Is it immoral to fish for pleasure?

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Alembé's picture
Is it immoral to fish for pleasure?

The angler casts his lure, jigs it a few times and a big fish hits. The battle is intense, but after a couple of minutes, a 20-inch fish is flopping helplessly at his feet, gasping for water. He removes the barbed hook and releases the fish. Traumatized and bleeding slightly, it hopefully flees to the depths and recovers.

Now imagine if the angler were to turn around, face the land, cast his lure and see it snapped at and impale a cat or small dog in the mouth. Similarly, he battles that writhing, screaming, anguished animal back to his feet. I recoil from the barbarity of the second scene.

The weight of evidence is accumulating that these two scenarios are probably not so different in terms of the pain and trauma that would be inflicted by both. Fish have both nociceptors, the nerve receptors that sense pain, and also possess the same neurotransmitters that are involved with pain awareness in mammals. Anybody who has ever caught a fish knows that they are not happy about the process.


In light of this evidence, I am seriously questioning if it is moral for me to continue to catch fish for sport, even “catch and release.” Can I morally justify fishing for my enjoyment, when it results in trauma and, most probably, pain to the fish?

(I have framed this discussion solely regarding “catch and release” fishing for sport/pleasure. Fishing strictly for nutritional purposes would be a different discussion.)

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arakish's picture
Here is a short tale for you.

Here is a short tale for you.

At least 4 out of 5 times I went fishing, I went to relax. No intention of catching anything. Yet, I would always end up catching fish. I'd release them back to the water, but I would still catch fish with no intention of doing so.

"Can I morally justify fishing for my enjoyment, when it results in trauma and, most probably, pain to the fish?"

I do not know. Can you?

My answer is that the world is nothing more than a vaporous pool of life consuming life. I have the power, thus I consume. Is it moral for me to consume other life as other life would do to me? The answer is Yes AND No.

If I am to live, I must consume other life in order to do so. To consume this other life means causing pain and suffering. When I am dead, or if other life catches me (causing pain and suffering), I am consumed. No morality.

What was that old adage? Oh, yeah, "It's a dog eat dog world."

Humans are the only animals who can formulate the idea of morality. But is it moral to cause pain in order to live? Or, is it moral to just cease living?

Ultimately, life is life. There is no true morality. Life is what you make of it. If you wish to cause your own pain and suffering thinking about such things, your's is going to be a life even more miserable than mine has been.


ʝօɦn 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐy's picture
I think the answer to your

I think the answer to your question depends on what your threshold for inflicting pain is before you consider it immoral, which in turn probably depends on the fish's threshold for pain. Knowing that a fish can experience something, doesn't tell you what it is like for them to experience it, nor how much of that experience is needed before it becomes immoral to inflict it.

Seanktoner's picture
When I think about it I have

When I think about it I have to say no, despite the fact that I have gone fishing myself a few times. And yes we cannot actually know what the fish experiences but we can make an educated guess and reckon that it is more than likely extremely painful for the fish. If we can get buy without having to inflict that suffering on fellow animals then we are probably better off leaving them alone.

Sapporo's picture
If anything can be considered

If anything can be considered immoral, then it would be deliberately causing unnecessary harm. The degree of any act and the extent to which malice is intended are arguably also important considerations.

But morality is subjective. I think you can only act as best as your informed conscience dictates.

edit: typo

Cognostic's picture
Is it immoral to swat a fly,

Is it immoral to swat a fly, step on a bug, kill some bacteria? I suppose you get to live your life the way you want to live your life and draw the morality line wherever you like until scientists come up with lab grown synthetic foods that do not require causing suffering to other life forms. Shall we stop at the animal world. Evidence suggests flowers and trees have a response when their stems and branches are cut. Is it not a response akin to pain? They too are living beings. Perhaps we can all become Jain. Perhaps we can save the bacteria by praying to God and letting our children die. Admittedly it sounds foolish but the lines we draw all sound bizarre to people who do not share them.

Morality being a social construct as much as it is an individual construct, you are certainly within your moral rights to object to the killing of fish based on the idea you would be causing them harm. As for me, I went fishing last weekend and I plan to go once more before the winter snows arrive. I am hoping to catch a big one and if it is too small I will release it back into the lake, trauma and all.

