siamese fighting fish intelligence

Medway Report

RSPCA’s Report of the Panel of Enquiry into Shooting, and Angling (1976-1979), Chairman Lord Medway

To enquire into practices relating to shooting and angling in the United Kingdom, whether for the purpose of control, sport or food, which may involve cruelty, and to make recommendations as may appear appropriate in relation to such practices.

Please note: the sections of the report on shooting have not been included here.


1. Composition of the Panel
2. Introduction
3. The problem of animal suffering
5. Angling practices in the United Kingdom
A. Course fishing
B. Game fishing
C. Sea angling
D. Licensing and qualifications
E. Allied practices
(i) Fish rearing and fisheries stocking
(ii) Discarded tackle and anglers litter
6. Discussion
B. Angling
(i) Angling practices
(ii) The coup de grace
(iii) Training and qualifications
(iv) Allied practices
7. Summary of recommendations
A. General
C. Angling
(i) General
(ii) Training and qualifications
(iii) Allied practices
D. Postscript


Chairman: Lord MEDWAY (5th Earl of Cranbrook), M.A., Ph.D. Zoologist, country landowner and farmer; Editor of 'Ibis' journal of the British Ornithologists' Union. Formerly Senior Lecturer in Zoology. University of Malaya. Author of 'Mammals of Borneo', 'Wild mammals of Malaya' and (jointly) 'Birds of the Malay Peninsula' and many scientific papers on the archaeology, ecology and biology of vertebrates of the Indo-Pacific region.

Vice-Chairman: S. K. ELTRINGHAM, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D. Lecturer in Applied Biology, University of Cambridge. Formerly Survey-Biologist (Air) at the Wildfowl Trust, Lecturer in Zoo logy, King's College, University of London, Director of the Nuffield Unit of Tropical Animal Ecology (later, the Uganda Institute of Ecology) and Chief Research Officer of the Uganda National Parks. Author of 'Life in mud and sand' and 'The ecology and conservation of large African mammals'. Joint editor of 'Marine borers, fungi and fouling organisms of wood. Author of many scientific papers on marine biology, ornithology and wildlife ecology.

C. L. BOYLE, Lt. Col. (retd.), O.B.E. Vice-President of the Fauna Preservation Society (and its former Secretary for 13 years). Also formerly Chairman of the Survival Service Commission, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (I.U.C.N.). Ridder of the Order of the Golden Ark (instituted by H.R.H. the Prince of the Netherlands).

M. J. DELANY, M.Sc., D.Sc. Professor of Environmental Science, University of Bradford, and Secretary of the Mammal Society. Formerly held appointments at the University of Florida, the University of Glasgow, Makerere University (Uganda), and the University of Southampton. Author of 'Ecology of small mammals', 'Rodents of Uganda' and (jointly) 'Ecology of African mammals', and numerous scientific publications on the ecology of small mammals in the U.K. and in tropical Africa.

G. M. HUGHES, M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D. Professor of Zoology and Head of the Research Unit for Comparative Animal Respiration, University of Bristol. Author of 'Comparative physiology of vertebrate respiration' and (jointly) 'Physiology of mammals and other vertebrates'; editor of symposia on 'Homeostasis', 'Nervous and hormonal mechanisms of integration' and 'Respiration of amphibious vertebrates"; author of numerous scientific papers, many on the respiration of fishes. Member of the British/French/American coelacanth expedition in 1972.

D. A. ORTON. Organiser of the Angling Foundation, editor of 'Where to fish, principal ornithological contributor to 'The Field' and conservation correspondent for the magazine 'Angling'. Warden of Groveley Dingle Nature Reserve. Formerly (for 25 years) sales and marketing manager to a leading manufacturer of fishing tackle. Author of 'Fishing tackle".

R. J. ROBERTS, B.V.M.S., Ph.D., M.R.C.V.S., M.R.C.Path., F.R.S.E. Professor of Biology and Director of the Unit of Aquatic Pathobiology, University of Stirling; Editor of the Journal of Fish Diseases. Author of 'Fish pathology', 'Handbook of salmon and trout diseases' and 'Dermatology of fishes', and of many scientific papers on fish pathobiology.



The Society is setting up an immediate enquiry using outside experts and taking all possible advice on all aspects of angling.


On the 26th May 1976, the Council of the R.S.P.C.A. commissioned an independent Enquiry into Angling and Shooting and appointed a Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Medway, M.A., Ph.D.. F.Z.S., for the purpose of enquiring into such practices, whether for purposes of control, sport or food, which may involve cruelty, and to make recommendations as may appear appropriate in relation to those practices.


12. At an early stage of the procedures, Panel members were faced with the argument that can conveniently be encapsulated as 'Nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw'. This was raised at the initial Press conference, and also appeared in published comment on the Panel's terms of reference.

For instance:

Be they present or absent, caterpillars by the thousand will die to sustain the pipits and there is no reason to assume that life is less sweet to a caterpillar than to a grouse or to a man. Foxes may take chicks or any ground-nesting bird: So may buzzard, short eared owl and hen harrier, to punctuate with variety the non-stop slaughter of small rodents which goes on from before dawn until after dusk.

The pattern of predation in the river is even more unrelenting. Aquatic productivity is high: predation especially intense. None but a tiny minority of the mayflies, crustaceans, water beetles or fish-fry hatched, have the slightest chance of survival to maturity, whatever the contribution to the situation made by the angler. The same is as true or truer of an enclosed water where pike harry the roach-shoals. Neither should it be assumed that furred, feathered or scaled predators always kill with a speed and efficiency as great or greater than that of man and his weapons.

16. Among all kinds of vertebrate animals, it is possible to detect a complex variety of morphological or physiological responses to gross disturbance in the environment or to interference with the body itself. These responses are classed together under the technical term 'stress'. Stress in animals has been the subject of extensive research, generating an enormous amount of scientific literature. It has been suggested that stress involves suffering. In the main, however, the stress syndrome is manifested only after prolonged exposure to the causative stimuli. Although such circumstances undoubtedly may occur as a consequence of shooting, angling or related practices, it would be difficult to reach firm conclusions without ourselves undertaking a great deal of original research. For this reason, and because of the complexity and comparative indefinability of this subject, we have concentrated our attention on pain.

17. At the outset, from general considerations, we were inclined to accept that pain or analogous sensations are likely to be involved in those mechanisms in animals which promote the avoidance of injury or potentially injurious circumstances or encourage the protection of damaged parts during the recovery period after injury.

18. Any such widespread natural process can be assumed to have some selective advantage in evolution. For example, sharp pain informs the subject that it has entered into a dangerous situation from which it must withdraw if serious damage is to be avoided. Dull pain probably has the function of ensuring that the subject rests the affected region of the body in order to prevent further damage and to promote healing. Intractable, continuous pain, such as that suffered by cancer victims, appears to have no adaptive value and therefore poses problems. Such pain in modem man, however, tends to be associated with diseases of old age. Under natural conditions, few animals live long enough for these diseases to develop; the same would probably apply to primitive man. In general, therefore, pain or an analagous sensation should not be viewed as malign but rather as an essential sense for the survival of man (or animals) which must owe its existence to the normal forces of natural selection.

19. This idea was expressed in comparable terms in the report of the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals, 1951 (commonly known as the Scott-Henderson Report, and recognised as an important contemporary landmark in governmental thinking on animal welfare and protection legislation):—

Pain is of the utmost biological value to animals because, in general, what is painful is also harmful, and consequently animals tend to avoid anything which gives them the sensation of pain. Pain is the 'conditioning' stimulus which teaches an animal to avoid what is physically harmful to it, and this end could hardly be achieved unless the pain felt by animals were painful in the ordinary sense. Pain is therefore a sensation of clear-cut biological usefulness.

21. In contrast, evidence from anglers suggests that some believe their quarry to be insensitive to pain or, at least, incapable of 'suffering' in any meaningful sense of the word. Expressions of this belief can be found in classical angling literature; for example:-

'I do not believe that salmon or any other fish feel very acutely, a reassuring theory for the tender-hearted fisherman ... The desperate struggle of the fish to get free confirms the same view. Not all the instinct of self-preservation would induce a man to put a strain of even a pound on a fishing-rod if the hook was attached to some tender part of his flesh.'

22. The same view has been reiterated to us in correspondence addressed to this Enquiry and is also found in contemporary angling literature. Where it exists, this belief is in many cases evidently deduced from the comparatively primitive position of fish in the vertebrate evolutionary scale. For example:-
fishes are low in the order of living things so they do not feel fear and pain as higher creatures do: if a fish is properly hooked his only reaction is to try to get free, and if he does get free he will often come back to the bait and try to take it again.

23. In this argument emphasis has also been placed by some anglers on the fact that fish are 'cold-blooded'. For example, a recent statement in the press, attributed to an angling official, clearly places weight on this feature of fish biology:
In absence of real scientific evidence to the contrary we will continue to go along with the opinion that fish as cold-blooded creatures do not feel pain.

