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.

 

Related Stories:

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A Historic Milestone for America’s Ocean Fish

Can Going To The Beach Save The Ocean?

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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.

Image courtesy of derekGavey via Creative Commons.

106 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers18 days ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers18 days ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers18 days ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers18 days ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers18 days ago

TYFS

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Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

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.

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mark g.
mark gillono5 years ago

"ear" should be "war"

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mark g.
mark gillono5 years ago

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

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Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton5 years ago

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

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