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Monday, 2 March 2015

Fish do not fell pain

Fish do not feel pain and its implications for understanding phenomenal consciousness
Brian Key 
School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, 4072, Australia

Phenomenal consciousness or the subjective experience of feeling sensory stimuli is fundamental to human existence. Because of the ubiquity of their subjective experiences, humans seem to readily accept the anthropomorphic extension of these mental states to other animals. Humans will typically extrapolate feelings of pain to animals if they respond physiologically and behaviourally to noxious stimuli. The alternative view that fish instead respond to noxious stimuli reflexly and with a limited behavioural repertoire is defended within the context of our current understanding of the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of mental states. Consequently, a set of fundamental properties of neural tissue necessary for feeling pain or experiencing affective states in vertebrates is proposed. While mammals and birds possess the prerequisite neural architecture for phenomenal consciousness, it is concluded that fish lack these essential characteristics and hence do not feel pain.

Fish don’t feel pain? Diving in to the deep end of fish welfare

Do fish really feel pain? You might assume yes, but you’d be wrong. Kind of. You see – it’s complicated. Dr Ben Diggles has worked with government, aquaculture industry, recreational fisheries, and commercial fisheries throughout New Zealand, Australia, Asia and the Pacific Islands. His core work includes import risk analysis, fish and shellfish health, fish welfare, development of feeding attractants for aquaculture, and development of medicated feeds for aquacultured finfish. In his spare time Ben studies the effects of declining water quality on our estuaries, and is active in his local community developing solutions to these problems, like Oyster Reef Restoration. In this episode, we catch up on the latest scientific findings relating to fish pain and learn more about the Ikijime  method for killing fish captured for eating.

Super Trawler 101

Again I have noticed angling groups sharing and promoting sites and messages from anti-fishing groups in relation to the vessel the Geelong Star (the new super trawler) so I picked one to use as an example.

Ocean Defender

" when a man has to pay to go out to sea for “sport” to catch the biggest fish he can, its called murder.”

“About tag and release… We don’t believe it’s fair not humane nor it should be acceptable at this time. If a fish is struggling for hours at sea, it is attracting other predators who have been alerted by the sounds of the struggle. They are waiting for the tired fish to be released and then they will attack. The fish has now become a very easy prey.”

“Please teach your children that is wrong to catch fish for sport.”

There is more but you can have a look through the site for your selves.

On this post Ocean Defenders are promoting a petition by “Stop the trawler alliance” this is the group that last time attempted to shaft anglers at the very first opportunity they got.  In the first amendments to the EPBC act to stop the super trawler the definition of fishing was any fishing activity, including recreational fishing, and one of the trigger points for the minister to act was social concern, thus the environmental minister could have shut down any commonwealth recreational fishery on nothing more than social concern. When this raised the federal Liberal party sought to change the amendments so that a definition of a fishing activity in the act was “commercial fishing” and not any fishing activity, this was opposed by Labor, the Greens and Stop the trawler alliance. Adam Bandt the Victorian federal Greens member even attempted to change it back once it was finally changed. This change had no effect what so ever on the intent of the bill to limit what the Margiris could and couldn’t do. All it did was provide a tool for the anti-fishing groups to mount a campaign to show there is social concern and a willing environmental minister could effectively shut down every commonwealth recreational fishery one by one.

Anglers should not under any circumstances be promoting, sharing or joining these groups who’s end goal is to see an end to what we all do! While they pretend we are all on the same side on this issue, they have a clearly different agenda than anglers do.

The Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF)


The SPF is managed through the allocation an annual quota of fish that can be caught by each boat in the fishery. Seafish Tasmania had a quota (2014) of 17 848 tonnes. This was comprised of 1930 tonnes of blue mackerel, 7885 tonnes of redbait and 8033 tonnes of jack mackerel. This is almost half of the total quota of 36 300 tonnes for the entire SPF in its two management zones (east and west) which represents 7.5% of the total estimated biomass. These is the quota for 2014, as these species are fast growing the quota is adjusted annually to reflect the seasonal variability of the species and in 2015 it has been reduced by about a 1000t. Together with this quota there are various state managed fisheries that also hold quotas for some of these species.
In 2009 a new management plan was implemented, that established the Eastern and Western management zones, replacing the previous 4 zones.  The previous 4 zones in itself allowed a limit to the amount of the quota that could be taken from the area.