24. Yet, to some extent, statements of this nature are confounded by the anglers' own behaviour. Thus, it is a common assumption (confirmed by scientific observation) that a fish which has been hooked and escaped or one which has been caught, landed and subsequently released, will tend to avoid an immediate repetition of the experience. Aged fish which have repeatedly been caught and released are often categorised as 'wily', and it is agreed among anglers that unusual skill is required to entice them to take the baited hook. This attitude implicitly assumes that fish are capable of learning as a result of an experience presumed to be unpleasant.

25. Moreover, in reviewing the angling press, we have noted many contributions in which inconsiderate behaviour by anglers towards fish is deplored. In balance, we consider that many anglers do not habitually treat fish as if they were totally insensible to pain.

26. The dilemma, of course, is that the incidence of pain can only be verified beyond question in human subjects, because only they are capable of reporting in words the sensations experienced. Yet, among the vertebrate animals, particularly mammals, it is possible to recognise the existence of behaviour patterns that appear to be homologous with the non verbal responses of human subjects known to be suffering pain.

27. As far as birds are concerned two of our witnesses. Dr. C. J. O. Harrison and Mr. Derek Goodwin, believed that judgement could be based on such behavioural criteria. Professor D. R. Griffin has carried this idea further, and more or less equated 'perception' (and hence the ability to suffer) with the capacity for learned behaviour. This approach is perhaps closest to the empirical attitude towards suffering in animals that is taken by the layman.

28. Yet there are dangers in interpreting animal behaviour in a wholly anthropomorphic fashion. Signals used for a certain purpose by one species may not have the same function in others I (man included). Our witness Dr. J. S. Kelly gave us a further cautionary example: the case of the man who has the spinal cord transected below the level of his arms and hands. If one applies a graded heat stimulus to his hand until he says that it is painful, and then puts the same calories per unit of time to his feet, he will withdraw his leg. Yet this movement is a reflex and he cannot feel it, and thus one cannot take withdrawal as meaning that he has felt pain in this case.

29. The analogy between a man with impaired function of the central nervous system and an intact animal obviously is not perfect. Yet fish were cited (by Dr. B. L. Roberts) as examples of vertebrates in which many normal responses are probably of a reflex nature. The implication is that many reactions to potentially damaging or unpleasant stimuli on the part of fish, which the observer might be inclined to interpret as evidence of suffering, may in fact be automatic responses and as free from painful sensation as are, for instance, the postural adjustments of man involved in balancing.

30. Even among man, there are many anomalies in the perception of pain. As Professor P. D. Wall stressed, the reaction to injury in the human subject is by no means precise or predictable:—

There are really three words that you have to separate totally as totally different categories. One is 'injury' and the ability of the nervous system to detect the presence of injury. The second is 'pain' and the third is 'suffering'. One of the enormous problems of clinical medicine is the bizarre coupling between these three phenomena. That is to say that in man, and I believe in animals, you can observe any form of coupling between these three. You can certainly have severe injury with no pain whatsoever, and you can have intense pain and suffering with no observable injury, and all grades in between.

31. As specific instances of the non-correlation of injury and suffering, Professor Wall cited his studies of Israeli military casualties of the October 1973 war—all persons who lost limbs. 70% of those victims felt no pain at the time of the amputation. All felt extreme pain the next day. These people were almost uniformly surprised at not feeling pain in spite of the obvious injury. Parallel examples, including some of personal experience, lead us to recognise that in i man there is very frequently a latent period between the infliction of injury and the perception of pain. This latent period may, for instance, permit the footballer whose ankle is broken in a tackle, when about to score, to continue without being aware of his injury. Unfortunately, it appears that there is no objective means of detecting the existence of such a latent period (para 34).

32. Other studies of pain in man discussed by Professor Wall emphasised the influence of psychological factors on suffering. For example, among many human societies, trials involved in initiation ceremonies are borne stoically, without evident distress, by subjects who under any other circumstances would protest violently and apparently 'suffer' from the infliction of comparable injuries. With the exception of rare congenital analgesics (who experience apparently normal sensations but without pain), there is no evidence that genetic differences in pain threshold are important. Alleged racial or regional variations in tolerance of pain can be shown to be due in the main to cultural factors and not to inherited capacities. In effect, we understood from Professor Wall that the process of pain perception in man is strongly influenced by current mental state.

33. In summary. Professor Wall proposed that animals, like man, may show no signs of pain. while involved in the emergency of 'fight and flight'; but this does not mean that they are not suffering, nor does it mean that they will not be in pain when the emergency dies down.

34. Yet because human beings can report verbally the sensation of pain, it has long been known that there is no corresponding pattern discernible in the electro-encephalogram (E.E.G.) trace. Electrical activity in the brain provides no indication whether or not pain is being felt, and thus cannot be used as an objective means of detecting suffering in man or any animal, although agitation and arousal can be detected.

35. The search for sound, objective criteria by which suffering might be identified indisputably has therefore required us to look more closely at the neurological and pharmacological basis of pain. Our chief concern, as in all aspects of the Enquiry, has been to avoid emotive approaches and to seek reliable evidence without bias or prejudice in favour of any existing point of view. The past decade has, in fact, been exceptionally productive in the field of pain research. We have been fortunate in being able to hear and question several of the scientists closely associated with these investigations.

36. Research into the detailed structures of the peripheral nervous system has shown that there are in man distinct receptors responsible for the perception of pain. These have been called 'nociceptors'. Best known are the nociceptors found in the human skin. These are non-corpuscular and relatively simple in appearance. Because of their small size they have been difficult to study. Although they seem to fall into at least two functional types (see below), these have not been distinguished anatomically. A common feature of all nociceptors is that they are served by nerve fibres (axons) that are either unmyelinated or only thinly myelinated (less than 6&#181m in diameter). Nonetheless, at present, it is apparently impossible to recognise any morphological features that serve to distinguish nociceptors from other unspecialised non-painful thermo- or mechanoreceptors.

37. Similar receptors and similar nerve fibres have been found in other vertebrates including mammals and fish. Yet, because no clear morphological differences have been recognised to distinguish ordinary heat or touch receptors from true nociceptors, it remains (and may always remain) impossible to decide by anatomical investigation alone—on any scale from gross morphology down to the finest details discernible only by use of the electron microscope —whether or not an animal can feel pain. There is a difference between the detection of painful stimuli and the interpretation of those stimuli as being painful. The existence of an unusually rich innervation in certain parts of the body (e.g., the lips of fish) indicates that sensation in such areas is of great biological importance, but is not of itself evidence either that pain is or is not perceived.

38. Functionally, the chief defining characteristic of nociceptors as a class is an insensitivity to mild or low-intensity thermal or mechanical stimulation. In fact, they respond (with a discharge of nervous impulses passing along the axon) only to levels of thermal or mechanical stimulation that are actually or potentially damaging to tissue. As Dr. Kelly expressed it, for a satisfactory definition of pain perception, we must believe that 'the stimulus is sufficiently intense to be producing tissue damage. There is actually a chance of cell death'. The criterion need not necessarily be cell death, but there must be a possibility that cells are reaching a condition in which they will die.

39. Research has indicated that there are at least two kinds of nociceptors in the skin of man. Those known as 'mechanical nociceptors' respond to pricking, pinching or squeezing of skin and may give a discharge of impulses that can continue as long as this pricking or squeezing is continued, but they do not respond to temperature changes in the skin. The second kind of cutaneous nociceptor is sensitive to severe thermal stimuli but may also be excited by intense

40. Some research workers have been able to correlate the appearance of nerve fibres with different types of pain sensation. Activation of the thinly myelinated fibres is associated with the experience of 'first', fast, sharp, well-localised pain, and activation of the unmyelinated fibres (C) with 'second', slow, aching or burning, long lasting and poorly localised pain.

41. These characteristics suggest a mode of functioning. It is likely that when cells near the nerve endings are damaged (or are subjected to potentially damaging stimuli) either the nerve endings themselves or special cells closely surrounding the nerve endings release some substance that causes the nerve to discharge. Research has shown that this substance is probably the peptide known as bradykinin. Bradykinin, for instance, has been found to be released in the rat's foot following thermal injury and is present in blisters raised by heat or by chemical irritants (e.g., nettle stings). It also produces sensations of pain in man when injected." If injected into an artery, bradykinin produces extreme sensations of pain in man, over-riding the effect of local anaesthetic.

