’ pain. And that makes sense, too; in a highly dangerous environment, needing to take the time to rest and recover due to lasting pain would only increase the likelihood of predation.
So far, there simply isn’t enough evidence to say that fish do feel pain. And assuming that they do from poor research typically prevents exactly the type of research needed to be able to conclusively determine the correct answer one way or another.
At least, according to this paper. I definitely recommend giving it a read if you have a few spare hours. It will probably challenge your current ideas, even if just a little.