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Considering the Ethics of Fishing

Considering the Ethics of Fishing

Reading the August issue of The Sun magazine, I was struck by a section of the essay “Pioneers” by John Frank about fishing. Frank writes:

“I caught an ugly junk fish of some kind. It had giant, gold-rimmed eyes and a sharp dorsal fin that nicked the soft flesh of my hand. I tossed it back.”

And two paragraphs later: “Once, in junior high, I’d caught an odd-looking fish with large scales and taken it home to show my father in hopes he could identify it. I wanted greatly for him to be the kind of father who’d flip open a book and point to a picture of the fish and give it a name. But I found him asleep on the couch, the sun hitting the coffee table by his feet. So I went outside and threw the fish as far as I could into the woods.”

Frank may be writing about his past, but in the present, he isn’t compelled to consider the morality of his behavior. And my experience with people who fish recreationally is that, like Frank, the ethics of fishing rarely arise in their minds.

Why is that? Fish are capable of feeling. They suffer when hooked in the most sensitive parts of their bodies. Like other animals, including us, they avoid danger and seek survival. Were Frank to be talking about trapping kittens or puppies, harming them for fun and throwing out the “ugly junk” ones, most readers would be outraged.

Yet as a society we aren’t outraged by recreational fishing. Instead, it’s practically a national pastime. It’s perceived not simply as harmless but also wholesome. Even movies valorize fishing, including fishing that’s done simply for pleasure, not for survival. But can we put ourselves in the fish’s position? Imagine what it would be like to take a bite of food only to have a sharp hook embedded in our mouths? Can we imagine being dragged by this hook, and ultimately deprived of oxygen so that we suffocate to death? Or if released, can we imagine being injured so badly that we slowly die or become prey to other animals from whom we cannot now escape? And if it were fun for others to do this to us, for no other reason that because they enjoyed it, would this be a good enough reason?

Some thoughts to consider before we go fishing.

 

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Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.

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Image courtesy of derekGavey via Creative Commons.

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7:36AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

7:50PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Frank is an offense. I eat fish and am always very grateful of them, I thank them and I never waste anything, and surely would never toss a fish away because it's ugly.
I despise those who do "catch and release", they are sadists with no respect for life.
If you have to go fishing, at least don't make them suffer.

2:10PM PDT on Sep 15, 2012

"ear" should be "war"

2:10PM PDT on Sep 15, 2012

Larry C: rape, human slavery and ear also are as old as man and are justified in the bible but does that make them accepted acts? it is always immoral and unethical to gain enjoyment by causing the suffering of others and most people because of their limited awareness and self imposed disconnectedness do not consider fish to be others. here is an excellent 15 minute video on this very subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orP4I4uYVRY

1:56PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

I used to take my son fishing and he wanted to keep them as pets. hehe!!

7:20PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Everyone is on the hook in this article, all the fish, Frank, his father, society, the author, and the readers.. which is great, because it stirs up so much to question and try to integrate, from one snapshot. There is an angle (angler) for pain, and for (blame) possible in all directions.

I'm biting too, and feeling the hurts, tugs and pulls. Hunting, sport, food chain, questions of necessity, placed in time/space in human history, and cultures. Looking also at how traditions (momentum) sets up, builds up, continues, and how we find ourselves *in* there, right now, questioning it.

Afforded here, to look freshly at my current feelings/tendencies, and ask whether there are more options, because: there *is* this humane aspect, the suffering of the beings on the hooks (all of them). The aspects of how I find myself in this complex (messy) human relationship with fish.

Considering how we are conditioned, potentially indoctrinated, into putting the bait on, and carrying on with the casting and reeling, in ways that as children, we may have felt to be fundamentally wrong (in our guts), becoming inured, able to override certain sensitivities, and choices, in contrast to further questioning, more available choices, and support for our inner moral inclinations.

It can all change in a person's life ~ profoundly ~ at any time. And there is something real about Frank's own hooked context, his being, between an asleep father, and the one who might have engaged him in many othe

12:16PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Larry C.: you are welcome to look at what I've done by visiting www.HumaneEducation.org. I have dedicated my life (working as a full time volunteer for the past 16 years) to trying to create a just, healthy, and humane world for all people, animals, and for the earth itself.

6:46PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

Fishing is as old as man. Fish have provided food and tools from the dawn of time when man first caught them. If not for fish, your ancestors and you wouldn't be alive today to even debate the morality of fishing. Fish have even earned their due and justifcation for eating them in the bible. I fish. I've taught my kids to fish. I enjoy it and it has fed my fanily at times when there was no other food in the freezer. My kids have told me some of their fondest memories were of me taking them fishing after I divorced their mother. Take a kid fishing and more often than not, you will make a better person of them when they are grown. Being an avid fisherman, I am also a conservationist and actively support environmental progra

6:46PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

Fishing is as old as man. Fish have provided food and tools from the dawn of time when man first caught them. If not for fish, your ancestors and you wouldn't be alive today to even debate the morality of fishing. Fish have even earned their due and justifcation for eating them in the bible. I fish. I've taught my kids to fish. I enjoy it and it has fed my fanily at times when there was no other food in the freezer. My kids have told me some of their fondest memories were of me taking them fishing after I divorced their mother. Take a kid fishing and more often than not, you will make a better person of them when they are grown. Being an avid fisherman, I am also a conservationist and actively support environmental programs to protect and create habitat for them. What have you done?

7:10AM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

I have NEVER enjoyed fishing. I didn't think that "hook and release" programs were any better. I have always thought that fish felt pain, and couldn't imagine a sport that allowed a bunch of men, going out on a boat, drinking beers, and bonding over hurting animals.

Made no sense then, still makes no sense, now.

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