42. Bradykinin has been identified in the peripheral terminations of cutaneous afferent nerves. It is also present in those parts of the dorsal horns of the spinal cord (Rexed's laminae I, II and III) that respond to stimulation of nociceptors, presumably because the nerve cells of peripheral sensory receptors terminate in these regions of the spinal cord. Therefore it seems very likely, as suggested to us by Dr. Kelly, that the presence of bradykinin or of a precursor (i.e., a larger molecule that could be split to provide bradykinin) would satisfactorily identify nerve cells concerned with the transmission of pain. Thus, a test for the presence of bradykinin does appear to provide a fairly straightforward and reliable pharmacological demonstration of the existence of pain-transmitting elements in the nervous system of any animal.

43. An additional substance that is apparently important in the transmission of pain is another peptide molecule, known as substance P. Those nerve fibres that are involved at their peripheral endings with bradykinin, release substance P at their central endings, i.e., at the first synapse in the spinal cord. Conversely, in the isolated spinal cord (of rat) substance P proves to be a powerful excitant of neurons in the dorsal horn, seeming to act selectively on I those cells that respond to noxious stimuli.

44. The presence or absence of substance P thus provides another pharmacological test for pain-transmitting elements in a nervous system. It is known to occur in all mammals so far investigated, as well as in birds and in frogs. Dr. Kelly offered to test for its presence in a fish; his results (not published elsewhere) are shown below (Table 1).

45. The recognition of bradykinin and substance P and of the roles played by these chemicals in the perception of pain is of comparatively recent date. From the point of view of our Enquiry, these pharmacological discoveries provide an invaluable new tool, by which it is now possible to ascertain, with a higher degree of probability than hitherto, whether or not an animal possesses the capacity to experience pain.

46. Although an undoubted advance, this test still cannot demonstrate, in a wholly objective fashion, whether or not a given animal is actually, at a given instance, 'suffering" in any meaningful sense of this term. The uncertainty is partly attributable to difficulties in tracing the nervous pathways involved beyond the first synapse in the spinal cord. Two general classes of sensory interneuron in the spinal cord have been implicated in pain perception ('nociception'). Those of Class 1 share with the peripheral nociceptors the property of specific responsiveness to damaging (noxious) or near-noxious stimuli, and are chiefly located in the most superficial layer. Those, of Class 2, found in deeper layers have a wider range of responsiveness. They possess connections with a variety of somatic and visceral nervous inputs, respond to repetitive activation of C fibres (see para. 40), and also exhibit long-duration after-discharges following the application of noxious heat. Experimental evident suggests that Class 2 cells contribute more importantly than Class 1 to the perception of pain.

47. Axons of many Class 1 and Class 2 interneurons extend directly to the brain. Others form further connections within the spinal cord, or contribute to reflex paths. The main pathway to the brain is via the spinothalamic tract. It appears that in the brain-stem of primates this tract divides into two parts. One, the neospinothalamic pathway, leads to a series of clusters of cells in each side of the thalamus (with many cortical connections, and an important centre for integrating sensory information); this is thought to be responsible chiefly for the transmission of sharp, localised pain. The other, the palaeospinothalamic pathway, ascends along the midline of the brain and includes the central grey matter of the brainstem; it is thought to be responsible for the transmission of dull pain.

48. The palaeospinothalamic pathway also connects with the limbic system of the forebrain. This part of the brain, insofar as it is recognisable in the brains of all living vertebrates, appears to have evolved initially from the olfactory tract of some early common ancestor.

49. It has for a long time been known that surgical ablation of the central grey or limbic areas will alleviate severe chronic pain in man. It is also an area that seems to be involved in emotions, both normal (e.g., pleasure) and abnormal (e.g., schizophrenia or severe depression). Again, on the grounds of homology, it is possible to argue that this structure plays a similar role in the biology of all vertebrates. The identification of substance P in this area of the brain of any vertebrate would be good evidence that pain reception is involved.

50. Perhaps the most interesting, even dramatic, recent development in pain research has been the discovery, of the endogenous opiates, first reported in 1975. Two of these substances are known. Closely related chemicals, they are 5-unit peptides ('pentapeptides'), and have been called 'enkephalins'.

51. The enkephalins show structural similarity to morphine and related naturally-occurring or synthetic opiates. In their action on living tissue or organisms they resemble these drugs.

Their activity is also inhibited by antagonists of morphine, etc.22 Enkephalins appear to be localised in nerve endings, and have been identified in many parts of the body. The function of these substances is only just beginning to be investigated, but it has been suggested to us that they may play a major role in the process of learning through gratification.

52. Of particular importance to this Enquiry is the close association demonstrated (using immunological techniques) between nerve endings containing substance P and those containing enkephalin. In a study of the rat central nervous system, striking correlations were found in the density and distribution of substance P-positive and enkephalin-positive nerve fibres, for instance, in the central grey, the spinal trigeminal nucleus, and laminae I and II of the spinal cord. Such results have led to the postulation that receptors for enkephalin (and other opiates) are located actually on the nerve terminals containing substance P and function by blocking the release of substance P.24

53. Given that the nerve cells secreting enkaphalins are connected synaptically with any number of other nerve cells, this arrangement clearly provides a mechanism for internal control of the activity of those transmitting fibres that respond to the firing of the peripheral nociceptors. Although investigation of its functioning is still at an early stage, it seems likely that this system accounts for many anomalies in the response of whole organisms to injurious stimuli.

54. With Dr. Kelly's findings (Table 1) it is now possible to conclude that both substance P and enkephalins occur in all vertebrate classes from bony fishes to mammals. Their presence has not yet been sought in cartilaginous fishes or agnathes.

55. It is interesting to note the results of comparable research which has detected binding sites for benzodiazepines (chemicals that apparently play a role in the pharmacology of anxiety in man) in seven species of mammals in three orders (rodents, carnivores, and artiodactyls), three kinds of birds, a turtle, a lizard, a frog, a toad and three bony fish (cod, plaice and eel). Identical tests have failed to detect such sites in two lower chordates (hagfish and amphioxus), or in the following invertebrates: locust, lobster, woodlouse, squid and earthworm.

56. In many biochemical aspects it is already known that there are close similarities between 'higher' and 'lower' vertebrates in the way they function. It seems reasonable to assume that a substance known to mediate pain in the nervous system of man (and perhaps also the psychological counterpart of pain) and a second substance known to be its antagonist, should both have the same function in fish and other vertebrate classes. If this assumption is accepted, it follows that these animals share a common capacity to experience pain. Equally, it would then be expected that they would show, in their responses to injury and other noxious stimuli, inconsistencies and unpredictable peculiarities comparable to those detected in man.

57. There may still be some people who will argue that we cannot prove beyond question that any vertebrate other than man, feels pain. We, however, conclude that if any do, then the evidence suggests that all vertebrates (including fish), through the mediation of similar neuro­pharmacological processes, experience similar sensations to a greater or lesser degree in response to noxious stimuli.


134. Although its exact semantic origins are in dispute, there is agreement that the word 'angling' means taking fish or attempting to take them by rod, line and hook. This enquiry is therefore not concerned with long-lining or any procedure involving the direct use of nets, even though far greater numbers of fish are undoubtedly caught each year by such means. The catching of sea fish on handlines is not angling in this sense.

135. Angling is not an effective method of controlling fish populations, except insofar as it is used to catch fish judged to be of undesirable species (e.g., pike, in certain places) for the purpose of removal. The angler may subsequently eat the fish he catches but in the main the provision of food is secondary to other considerations. Without doubt, in the U.K.., angling exists chiefly as a sport. The National Angling Survey, carried out in 1970 by N.O.P. Market Research Ltd., produced a figure of 1,681,000 for coarse anglers (only) (see below, in para. 143) in Britain. Today in angling circles, as many as 3,000,000 are claimed to be involved in angling in the U.K.

136. Since the mid-17th century there is documentation of angling as a sport in Britain. Socio economic distinctions have grown up over the years, with 'game fish" (the salmonids) generally enjoying the higher status. The greater vigour of the salmonids when hooked, or 'in play" as the angler terms it, is partly responsible for this.

137. Palatability is also a consideration. The flesh of salmonids is often pink and the number, character and distribution of the bones present no great source of trouble at the table. Colour, texture and flavour find wide approval. The flesh of members of the carp family (thecyprinids), the chief group of British coarse fish, is white, their bones numerous, sharp and distributed in an unfamiliar fashion. Few people in Britain find the flavour attractive. With the possible exception of eel, pike and perch, so unpalatable is the flesh of coarse fish to all but a small minority that its consumption as food largely died out in this country when rail transport brought reasonably fresh saltwater fish within reach of the urban population.

138. The regional Water Authorities in England and the Welsh National Water Development Authority have the duty to provide for the maintenance of fisheries, and may allocate large sums of money for this purpose. For example, in financial 1979, Thames Water has budgeted £0.4 million for fisheries, about 014% of total estimated expenditure.

139. it is difficult to pinpoint the period during which anglers turned to the sea for additional sport, but it probably followed soon after railways and seaside holidays became part of the national way of life. There is little doubt, though, that sea angling developed from angling in freshwater.