Chicken's picture
I personally don’t care about

I personally don’t care about fish, at all. To me they are about as much worth as insects or something of the sort. I base my views on animals on their overall intelligence, reaction to pain, and emotional responses. To me fish are too stupid and undeveloped socially and emotionally for me to care about their pain response. That doesn’t mean I would torture fish without batting an eye, I prefer not to torture anything no matter how simple, but it does mean that their pain response seems not to lead to any trauma at all as I’m not even sure fish can have trauma in the same way mammals can. Either way, birds and reptiles rank just under mammals in my hierarchy, and to be honest I feel the worst about eating cow, pig, and other mammal meat, as mammals are very much like us in many ways. But everyone has their own hierarchy, whether you’ve thought deeply about it or not, and maybe for you fish deserve better treatment.

ʝօɦn 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐy's picture
What does it mean to not care

What does it mean to not care about their pain response, but prefer not to torture?

Chicken's picture
Just that, it’s like I don’t

Just that, it’s like I don’t care about their pain really, but at the same time I feel no satisfaction from causing pain or desire to cause it.

ʝօɦn 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐy's picture
But then presumably you have

But then presumably you have no inhibition to cause it, just no incentive to do so, correct? So you would if asked, or given an incentive.

Chicken's picture
That’s an interesting point.

That’s an interesting point. Maybe I shouldn’t speak in such a definitive way. It’s more of a spectrum I guess, and fish are low on that spectrum. I would say I would torture a fish, or even a human, if there was good enough incentive. The incentive could be, perhaps, that my own family will be tortured if I do not torture this fish. Wouldn’t you also do this? It’s easy for me to say this here, in writing, but maybe you are right, I do care about fish, just to a very limited extent.

ʝօɦn 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐy's picture
Well, what I'm trying to

Well, what I'm trying to figure out is if you acribe some low value to the pain of fish, as opposed to no value, that value would add up the more fish you had to torture. You have nothing against killing or harming a single fish, but would that change if you were asked to poison an aquarium full of fish?

I prefer the "being asked to do it" question over the incentive question. Presumably, if you have no inhibition to do something, you could do it if asked; but if you do have an inhibition, then asking isn't enough. Incentives could be said to cancel out the inhibition.

So to rephrase my question. Would you be able to stomp on a fish if asked, and if so, is there a number a fish you would stomp before it no longer felt right to continue?

Cognostic's picture
Ahhhh! Fish stomping?

Ahhhh! Fish stomping? Almost as fun as using firecrackers. Stomping on a minnow is easy, how about stomping on a swordfish? Does your stomping change if it is a shark? How about the same shark that just took a bite out of your brother? Does stomping change if the fish is pretty? If you stomped on a halibut would it get any flatter? How many fish would you have to stomp on to satisfy your evil need to stomp on fish if you were a fish stomper? How many fish would a fish stomper stomp if a fish stomper could stomp fish as much as a fish stomper wished?

Chicken's picture
I guess I wouldn’t want to

I guess I wouldn’t want to kill fish without a reason. Someone asking me to do it for no reason would not move me. If the reason to kill fish involves eating the fish or something like that I’ll kill as many fish as we need to consume. There are environmental concerns about the population of certain fish that I find important, but to be honest I don’t really see the need to fish myself, as I don’t take particular joy in the act of fishing.

Sheldon's picture
"Incentives could be said to

"Incentives could be said to cancel out the inhibition."

Indeed,I imagine the most powerful incentive as a direct appeal to someone from a deity that created not just them, but everything. Is there anything they would not do? Not only was Abraham prepared to eviscerate his own son and burn the remains on a pyre on just such an appeal, but he has ever since been held as a benchmark of a "good" and obedient theist. This is one very good reason to trust subjective secular morality over moral "absolutes".

"Would you be able to stomp on a fish if asked, and if so, is there a number a fish you would stomp before it no longer felt right to continue?"

I think you were on the right track, or at least firmer moral ground, with the idea that someone who found the idea of deliberately causing pain and suffering anathema to their morality, should have pause about fishing for pleasure.

I was a very keen fisherman for many years when I was younger, but have not been for many years, for a variety of reasons. Would I ever fish again, I don't know is the honest answer. I eat meat after all, and it is hard for me to imagine catching a fish and returning it ostensibly unharmed causes suffering remotely comparable to that of animals farmed for meat.

I don't think the number of animals harmed if we're talking about fishing for pleasure is purely relevant, either we place a moral value on that animal's suffering enough for us to desist from actions that will cause such suffering, or we do not. If we do then I think one would be enough for us to desist.

Oddly enough most organised campaigns I have encountered against fishing are woeful, and seem based on the emotional beliefs of those making the arguments, whereas if they could make objective arguments about pain and suffering I should have found them far more compelling. Anyone who has fished for mackerel using feathers on a trace with multiple hooks, cannot fail to notice that some of the fish they had caught had taken more than one hook, I remember one such incident when a fish had taken 4 separate hooks. I realise this is not a scientific evaluation or indication of pain, but it is hard to imagine this fish was in agony but kept on eating, enough to bite 3 more hooks. Though of course I have no reason to believe it knew anymore about the consequences of the 4th than it did about the first.