The SPF Harvest Strategy uses a tiered approach that recognises the ecological importance of the small pelagic species and takes an explicitly conservative approach to setting harvest levels (i.e. proportion of spawning biomass) and hence TACs. The tiered approach recognises that harvest rates must be low when there is limited information available on the status of the stocks but can be increased as improved information becomes available.    

Tier 1

Applies to stocks for which spawning biomass estimates are no more than 5 years old, with harvest rates set between 10-20% of spawning biomass; the actual harvest rate is reduced as the ‘age’ of the biomass estimate increases. Spawning biomass is estimated using the Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) which is a survey method that is independent of the fishery. It has been successfully applied nationally and internationally in other small pelagic fisheries to assess the size of spawning stocks.    

Tier 2

Either set at a maximum of 7.5% of the most recent estimate of spawning biomass or where biomass has not been assessed at a level based on expert judgement that is considered to be conservative when previous fishing history, species distributional range and life history characteristics are taken into account. 

Tier 3

Applies to species for where there is limited information; TACs are set at very low levels but do not exceed 500 t for the species. 

Commonwealth Small Pelagic history


In the mid 1980 the purse seine fishery off Tasmania peaked at over 40,000t per annum, with the majority of the catch consisting of Jack Mackerel. This fishery became the largest in Australia by weight, a downward trend in production resulted in the fishery closing down in 2000.


In 2001/2002 a six month trial of a mid-water trawler was undertaken of Tasmania, 5,000 t was taken with 90% being redbait. In 2002 a 50 meter mid-water trawler was brought to Tasmania. 7,000 t of red bait was landed in 2002/2003. Redbait catches in Tasmania’s state waters was 300t (2007/2008), 521t (2008.2009), 122t (2009/2010), there was no redbait landed in 2010 to 2012


During the 1970s the Sardine annual catches in WA was 8,000 t. In 1991 a sardine fishery was started in SA between 1993-2003 catches ranged between 3,500 and 6,500 t. In 1995 and 1998 two mass mortalities events occurred reducing the bio mass to 75 %( 1995) and 70 %( 1998). The sardine catch in WA has not fully recovered. SA appears to have recovered quickly with catches increasing to 21,000t in 2002/2003 and 28,000 t since. The NSW annual catch of Sardines was over 4,000t in 2007/2008

The issue for recreational anglers

A vessel that has the range and processing facilities on board and doesn’t need to return to port every day like the small vessels, gives us the flexibility to better manage the interactions with recreational anglers. The catch 22 is that due to the inefficiency of these smaller vessels this quota has largely not been fished, they just don’t make enough money to justify fishing the quota, and as they don’t have processing and freezing facilities the catch is of poor quality. There are also the state managed fisheries to consider.

The South Australian managed Sardine fishery. Although they have the same tier management plan, they have a exploitation rate of 18% of the biomass, which was increased from the initial 10%. A new harvest strategy is being developed for the SASF which is likely to include increasing the harvest rate to  25% with an upper limit of 20-30%. 

This same situation is likely to happen with the Commonwealth SPF, currently the quota is set at 7.5% due to it being classified on tier two, but part of the conditions of fishing this quota includes ongoing assessment, should this assessment provide positive information the quota is likely to move to tier one, thus increasing the quota to 10-20% of the biomass. But unlike in SA the Commonwealth SPF Harvest Strategy specifies that the maximum harvest fraction that can be set for any species is 20%.
The main issue with the super trawler (Geelong Star which is in fact classified as a mid-size trawler) affecting anglers is if a large amount of the quota is taken from small areas. Of greater concern for recreational anglers is if this occurs in areas we fish. Any reduction in the small pelagic species in the areas we fish could result in a decline in the predator species or the fish we target in the area, even if this reduction is classified as insignificant scientifically, it could still have an impact on the recreational fishing experience.
If the owner of Seafish Tasmania (Australian company) or AFMA agreed to an exclusion zone at a set distance from any offshore boat ramp and any areas of interest to recreational fishers, this would reduce or eliminate any danger of localised depletion in the areas we can access.

Alternatively he could send this vessel back home, get a hand full of smaller vessels and take that entire quota from the very same area that we fish.
While we understand that the quota is a conservative one as a whole of the estimated biomass, unless measures are put in place to reduce or eliminate any possible impacts on recreational fishing, we strongly feel that the quota is best left unfished. So that recreational fishing can enjoy the benefits from the extra small pelagic in the area we fish.