140. Fishing tackle is manufactured in Britain; there are also substantial imports. Distribution is by wholesalers who may or may not have manufacturing and/or importing sides to their businesses. The angler purchases his requirements from the retail distributors, of whom there are 3000-4000. specialist and non-specialist, extending throughout the whole of the U.K. from big cities to small towns. Chain stores and mail order houses augment this distribution, but most tackle sold in Britain passes through the hands of shopkeepers, who are themselves anglers and who also supply bait, licences and information on local angling facilities. The relationship between supplier and customer tends to be close.

141. Anglers, with the exception of game fishermen (see below, para. 165 ff), generally do not see themselves as sharing an interest with participants in other field sports. The distinction rests chiefly on the custom of returning fish alive to the water after capture, ostensibly unharmed, as is the normal practice of the great majority of coarse anglers. To our knowledge at least one large coarse angling association maintains a policy of total opposition to killing any fish.

142. Coarse angling clubs are federated in the National Federation of Anglers (N.F.A.) which concerns itself with matters relating to their welfare and conduct, with particular reference to the regulation of match fishing, Similarly the National Federation of Sea Anglers (N.F.S.A.) legislates for its members. The Salmon and Trout Association operates in the interests of game fishers. All are founder-members of the National Anglers" Council (N.A.C,). the body officially recognised as speaking for the sport as a whole. This body receives an allocation of public funds and concerns itself with all matters relating to the welfare and promotion of the sport. The Anglers" Cooperative Association {A.C. A.) has existed for about thirty years; it was set up specifically to combat water pollution through actions in common law. The Angling Foundation (T.A.F.) is a body financed by the fishing tackle trade and angling press to invest trade funds in the welfare and promotion of the sport. Both T.A.F. and the A.C.A. are represented on the N.A.C. executive. There are many local and regional associations, and other national bodies which are concerned with some special aspect of the sport.


143. According to the 1970 National Angling Survey, 67% of all anglers participate in coarse fishing. Of those who are all-rounders, the majority gives more time to it than to game or sea angling. When men are seen lining the banks of rivers, ponds or canals, seated on combined seat/tackle containers, often sheltered by large green, black or camouflaged umbrellas, coarse fishing is the activity pursued. According to the survey. 50% of the coarse fishermen fish as often as once a week during the season. After periods of boom-growth during the first half of this century, coarse fishing is not now considered to be continuing to expand in popularity. The various species of coarse fish, especially roach and bream, are far commoner in lowland Britain than are game fish. They exist at comparatively high population densities and show high fecundity under favourable circumstances.

144. With virtually all inland waters in lowland Britain in private ownership, fishing is possible only by permission and usually the subject of a commercial transaction. Lakes and lengths of canal or river may be let by the season to urban coarse fishing clubs whose membership may be measured in tens, hundreds or thousands. Other waters may be let by day-ticket to all comers: but less fishing is now available by this means than in years gone by. Many waters have been denied to the general public because large clubs bid for more than they need to accommodate their members on the typical mid-season day. Yet supply and demand are in general well balanced, in terms of anglers actually present at the waterside, on any but the opening and closing weekends of the season.

145. Coarse fishing other than for pike employs natural bail (i.e. substances edible to fish) presented on tackle whose fineness of guage—sometimes excessive fineness of guage - is intrinsic to the philosophy of the sport as viewed by the majority of its followers. The larvae (maggots) of several dipteran flies (bluebottle, etc.) come first in importance and are the subject of a substantial breeding and rearing industry. Other bails in common use are bread prepared in various ways, worms of several species (which the angler usually digs or collects himself), cheese preparations and stewed wheat or hemp. Expert practitioners also make use of more i( recondite baits such as wasp-grubs, crayfish, slugs, soft fruit or tinned meat.

146. It is common practice, thought essential by many, to attempt to attract fish to the angler by ground-baiting, i.e.. by throwing into the water samples of the bait on the hook supplemented by large quantities of crushed and soaked, rusked bread or other cereal preparation to make a visually attractive cloud in the water, offering also, perhaps, an enticing odour or flavour. The quantities involved are usually in the order of 2-4 lbs, but considerably larger amounts may be used on occasions.

147. Many coarse fishermen aim to catch exceptional numbers of fish, exceptionally large fish, or a combination of both. Those whose pleasure lies chiefly in trying to break records with individual fish of chosen species are often banded into 'specimen hunter' clubs. Of these, there are now approximately forty, some national in character, some local. The former are all clubs devoted to the capture of a single species but the latter include clubs whose members seek to catch exceptionally large fish of any coarse fish species. The governing body is the National Association of Specimen Groups.

148. It has also, for many years, been common practice to add the excitement of competition to the basic activity of catching fish. Angling then becomes a highly-organised competitive sport, sometimes with financial rewards and celebrity-potential on a scale which tends to override other considerations. The fish caught are held captive in 'keep-nets' until the match is over, weighed in aggregate by a weighing team, which generally moves from contestant to contestant, and are then returned alive to the water. Usually any dead fish are rejected at weigh in. Matches normally last 3-5 hours.

149. The typical specimen hunter of today is reluctant to kill fish and insists on returning his catch live to the water after weighing, measuring and photographing it. The practice of preparing taxidermic mounts has declined in popularity since its 19th century hey-day.

150. The match fishermen, on the other hand, is more likely to see fish as an expendable resource, placing an obligation on the riparian owner or Water Authority to make good the wastage. It is none the less customary—after the prior requirement to catch as many fish as possible in the shortest time possible has been met—to attempt to minimise distress and to maximise survival amongst the fish caught.

151. Angling associations or Water Authorities frequently specify in detail the type of keep-net permitted in waters under their control, in respect of characteristics including dimensions, the material and construction of the net itself and its mesh size. Preferred features are those considered to be least inimical to the welfare of the fish held in the net. The angling trade and manufacturers have shown an interest in this topic, and have developed a variety of types of net, including the knotless weave, to meet welfare considerations. Anglers also pay attention to the siting of keep nets, in regard to features such as shade, water temperature and water flow. Inconsiderate treatment of fish by match or other coarse fishermen is periodically anathematised in the angling press.

152. Anglers who do not concentrate on match-fishing or specimen hunting are often referred to, sometimes a little dismissively, as 'pleasure anglers'. This sobriquet sheds an interesting light on the psychology of the enthusiast. For him, fishing is something much more serious than a mere pleasure. It is an arena in which he envisages testing himself physically, mentally and spiritually, sometimes in conditions of great natural adversity, against a wary creature enjoying the shelter of its special environment. The principal pleasure is derived from difficulties successfully overcome, and fatigue or discomfort borne with composure.

153. Rods for coarse fishing usually measure 10-15 feet in length and are likely to weigh less than 1oz per foot; in some cases little more than i oz per foot. Length relates to the depth of water to be fished, the associated tackle and personal taste. Although the practice of tying the line directly to the tip of the rod ('tight-lining') has returned to favour in a limited way after many years in eclipse, it is usual to employ a reel. Unless very small, fish cannot be dragged straight to the bank without risk of line breakage. 'Playing' is therefore necessary, i.e., allowing the fish to exhaust itself by swimming vigorously against controlled tension applied through the rod, line and reel. Aspects of playing fish feature prominently in angling literature and anecdote.

154. The terminal tackle may consist of either a "float", used with lead weights fixed to the line below it, or a running 'ledger' lead used with only a stop and the bailed hook. Much of the art in coarse fishing lies in selecting the correct float for the conditions of the day and reading its movements aright. Small lead weights are used to sink the bait, cock the float and assist the angler to cast his tackle far out to water less disturbed by noise and movement taking place on the bank. When using the ledger rig, the angler detects bites either by direct movement of the line, registered by the tip of the rod or by the fingers in which he is holding it near to the reel, or by a number of mechanical aids of comparatively recent design.

155. Strength of line varies commonly between 10lb test, as used by specimen-hunters seeking large or unusually strong fish such as carp or eels, and 1lb test, used by match anglers and their followers in conditions thought to require it. It is generally believed that water depth, turbidity and surface-disturbance by wind, temperature, humidity and light-intensity are all factors bearing on the feeding behaviour of fish. The experienced angler lakes all these factors into account in selecting his tackle and presenting his bait.

156. The sizes of hooks used also vary widely. The largest in general use measure approximately 1 cm between point and shank: the smallest as little as 2 mm. The conventional fish hook has a 'barb" cut and raised on the inside of the wire below the point. This serves to secure the hook if line pressure is relaxed while a fish is in play. Its presence adds difficulty to the operation of unhooking a fish and is a potential source of injury exceeding that of the initial penetration by the point. For this reason, designers have from time to time sought to devise alternatives to the barb. The current trend is simply to dispense with it altogether. This development is of particular interest to the match angler, especially on water where fish run small but bite freely, insofar as it facilitates unhooking and thus reduces time wasted while fishing.