It is an interesting subject for examining morality nonetheless, partly because it requires reasoning and isn't being presented as an absolute, as theistic morals so often are.

Cognostic's picture
LOOK EVERYONE! We caught a

LOOK EVERYONE! We caught a Breezy!!!

Old man shouts at clouds's picture


THROW IT BACK ITS GOT A PARASITE IN ITS BRAIN...Just cut the line dammit...that thing is infectious,

Cognostic's picture
Thanks Old Man, you saved my

Thanks Old Man, you saved my life. I was going to step on it but now I realize that would have released the parasites into the air. You may have saved the world. Perhaps someone should place a call to the WHO. Who knew just hanging out here could be so dangerous.

arakish's picture
Yeah, gotta watch those brain

Yeah, gotta watch those brain parasites, especially the ones that can be breezy...


Chipperfhu's picture
What doesn't kill us makes us

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I thought I was doing the fish a favor by releasing. Next time I'll just filet it. I suppose that bass will do some feeding of its own.

It's a conscience thing I suppose. Besides, jesus likes his fish broiled.

Sheldon's picture
"What doesn't kill us makes

"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."

Never liked that idiom, even as a metaphor. Amoebic dysentery, polio, leprosy, malaria, hell there must be an endless list of things that might not kill us but would self evidently weaken us, and certainly could not objectively claimed to make us stronger.

"It's a conscience thing I suppose. "

I agree, and of course most things are, but it's reason that informs our conscience I think.

Cognostic's picture
Is it immoral for fish to

Is it immoral for fish to steal worms off of hooks? Damn fish. I pay good money for those worms. If I ever catch one of them ripping off my worms I am going to beat it to death!

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
I used to be a mad keen

I used to be a mad keen angler...then I caught a dolphin fish...(Dorade)

Now I take a book and a bottle to the river bank and relax.

And, yes, I eat farmed fish. If I was hungry and in the wild I would go fishing again. It is moral to eat, immoral to cause pain and bloodshed for 'fun' .

arakish's picture
@ Old Man

@ Old Man

I still am, or would be if I lived closer to the ocean. However, I never fished for "fun." There was always the purpose of eating what I caught. I never did it to be like those sorry shits who are always seeking trophy photos. When I went fishing, it was to have some shark for food, or whatever.

Same thing when I went hunting. It was never "just for fun." Challenging yes. Because I used a bow which allowed my food a better chance to escape rather than being a coward and ambushing my food from a "blind."


Sheldon's picture
This mirrors my own

This mirrors my own sentiments fairly closely.

Cognostic's picture
Aliens abduct human beings

Aliens abduct human beings and shove anal probes up their butts so I don't see why its wrong for us to do the same to lower life forms. It pisses me off every time the aliens come and dissect me in the night because then never put me back together exactly the same way. Everything is always a couple of centimeters off and so I will spend three days stubbing my toes, banging into things with my hips and falling over for now reason at all because I legs can't judge distance. It's the cycle of abuse. Aliens hurt us, we hurt fish, fish harm bugs, bugs hurt each other. It's fair.

Grinseed's picture
Message just in from a

Message just in from a strangely fish-shaped alien Mother ship, in orbit next to Betrand's teapot. Message as follows...."Stop fucking with the fish...the bugs are fair game".

Cognostic's picture
GREAT!!! I am really glad

GREAT!!! I am really glad that fucking with the fish is upsetting the aliens. They fuck with me and I fuck with their fish. GLAD TO HEAR IT! Thanks for passing on the message, it really made my day. ..... No where is my hammer and where did that mackerel flop off to?

Sapporo's picture
Is it immoral to pleasure a

Is it immoral to pleasure a fish, or should sexual activity only be for the purpose of spawning?

Cognostic's picture
Sapporo: Who pulled your

Sapporo: Who pulled your stringer? You aren't funny. ROFLMAO Tin Man is funny, Old Man is funny. Rat Shit keeps me in stitches. Where in the hell did that come from?

Tin-Man's picture
@Sapporo Re: "Is it immoral

@Sapporo Re: "Is it immoral to pleasure a fish, or should sexual activity only be for the purpose of spawning?"

Well, hell. Look at it this way... If it is okay to spank your monkey and choke your chicken, then why should you not be allowed to fondle your fish?


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