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Is Fishing More Ethical Than Hunting?

fishing vs. hunting

Today it would seem that many people who want to enjoy the outdoors struggle with ethical questions concerning their impact, if any, on mother nature. Make no mistake, if you venture into the backcountry, no matter your activity, you are leaving a “footprint” of some kind, good or bad. 

When it comes to more consumptive uses such as hunting and fishing, many view fishing as a more ethical activity. Why? 

Arguments in Favor of Fishing

I would have to say most feel that with fishing, you can at least return the fish to the pond alive after you have caught it, catch and release as it is known.

But in some cases, that fish will not survive, the hook was swallowed and damage done. Or perhaps the time of year being too hot, the fish did not fare well after being caught and released. 

By the way, if the fish did swallow the hook, simply cut the line near the eye of the hook and leave it in the fish. The hook will slowly dissolve, and the fish will survive most of the time.

All Outdoor Recreation Leaves an Impact

In my mind, any activity conducted in the outdoors needs to be the least impactful possible.

Be ethical in your manner of use and enjoyment. Stay within the confines of the law, don’t litter and harvest only what you can make use of. Bag limits are in place to prevent the overharvesting of wild game, and, as ethical sportsmen and women, we must follow these guidelines. You get the idea.

So, Is Fishing More Ethical Than Hunting? 

While it is true that I can catch a fish and usually release it alive to be caught another day, I do not consider fishing more ethical than hunting. 

Both are consumptive uses of a natural and replenishable resource. Remember, you are making some level of impact on nature by simply traveling into the backcountry, whether you want to admit it or not. 

Do Fish Feel Pain?

Much of the debate today on overfishing and ethics seems to stem from the question, “do fish feel pain or fear?” 

Looking around at other research and opinions, we can find the following generalizations: 

  • The experience of pain is, in the end, subjective.
  • No one actually has hard data to show if fish feel pain because no one has figured out the response or communicated with a fish brain.

One side will assert that, since we can’t really know what a fish is feeling, we should assume that their avoidance of things that harm them could be evidence that they might feel pain. I believe this is a learned survival response, as referred to below.

The other side points to the lack of neurological structures in fish that we know relate to the feeling of pain in humans. This group argues that while fish avoid things that damage them, that response is a non-conscious neural process.

This can be likened to how you move your hand quickly off of a hot burner before you experience the pain. I agree with this theory.

I believe this ongoing debate of fish feeling pain or the ethical nature of fishing will most likely continue for years to come and will not be easily defined or solved, at least to some. 

However, in my book, it is very simple. All living things deserve respect and a degree of understanding on our part regarding the cycle of life. 

Even in the act of taking or harvesting or killing (whichever verb is more palatable to you), we must have respect and appreciation of the animal itself. If not, I believe your act of killing or catching (as in fishing) is unethical.  

The Joy of Fishing

Over my life, I have been blessed to have fished for everything from blue marlin in the Gulf of Mexico, cutthroat trout in the streams and rivers of Colorado, and tilapia on the Kafue River in Africa, to grayling in Alaska. 

In other words, fishing has been the heart and soul of many countless pleasurable days in the field over my life. I expect that will never change, nor do I intend to let it. 

There is nothing quite like feeling that tug and power at the other end of your line from a fish you have hooked. If that does not make you smile and perhaps giggle, I’m not sure anything will. Fishing refreshes your heart, mind, and soul. 

Some of my fondest memories of growing up were of time spent with my dad fishing on the lakes, streams, and rivers of New Mexico.  In later years, time spent with my daughter in those same places was irreplaceable, and I would not change or trade it for anything.  

Enjoy your time spent in the field, whether hunting, hiking, bird watching, or fishing. Just remember it’s on you to show both respect and an understanding of nature. 

In other words, don’t take wild things and places for granted. Now go fishing!

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