157. Small hand-tools, termed 'disgorgers' are available to assist anglers in removing hooks. They are cheap, efficient and undoubtedly expedite the process with either barbed or unbarbed hooks. Anglers commonly carry one or two of a number of varieties marketed; homemade disgorgers are also used.

158. Anglers consider that skill lies in the blancing of hook-size, line-strength and rod power and in making allowances for discrepancies when dealing with a hooked fish. There are conditions in which few if any fish will be tempted by the bait unless it is offered on ultra-fine tackle. This fact has led to the development of a cult in which notable captures may be dismissed as of little sporting merit unless the tackle used was such that breakage was likely and averted only by extreme dexterity on the part of the angler. Others take the view that true sportsmanship lies in the avoidance, as a priority, of methods which increase the likelihood of fish escaping hooked and trailing a broken line. The value-judgements involved are often highly subjective and likely to be adhered to with passionate conviction. The subject is frequently aired in the specialist angling press.

159. We have obtained no statistics on the numbers of fish in much-fished waters that carry embedded hooks in their bodies. Encapsulated hooks have been found.-^^ but deleterious effects were not noted. It is probable that any severely injured fish will very quickly die, so that the number of survivors is a meaningless statistic.

160. A fish grouped with the coarse fish in Britain if not elsewhere is the pike, a species differing from all others in its exclusively predatory habits and from most in the large size it may attain. Pike are more likely than other coarse fish, eels excepted, to be killed for the table or to be destroyed under the belief that the water from which they were caught would thereby derive ecological benefit.

161. The mouth of the pike is armoured by more than 700 teeth, organised into plates on jaws, tongue and palate. These features demand the use of a special tackle and fishing methods. Live or dead fish are the baits most commonly employed. In the U.K. anglers normally catch their own .live bait. The process of attachment to the tackle (likely to be a complex arrangement of multiple hooks) involves some degree of impalement. The bait fish is then cast to swim in water where pike are expected until it is taken or until it succumbs to stress or to the injuries inflicted on it in the course of attachment. It is not unusual during casting for a live bait fish to tear free from the tackle, inevitably increasing the severity of its impalement injuries. Live fish are also used as bait for other predatory fish (e.g., trout, perch), although less extensively. The ethics of the practice, in relation to all quarries, have long been the subject of dispute among anglers.

162. In addition to natural baits, pike are caught on spinners or plugs made from wood, plastic or metal. These have to be kept moving and are cast and retrieved continuously. Some are armed with one treble hook, others with more.

163. The bite of a large pike can inflict considerable injury. Because of this fact, and because of the complexity of tackle used, it is often necessary to use a device known as a 'gag' to hold open the pike's jaws while the hook or hooks are being removed.

164. The eel also calls for special mention. Eels are often caught accidentally by anglers fishing for some other species. They often swallow baits so deeply that uninjurious disgorgement is impossible. The unmanageable writhings and lashings of the eel when out of the water add an obvious complication to a situation already difficult. Eels are caught deliberately for sport, the table, or both, by a small number of anglers who rarely attempt to return any alive unless extremely small and hooked in the lip or jaw.


165. The quarry of the freshwater game fishermen are the salmon, the sea trout, the brown trout and the rainbow trout. The grayling also figures to a lesser extent, occupying a status leaning towards that of a coarse fish in the judgement of some. According to the National Angling Survey of 1969/70, 22% of Britain's anglers practise game fishing at some time of the year. Traditionally, the most respected methods employ an artificial 'fly' made from materials such as feather, silk, wool, fur and tinsel. Flies are usually dressed on single hooks, but doubles and trebles may also be used. Flies may be fished singly, or two or three at a time. The object, however, is not to hook more than one fish simultaneously, but to offer choice. Presenting the fly with even minimal efficiency calls for more manual skill than the comparable operation with natural bait and coarse fishing tackle, a fact partly responsible for the elitist attitude often met among the practitioners.

166. It is usual to kill game fish for the table, sparing only undersized non-migratory trout and salmon parr. Trout will take worm or maggot as readily as do roach or perch and a small fish, or artificial imitation of one, as readily as do pike. It is, however, normal to confine fishing methods to flies only, partly from convention but also from the need to make a limited number of expensively-produced fish provide consistent sport for more than the first few weeks of season. It is not in most places against convention for salmon fishers to use spinners. Prawn, shrimp and worm may also be used, but there are often statutory restrictions by date or reference to water condition.

167. Substantial re-stocking of game fisheries by hatchery-reared trout is standard practice. Some degree of vermin control may also be practised, including destruction of predatory fish and fish-eating birds such as the goosander in Scotland.

168. Some waters are reserved by private owners. Typical commercial arrangements involve an annual lease to a small syndicate or to a game fishing club with strict rules and limited. I membership. Less often restricted day-tickets are offered but this practice is growing. High rates imposed by Local Authorities on sporting rights encourage commercialisation. Because trout are usually killed for the table and neither rainbow nor brown trout spawn successfully in many of the artificial still waters to which they have been introduced, depletions have to be made good by the provision of well-grown fish procured from a hatchery. Because such replacement costs are high (now in excess of £1 per lb) the charge made for the fishing is equally so; £5 per day is in no way unusual. Fishing for salmon is even more expensive. The comparative rarity of the species, and the high demand for its flesh, fresh or smoked, contribute to this. At present, anglers who fish for salmon or sea trout depend largely on natural replenishment, augmented in only a small way by release of immature fish artificially hatched and part-reared.

169. Trout rods, used single-handed, are 7-10 ft in length and may weigh as little as 2½ oz. Salmon rods, used double-handed, are 10-14 ft in length. A reel is used. Terminal tackle consists of fly or flies on a fine nylon 'leader'. Traditional flies are dressed on hooks which are small by comparison with those used for most other forms of fishing. Some modem lures for use in reservoirs are flies in name only, being smaller equivalents of the pike-fisher's artificial baits constructed from conventional fly-dressing materials and in some cases armed with more than one hook. The damage these may do to a fish which escapes - especially if it does so by breaking the leader—is recognised by the prohibition of their use on some private fisheries.

170. It is usual to land trout (and large coarse fish) in a net designed for the purpose. Salmon are usually landed (as are pike and large sea fish also) by use of a gaff (a stout hook mounted on a staff) by which they are impaled through the jaw or body. An alternative is provided by the 'tailer', a landing instrument constructed from a staff and stout, tapering cable-wire in the form of a running noose. This is looped over the tail of the played-out fish and pulled tight at the root of the tail. The fish can then be lifted or dragged from the water. In its present form, the tailer can be used only for fish of species in which the outer rays of the caudal fin are of sufficient rigidity (e.g., the Atlantic salmon). A tailer cannot be used to land, for example, pike or large trout—fish whose tails furl under pressure and slip through the noose.

171. After the fish has been landed, it is usual for the coup de grace to follow quickly. Trout or salmon are normally killed by a blow on the head with stick, stone, or a small specially designed club, termed a 'priest', which most game anglers carry.


172. This form of angling is practised, according the 1969/70 survey, by 47% of Britain's anglers at some time of the year. Sea anglers operate from the shore, from piers and similar installations or from boats which may take them as much as 20 miles offshore. Competition fishing, from boat or shore, occurs on a large scale, sometimes with international participation, but fish are delivered for weighing dead.

173. The sea angler fishes for a wide variety of species. He is on the whole less able to determine by bait, site and method the precise quarry that he will catch. Certain species have sporting cachet, notably the bass and the tope, but many others have their devotees. Salmon, of course, feed and make most of their growth in the sea but it is extremely unusual for a sea angler to catch one.

174. Traditionally, it is unusual for sea anglers to return any of the catch alive to the water. The N.F.S.A. (para. 142) and associated bodies, however, encourage a more conservationist approach which we have been informed is beginning to take effect. Some fish are still kept to be eaten. Many, in any case, are likely to be too severely damaged in catching and landing to permit their recovery. We are told that it is unusual for the fish to be accorded a coup de grace unless the angler's safety demands it (e.g., shark, conger).

175. Sea angling tends to be less formerly organised than other branches of the sport. Licences are not required and the shore, by and large, is available to all comers, much of it free of charge. Charges may be made on piers and other installations; those levied for boat-trips are substantial. Clubs exist whose chief objects are to reduce boat-trip costs and to organise competitive events. Not all clubs are based on the coast. London, for example, has long been a major centre for organised sea angling.

176. Sea angling techniques and tackle reflect those employed in fresh water, including even use of the artificial fly for bass and mackerel. Artificial lures of metal or plastic are also employed, but most fish are caught by use of natural baits, of which the most common are lug and ragworm, peeler crab, molluscs, slips of flesh from herring or mackerel, sand eels and squid.