The size of the boat and the fact that it has processing and freezer capabilities  is not relevant except for the fact that the vessels ability and versatility allows for better management to avoid impacting recreational fishing opportunities. With the current history with recreational anglers and Seafish Tasmania any interactions are likely to be hostile from both sides and it would serve the interest of everyone involved to do whatever possible to limit these interactions. 
Focusing on size of the vessel or that it’s a factory freezer, making accusations that it’s a huge industrial activity, when in fact it’s 7.5% of the estimated biomass.  Does not help us achieve our goals one bit, it distracts from our main concerns, it blurs the differences between us and the anti-fishing groups, and our voice is lost in amongst all the doomsayers and scaremongers. We need a concise message that focuses on facts, has a clear goal, one that is reasonable and achievable if not by negotiation with Seafish Tasmania then AFMA. 

A clear no go zone at a set distance from our offshore launching facilities and any areas of recreational fishing interests

The tier management system used in Australia takes into account the available science, prey-predator relationship, but it must also include how it may impact on recreational angling opportunities. The Small Pelage’s are indeed a mobile species and once removed from areas will return if fished sustainably. However if you’re a recreational angler that has planned a trip for some months, taken time off work, possibly driven large distances and spent a great deal of money on a trip, the fact that the bait will return the weekend following your trip is not much consolation.  As we all know the species we target will follow the bait!
Should this situation occur during a sanctioned game fishing tournament, the results would be devastating!

We as recreational anglers have observers on the MAC’s that help set the regulations and quotas, currently they are forced to sign confidentiality agreements. For them to represent us properly and more importantly to avoid situations like we find ourselves with this issue, they must be allowed to inform our peak bodies of any matters they think are appropriate so that these things can be worked out amicably before it reaches this point.     

Around the world 

IGFA has shown concern with the importance their forage fish. They are part of the Lenfest Forage fish task force, and they should be righty concerned. Currently in America there is no quota for forage fish, nothing to directly limit how much anyone can take out.
The Lenfest Forage fish task force are asking for changes from the conventional management principle to a more precautionary one that has a 3 tiered precautionary approach(similar to what we have), with each tier dependent on how much information they have about the species, and how dependent predators are on them. The task force has recommended that management processes be put in place to limit the extraction from 20-70% of the estimated biomass. 20% for any species on low tier, 50% for intermediate tier 70% for high tier. 

Just recently there has been a reduction in the harvest of menhaden from 183,000t to 174,000t in the mid-Atlantic, that’s just on species in the forage fish group.

Have a look at the image below at the historic harvest of the Gulf of California alone.

50,000 to 500,000 t per annum of Blue Mackerel are taken off Japan, Peru, China, Korea, Russia, and the Ukraine, approximately 9,000 and 14,000 t per annum are taken in New Zealand. 75% of the estimated national recreational harvests of Blue Mackerel annual catch, 569,319 fish are taken in NSW.

Political football

In 2008 when the harvest strategy plan was released the concept of a large-scale freezer vessel came into being. The introductory comments to that document canvassed the use of a large-scale freezer vessel as perhaps the most economical way to work in the fishery. In September 2009, a small pelagic fishery management advisory committee recommended the draft management plan to AFMA. In 2009, the harvest strategy was also reviewed. So not for the first time but for the second time a large-scale factory freezer vessel was foreshadowed as part of the management of this fishery. It was the Federal Labor party that was in office during all of this. Minister Burke was Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry minister than later environment minister during this process.

In October 2009, then Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, wrote to AFMA endorsing the management plan, including the harvest strategy. Not only do we have Minister Burke involved in this process; but then environment minister Peter Garrett wrote to AMFA and specifically endorsed the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan and harvest strategy, and he agreed to accredit it under the EPBC Act.

In 2012 the SPF saw an increase in the quota for Jack Mackerel from 5,000 tonnes to 10,600 tonnes (minus state catches of 500t).

If we can achieve an exclusion zone around our offshore launching facilities and any areas of recreational fishing interest this this would reduce or eliminate most of our concerns. It dose not serves us to join the anti-fishing group’s campaigns or adopt their strategy of misleading information, let’s stick to the facts, make our goals clear and concise but most of all show that they are restable.

A clear no go zone at a set distance from our offshore launching facilities and any areas of recreational fishing interests.

Any possible impacts on recreational fishing to be a consideration in the Australia’s tier managed fishery.

Any recreational fishing observers on any MACs to be allowed and encouraged to contact their peak bodies should they feel there may be a possible impact on recreational fishing.