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Scientific evidence that fish are sentient animals capable of experiencing pain and suffering has been building for some years. It has now reached a point where the sentience of fish is acknowledged and recognised by leading scientists across the world. For this reason, RSPCA Australia believes that fishing practices should ensure the humane treatment of fish in all aspects including capture, handling, hook removal, release and killing.
Bluewater fishing (also known as ‘game’ fishing) is a form of fishing for sport or recreation generally using a rod and reel from a motorboat where caught fish are ‘played’ on the line for extended periods before finally being landed. Bluewater fishing occurs all around the Australian coastline, with large fish such as tuna and marlin often targeted. Other species caught include spearfish, mackerel, sailfish and shark (including hammerhead, tiger and whaler).
Fish that are ‘played’ in this way are literally fighting for their life in the name of sport. Playing the fish can take more than half an hour and fish may experience severe muscle fatigue affecting their respiratory function. Fish can also become entangled or 'tail wrapped' in the line during the fight to reel them in. Research has shown that the pain and physiological distress experienced means many fish will not survive even if they are released after being landed. One recent study examining catch and release of White Marlin in the Atlantic Ocean, suggests that this physiological stress, especially that associated with removal from the water, is an significant factor influencing mortality after release (1).
Several studies have shown that fish experience a similar stress response to humans, where the hormones cortisol and adrenalin are released in response to survival threats. These hormones act to increase the availability of energy and oxygen and help avoid potential predation. Longer term impacts of stress may include reduced reproductive capacity and increase in disease susceptibility.
RSPCA Australia is opposed to bluewater fishing because of the inherent and significant risks of prolonged pain, injury, suffering and distress to the fish involved.
(1) Schlenker LS, Latour RJ, Brill RW, Graves JE (2016) Physiological stress and post-release mortality of white marlin (Kajikia albida) caught in the United States recreational fishery. Conserv Physiol 4(1): cov066; doi:10.1093/conphys/cov066.