177. In general, rods and tackle are of sufficient strength to cast weights of 2-10 oz and to exert control over fish in the great power of the tides encountered in most places. Except for shark, tope, skate and conger, few of the quarry grow to sizes significantly larger than pike, carp or barbel. It is quite common for nothing to be caught larger than an average roach or bream swimming in the local river. Yet the tackle in use will certainly be stouter than that used in fresh water, with the gape of hooks ranging from -75 to 1 -5 cm, i.e., upwards from the maximum size of freshwater hooks. There have been attempts to introduce the 'light line' cult among sea anglers, but the sport is otherwise comparatively free from the fads and fine points of sporting tradition which mark other branches of angling.

178. Among sea fish, the sharks (of all kinds) tend to arouse high emotions of dislike, fear or horror in the general public. This aspect undoubtedly features in attitudes towards their quarry held by holiday makers and some others who indulge in shark fishing. Although we have no evidence that such behaviour is general, we have seen a private report (in correspondence) of callous ill-treatment accorded to a captured shark on board a boat in waters off south western England.


179. Freshwater angling throughout England and Wales is by licence, but—unlike that of the shooter—the angler's licence relates only to the use of equipment, not to its procurement or possession. Licences (from possession of which juvenile anglers are by some authorities exempted) are issued by regional water authorities and are freely on sale to all comers. Licensing regulations vary from one Authority to another; anglers wishing to fish in the waters of more than one Authority need to obtain more than one licence. As an example, the current cost of an Anglian Water Authority (A.W.A.) regional licence (1979 season) is £3.80, or 75p for a weekly licence. All regional water authorities engage water bailiffs (full-time, part-time and honorary) to enforce regulations. Recent A.W.A. experience suggests that about 5% of anglers checked are committing a licensing offence.

180. Beyond a statement of extracts from the regulations concerning seasons and size limits, licence forms do not bear instructional matter. Nor is there any formal arrangement at the point of distribution (the fishing tackle shop) for the assessment of aptitude or the supply of information regarding the training facilities. In addition to the licence, permits are also required in many cases for fishing in waters controlled by private concerns or clubs (para. 144).

181. In Scotland regulations governing fishing are administered by local fisheries boards. Regulations governing the ways in which a fish can be taken are laid down in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951, but there is no licensing system. An angler is required only to own the right to fish for the species sought or to have the permission of the owner of such right. Infringement of the right is a statutory offence in respect of salmon and sea trout, but not so in respect of brown trout and other freshwater fish although it is now possible, under the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976, for the Secretary of so information kindly provided on behalf of A.W.A. by Mr. A. J. Miller. State to make Protection Orders that would have this effect in designated areas. There is no requirement that anglers undergo training before participating in the sport.

182. In Northern Ireland, licences are issued by two authorities, the Foyle Fisheries Commission and the Fisheries Conservancy Board (F.C.B.). In the F.C.B. area, a licence is required for all persons aged 16 or over; under 16-year-olds require a licence only for salmon or sea trout. In the Foyle area, licences are required only for game fishing; there is a reduced price for under 16-year-olds. In addition to the licence, permits are required for fishing in most inland waters. These are obtainable from the relevant authority, the private fishery owner or fishing club controlling the water in question. Full details of these regulations and of available fishing are given in an Annual Angling Guide published by the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, but no training courses are offered.

183. Traditionally anglers are self-taught, after initiation through^ family or social connections, generally assisted by reference to the massive literature inspired by the sport. Originating in mediaeval times, this literature expanded greatly during the 19th century when angling periodicals first came on the scene. The output of literature has not since diminished. In Britain today there are nine weekly newspapers and monthly magazines dealing exclusively with the sport. The precise figure for their combined circulations in terms of purchaser is a matter of conjecture, because the degree of overlap is unknown, but it can hardly be less than 400,000. It is likely that there is substantial hand-on readership, and consequently that about half of all anglers regularly see an angling publication. All publications devote much editorial space to educational content at various levels.

184. Because the use of game fishing tackle calls for particular physical skills and effort, formal tuition appeared first in this branch of the sport. In the old tradition, a 'ghillie' (i.e., a fishing guide and servant) also acted as mentor, especially to the beginner. By 1960 hotels in game fishing areas had begun, in a small way, to employ fishing instructors to take courses. Usually these were men who had gained recognition by success in tournament casting, i.e., the competitive use of game fishing tackle in which fish play no part. With support from certain tackle manufacturers, the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation and eventually from the Regional Sports Councils, this development throve and spread from Scotland to other parts of the country. The curricula of these courses concentrated on tackle-manipulation and the selection of favourable fishing sites. Soon afterwards, a small group of these instructors formed the Association of Professional Game Angling Instructors to regulate their interests. The membership of the Association numbers twenty and is open only to those who can satisfy the founders of their professional credentials.

185. As far as coarse fishing is concerned, about the turn of the century, anglers on the middle Thames could avail themselves of the services of self-styled 'professional' fishermen who hired boats, supplied bait and supervised the sport. In the 1950s a small number of anglers, most of them connected with education or youth-service, began on their own initiative to run evening classes. In 1972 the N.A.C., with the help of these men and in collaboration with the National Federation of Anglers, organised the first of a series of instructors' courses, in which expert coarse fishermen received three days of training in methods of tuition, followed by the award of a certificate of qualification. These courses have continued subsequently and in the list published in December 1977 there were 201 qualified instructors organised into five regional groups (Midlands, London and the South East, Northern, Western and Northern Ireland) each under the supervision of a salaried part-time regional organiser paid from funds contributed jointly by the Sports Council and the Angling Foundation. Any fees received by the instructors themselves for the courses they run are paid by the local education committees responsible for the adult education institutions in which they teach. In addition to its financial contribution to supervisory services, the Angling Foundation issues free of charge to any qualified instructor who applies, a set of coloured wallcharts which include one depicting the threat presented to wild birds by lost or carelessly abandoned line and hooks. The Foundation has also issued a publication on the problems, opportunities and technique associated with the establishment of junior angling clubs, another venture with an educational aspect.

186. Since first involving itself with angling education the N.A.C. has, in association with, respectively, the Salmon and Trout Association and the National Federation of Sea Anglers, organised the training of game fishing and sea fishing instructors. The instruction, in the case of game fishing, goes beyond tuition in casting with which earlier courses were largely concerned. This training is organised within the regional structure set up for coarse fishing education and is under the aegis of the same regional organisers. In December 1977 there were 24 game fishing instructors registered and 24 sea angling instructors.


(i) Fish rearing and fisheries stocking

187. The commercial rearing of fish for stocking purposes is largely confined to rainbow and brown trout. Coarse fish stocking is generally carried out by moving naturally produced specimens from one place to another. The rainbow trout industry, however, is large and has been developing in the U.K. for about 15 years. The first trout farms of the 1960s used excavated earth ponds through which water from rivers or lakes were pumped. Modem systems may use tanks or concrete raceways and an artificial, pelleted compound diet is provided. Of the total estimated annual production of 2000-3000 tons, the major proportion is probably sold direct as food. The balance goes to restocking fishing waters, particularly inland reservoirs. The much smaller salmon farming industry, as well as producing adult fish from cages, for the table, rears parr etc., in fresh water for release into rivers to which it is hoped they will return when mature.

188. The areas of fish culture where cruelty is most likely centre around water provision, handling at grading and transportation to the release point.

189. Water provision is the equivalent of ventilation in, for instance, intensive poultry culture and it is the shortage of water in summer that usually produces problems. Additional, related difficulties arise as a consequence of the fact that as the temperature rises water can carry less dissolved oxygen, while the metabolic requirements of the fish simultaneously increase. Thus when least is available, oxygen requirements are highest; at the same time excretory products, particularly ammonia, reach high levels. Under such circumstances suffering may occur.

190. The handling of fish is an area where fish farmers tend to be less careful than they should be. The integument of a fish is extremely delicate and damage to it by nets or grading machines results in a twofold problem. As well as expediting invasion by aquatic microbes, damage destroys the integrity of the osmotic barrier which for fish is extremely important in maintaining the essential tissue fluids.

191. Both volume, temperature and oxygen content of water, and the danger of damage to the integument become of paramount importance during catching and transportation for restocking. It is noteworthy that although fish are now farmed on a large scale, they are not covered by welfare legislation comparable to that which protects conventional farm livestock, nor are they covered by the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Acts (1948 and 1966).

(a) Discarded tackle and anglers' litter

192. Anglers' litter is only one part of the general litter nuisance about which there is growing public concern. The 'Litter Lout' is continuously castigated in the angling press, and is also under fire from the Keep Britain Tidy Group. He is liable to be in breach of at least three Acts of Parliament: the Litter Acts of 1968 and 1971 and the Control of Pollution Act of 1974. 'Waterside Watch', published by the Angling Foundation, places stress on topics including the careful disposal of litter. Because anglers, in the main, operate in places with unimpeded public access there is widespread awareness of the problem.

