Fish captured by recreational anglers are often released either voluntarily or because of harvest regulations in a process called ‘‘catch-and-release’’. Catch-and-release angling is thought to be beneficial for the conservation of fish stocks based on the premise that most of the fish that are released survive. However, expanding interest in animal welfare has promoted debate regarding the ethics of catch-and-release angling. There is a growing recognition that fish can consciously experience nociception and that they have some capacity to experience pain and fear. Indeed, empirical anatomical, physiological, and behavioural evidence supports the notion that fish could experience these two forms of suffering (i.e., pain and fear). Based on that premise, we examine existing catch-and-release research from a welfare perspective to determine the extent to which potential pain and suffering could be caused. There are numerous studies that provide analyses of the consequences of catch-and-release on the individual demonstrating physical injury, sublethal alterations in behaviour, physiology, or fitness, and mortality. Collectively, this research suggests that all recreational fishing results in some level of injury and stress to an individual fish. However, the severity of injury, magnitude of stress, and potential for mortality varies extensively in response to a variety of factors. Interestingly, this information can be used to identify strategies that anglers may adopt that minimize these effects through changes in either gear (e.g., type of hook, bait, or net) or angling practices (e.g., duration of fight and air exposure, fishing during extreme environmental conditions, fishing during the reproductive period). Although aspects of the catch-and-release angling experience cannot be refined (e.g., the need to physically hook the fish), we argue that informed anglers and fisheries managers can adopt practices to improve the welfare of angled fish. Although consideration of fish welfare is somewhat abstract to most anglers and fisheries managers, ultimately it benefits the individual fish, while simultaneously benefiting the fish population and fishery. Greater integration of welfare consideration into recreational and commercial fisheries should promote innovative solutions to minimize pain and suffering, which should also enhance conservation and management.
Cooke, S. J., & Sneddon, L. U. (2007). Animal welfare perspectives on recreational angling. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 104(3), 176-198.