193. Infringement of the relevant Acts by anglers is probably no greater in proportion to their numbers than that by other frequenters of the waterside. But one element of angling litter presents special problems: lost or discarded fishing line. There are many instances of injury or fatality to wild animals as a consequence of entanglement in nylon line or of the ingestion of line with or without attached weights or hooks. For instance, between October 1977 and June 1978 one local group giving close attention to the matter, covering a village pond and a reservoir of 22 acres, found 52 birds and a squirrel,52 and between July 1977 and June 1978 another group dealt with 71 birds; 13 bird species were involved.

194. Entangled birds attract publicity and incidents are frequently reported in the local press. Swans appear to be particularly susceptible but they are by no means the only species of bird to attract public attention and editorial comment in this manner.

195. No doubt the danger is not new. It entered a new dimension with the introduction of nylon fishing line, and especially with the increasing use of almost invisible, ultra-fine nylon line. The old silk line decayed fairly quickly, but nylon is almost impervious to the effect of air, water and bacteria. It is thus only slowly biodegradable. Discarded and left in the open, it remains unchanged and a hazard for a long time.

196. The ingestion of lead has caused the death of many mute swans in the English Midlands. In some cases it is known that this is a consequence of picking up anglers' split shot and ledger weights.55 One mute swan from the Midlands was found to have 44 such pieces in the gizzard. Some swans swallow strings of split shot by picking up baited hooks on discarded or snapped tackle. Others apparently pick up individual, discarded lead shot over long periods of time. These are retained in the gizzard where they gradually erode during the normal digestive processes ensuring a continuous absorption of lead into the body. Clinical symptoms include progressive paralysis of the neck, offensive greenish diarrhoea and acute weight loss. The treatment of affected birds is rarely successful (cf. poisoning of wildfowl by spent shot, paras. 132-133).

197. The problem has come to the attention of the Minister of State, Department of the Environment. According to D.O.E. Press Notice 135, issued 26th March 1979, the matter is receiving official attention, involving consultation with interested parties, including the N.A.C., Nature Conservancy Council (N.C.C.), the Sports Council, the Wildfowl Trust and the fishing tackle trade.


198. The attitudes of Panel members during this Enquiry have in no way been biased towards or against any individual, group or association of persons. Our consistent aim has been to carry out an investigation in a manner as objective and dispassionate as possible, within the terms of reference chosen by the R.S.P.C.A.

199. Although, no doubt, the subject of this enquiry is of concern to the Council and membership of R.S.P.C.A., during the course of our meetings we have not become aware of widespread serious interest among the general public. Our advertisement (para. 7), clearly worded and containing an unambiguous invitation for voluntary submissions from individuals and organisations, was placed in three leading national daily newspapers, four sporting weeklies and eleven other periodicals covering related interests of all sorts (para. 8). The response (33 letters) fell far below our expectations, and was numerically trivial. We were grateful to receive the views offered and interested in the remarks of our correspondents. Nonetheless, we judge that cumulatively they fail to demonstrate the existence of an issue of deep public concern.

200. The terms of reference of the Panel required us to review current practices. Obviously we have not uncovered any facts previously unknown to persons connected with shooting or with angling. Moreover, as a body, it has not been our function to undertake scientific research. Nevertheless, our enquires did stimulate an investigation into the neuro-pharmacology of the fish central nervous system (para. 44). We have also observed that, over the past three years, the existence of this Panel has prompted debate (and perhaps even facilitated appropriate action) in shooting and angling circles.

201. Because the Panel's terms of reference confined our attention to one particular topic, namely cruelty, we have deliberately not extended our survey to cover other aspects of shooting and angling that have sometimes been brought forward by witnesses. For instance, we have not attempted to review the extent to which these two activities are concerned in providing fresh-air recreation, in creating opportunities for employment, in providing habitat for wildlife, in attracting tourists from abroad, etc. Important though they may be, these subjects were not appropriate to this Enquiry.

202. We are unanimous in accepting the evidence reviewed in Section 3, and the conclusion reached in paragraph 57. The apparent universality throughout all vertebrates of the neuro­pharmacological basis for the perception of painful (and pleasurable) stimuli does not permit us to agree with those who would recognise a difference in this function between 'warm blooded' and 'cold-blooded' members (para. 23). While it may be impossible to prove utterly beyond question that any non-human organism is at any instant feeling pain, we believe that it is only reasonable for mankind to behave on the assumption that all vertebrates are capable of suffering to some degree or another. This assumption forms the basis of the discussion and recommendations that follow.

203. Instantaneous death is commonly regarded as involving little or no suffering. It is, for example, good veterinary practice to prescribe a quick death when an animal appears to be suffering (or likely to suffer) from severe injury or chronic affliction. Although we recognise that to some people the act may be unwarranted, it is the consensus of Panel members that the killing of wild animals is not of itself a cruel practice provided that death is as nearly instantaneous as possible. Conversely, suffering and hence cruelty or potential cruelty, is likely to be involved if the animal's death is for any reason protracted, or if it escapes or is allowed to go free after incurring injuries of such a nature that recovery will be slow or unlikely.

204. Cruelty can also be involved in aspects of shooting and angling that are not directly associated with the act of killing. It is for this reason that the preceding surveys (Sections 4 & 5) and the following discussion (Section 6) have covered allied functions that are ancillary to the actual practices of shooting and angling in the United Kingdom today.


251. The aim of every angler is to catch fish by means of a hook, single or multiple, impaled in the mouth. A fish hooked elsewhere in the body is termed 'foul-hooked' and to land a fish so caught brings no credit to the angler in the eyes of his colleagues. Yet there is no doubt, from the evidence presented to us, that many areas in the lips and mouth of any fish are well endowed with sensory organs, including free nerve endings (para. 37). In our opinion, therefore, every angler has to evaluate his appreciation of the sport in the light of the evidence we have reviewed in Section 3.

252. Moreover, in relation to the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act (see para. 58) it had been pointed out to us that this basic practice by which angling is defined (para. 134), if performed in a laboratory on unanaesthetised fish, without licence, would very probably be in a contravention of the Act.

253. Although it has been presented to us that the existing policies of the responsible bodies in I angling are based on the assumption that fish—being cold-blooded—'cannot feel', we do not believe that this approach necessarily implies insensitivity by anglers to fish welfare. We have noted that certain practices in coarse angling are designed to safeguard the wellbeing of fish (e.g., keep-net regulations), and that many coarse anglers deplore the killing of fish. Although the ultimate intention may generally be to preserve fish life, rather than to prevent suffering, anglers will recognise that the two aspects are connected. We believe that many anglers would welcome practical advice on methods of ameliorating the potential for suffering involved in some present practices.

(i) Angling practices

254. Any hook causes tissue damage when it catches and thus, in medical terms, inflicts an injury. The extent and gravity of the injury is likely to be increased by the use of double or treble hooks, or tackles employing sets of multiple hooks. Although we are informed that there may be practical angling advantages in some uses of such tackle, we recommend the avoidance of it whenever possible.

255. When the hook is embedded in the gill arch or swallowed beyond a point at which it can be extracted without causing grave additional damage, it is normal practice to kill the fish. Clearly, this should be done before any effort is made to remove the hook. Fish intended for food should also be killed before being freed from the hook. Gaffed fish should obviously be humanely dispatched as soon as possible.

256. If the hook is embedded in the lips or anterior buccal region, it is generally more easily and quickly removed with the aid of a purpose-made disgorger (para. 157). Many varieties of disgorger exist, but a simple metal rod with a fork in the tip is much better than no disgorger at all. We recommend that every angler should ensure that he is equipped with such an instrument, or instruments, appropriate to the size and species of fish he is liable to catch.

257. If a gag is used (as with pike, for instance; para. 163) considerable damage to the mouth can be caused by certain types. We recommend only those with blunt points. Any sharp projections left in the manufacturing process should be removed before use.

258. Evidence on the value of the barbless hook (para. 156) was inconclusive. Nevertheless, considering the albeit slight alleviation of injury that must ensue from the use of the barbless , hook, we are pleased to note in the angling press reports of its increasing popularity. Moreover, its popularity is partly due to the greater speed obtained in unhooking, and hence, the shorter time the fish concerned spends out of water and in the angler's hands. This in itself is also a benefit to the fish (paras. 190, 262 ff.).

259. As noted (para. 141), coarse fishermen tend to place emphasis on the merit of returning fish alive to the water. Yet the conditions of competitive fishing or specimen hunting frequently demand that the fish be retained for a prolonged period (in water) in a keep-net, and also examined, weighed and perhaps photographed (in air) before ultimately being liberated. All such procedures must increase the likelihood of injury to the fish.

260. Many water authorities or other providers of fishing facilities specify in detail mesh sizes and other characteristics of keep-nets permitted in the waters they control. There is no doubt that these factors, coupled with attention to the number of fish kept in a net of given volume, are important in minimising stress and physical damage to the fish. In general, anglers are also aware that water temperature and rate of flow are equally important and they take care to hang the net in favourable positions. Yet the comparatively slow rate of diffusion of dissolved gases (notably carbon-dioxide and oxygen) and chemicals such as metabolic waste products in water can mean that local conditions within a crowded keep-net might rapidly become adverse to the well-being of fish.

261. As far as we have been able to ascertain, there exist no scientific measurements of the environment within a keep-net full of fish. The recommendations of water authorities, etc., are apparently based on intuition. It is highly desirable to obtain reliable information on which to base such recommendations. Sophisticated detecting equipment is nowadays readily available and we hope that occasion will be found by some laboratory to monitor the conditions inside keep-nets in carefully controlled experiments simulating the circumstance of normal angling events (e.g., a 5-hour long canal fishing match).

262. The degree of trauma experienced by fish handled out of water may not be fully appreciated by anglers. The tissues of a fish, when it is removed from water, are subject in air to pressures greatly reduced and differing in nature from those they are subject to in water. Consequently there are greatly altered changes in the various peripheral systems affecting lymphatic and venous blood pressure and respiration. Bleeding tends to occur from the gills and, instead of dispersing, the blood coagulates and reduces the effective respiratory surface.

263. More significant are the effects of desiccation and particularly of handling on the skin and gills. The outer surface of fish does not consist of scales, as is commonly believed. Scales are located within-the dermis, or middle layer of the skin. Superficial to them is the epidermis, with its mucus cover. The epidermis is a very delicate transparent tissue which provides the water proofing, i.e., an essential part of the physiological control of fluid balances between the fish and its environment. It is also the barrier between the fish and the wide variety of disease-producing micro-organisms found in water. Handling of fish, in a landing net or by hand to remove hooks, will almost certainly involve damage to this delicate layer. Severe trauma is caused by holding a fish tightly in a dry cloth, which will remove the epidermis from considerable areas of the body.

264. The epidermis is generally capable of rapid healing. If the damage is severe, however, the outcome will be either osmotic breakdown, with resultant circulatory failure, or extensive infection of the skin. Both conditions usually result in ultimate death. Many anglers assume that, provided no more than a few scales have been removed, the fish has been well handled. We believe that a code of practice should be instituted to prevent the avoidable cruelty occasioned by improper handling, and information and instruction on the topic should be widely disseminated.

265. The process of 'playing' a fish is considered by many to be the great test of skill and source of pleasure derived from angling, and is a feature of many angling anecdotes. Evidence offered from a number of sources, especially that of Dr. P. Tytler, indicated that prolonged playing of fish, particularly when they are to be returned to the water subsequently, is to be deprecated. When teleost fish are severely stressed and exercised to exhaustion, they make extensive use of their 'white' muscle system. This differs from the red skeletal muscle of higher vertebrates, in i that it is anaerobic and, although very efficient in the short term, when exhausted contains a ! great accumulation of lactic acid during the elimination of which the muscle remains in prolonged fatigue. A completely exhausted fish will thus be almost unable to move for several , hours after its capture. During this time it will be at risk to attack by predators or injury from its inanimate environment.

266. Prolonged playing is often necessitated by the use of fine or ultra-fine tackle. Among anglers, to fish with very light tackle is often regarded as a mark of skill. Yet many anglers deprecate the habit, bringing as it does increased dangers of breakage and the consequent escape of a fish with hook, trace and line trailing from its mouth. Many angling writers in the specialist periodicals also deplore the fashion of using unduly light tackle. We share this attitude.

267. Tackle balance is important in ensuring efficient and humane angling (para. 158). If weak lines are avoided, a high proportion of the fish hooked will be brought to the landing-net. Quick landing (s necessary to avoid exhaustion on a scale injurious to the fish's prospects of recovery, if the intention is to release it alive after capture. There is no sporting or conservationist merit either in prolonging 'play' beyond the necessary minimum, or in the return to water of a fish incapable of recovering from the shock of capture.

268 The risk of line breakage, and the consequent escape of a fish still hooked and trailing broken tackle, can also be reduced by attention to this factor. Anglers should not be tempted to use extra-fine tackle to contrive the hooking of large fish in insuitable conditions of weather, light or water.

269. Our recommendations for balanced tackle for freshwater fishing are assembled in Table 6. The problem facing an angler fishing for coarse fish on a mixed fishery is recognised. All contingencies cannot be covered, but fishing with tackle chosen to allow for the capture of the larger fish present will obviate much needless damage to and possible suffering by the fish hooked.

270. Because of the weakening effect of continuous casting, there is another critical relationship in fly fishing; that between hook size (and therefore hook-weight) and leader strength.

271. In relation to the present practices of sea anglers, tables of balanced tackle are neither feasible nor strictly necessary. The weight of lead needed to present a bait properly in any normal tideway dictates a selection of traces, lines and rods quite adequate, in other than exceptional conditions, to land without delay any fish likely to be hooked.

272. Sea anglers are recommended to resist all attempts to recruit their support for light tackle cults. When in doubt regarding the matching of rod and line strengths, the l/5th formula quoted for gamefish in Table 6 should be applied, whether fishing from boat or shore. Sea anglers should also give particular attention to the* prompt dispatching of fish destined for the table.

273. The practice of live-baiting (para. 161), whether in the sea or freshwater, is repugnant to most non-anglers and also to many anglers. As far as we can ascertain, the practice is not essential for the capture of predatory fish, for which other efficient methods are available. Live-baiting thus appears to be an angling practice that should be discontinued. The subject is reviewed periodically in the angling press, and we believe that anglers in general would approve a ban.

274. Whether invertebrate live bait, such as worms, are equally exposed to suffering on being impaled on a hook is impossible to determine on the level of present knowledge. In view of the anatomically very different nervous system of such animals, direct comparison with vertebrates cannot be made.

(ii) The coup de grace

275. Those fishes which are to be killed following capture should be dispatched as quickly and painlessly as possible. Usually this requires a blow to the head which should induce immediate unconsciousness during which fatal massive cerebral haemorrhage takes place. This technique is usually satisfactory with salmonids and certain marine fishes. The blow to the head is best delivered by a small club (priest) especially made for the purpose and marketed by fishing-tackle merchants.

276. The site of infliction of the blow should be over the top of the cranium, just anterior to a line joining the dorsal commisure of the operculum on either side. Many anglers tend to strike the fish further forward than this site, which may well stun but does not necessarily induce the mechanical damage to cranial tissue and blood vessels necessary for subsequent death.

277. Very small fishes can be killed by being thrown hard on to the ground. Flatfishes and fishes with particularly hard craniums are active and difficult to stun. Fishes such as eels and elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) are probably best killed by spinal section. They may be stunned first, but should be killed by cutting the spinal cord at the back of the head with a sharp knife. The common eel is clinically dead after severing of the cervical vertebrae even though body-movement is likely to continue for some time afterwards.

278. A commonly used alternative, suitable for middle-sized fish, is to break the spinal column and also rupture branchial vessels by a sharp dorsal movement of the head. Usually a finger is inserted into the fish's mouth, and pulled sharply up and back. The movement should be quick and decisive and should not cease until the spine is clearly broken.

(iii) Training and qualifications

279. The primary purpose of training is to increase the angler's chances of catching fish. Paradoxically, to reduce potential suffering among fish, it might be preferable to lessen his/her effIciency in this respect, if this could be done without eliminating the subsidiary features of open-air recreation that contribute to the angler's pleasure.

280. There are, of course, other aspects of angling education that are certainly beneficial to the welfare of fish. Understanding the meaning of tackle specifications, for example, can prevent broken lines. Furthermore, improved knowledge of fish biology helps the angler to comprehend the nature of the fish as an animal. The more the angler understands fishes in relation to himself as fellow vertebrates, sharing many features of physiology and behaviour, the less he/she will be inclined to act inconsiderately. We therefore wish to encourage the publication and dissemination of literature that links fish with the more familiar terrestrial vertebrates. Conversely we deplore literature that depicts fish as cold, slimy, voiceless inhabitants of an alien, unknowable environment.

281. We particularly object to the representation of predatory fish as 'savage' or 'vicious'. We have no doubt that the attitudes of sea anglers may ^ affected by the popularised images of sharks and their relatives. In the circumstances, callous behaviour towards captured sharks is only too likely to be the outcome (cf. para. 178).

(iv) Allied practices

282. We received evidence (para. 187) that nowadays most trout from fish farms are sold directly for human consumption. Those used for re-stocking fisheries form a lesser proportion. We hope that the growth of fish farming will, sooner or later, prompt legislation covering aspects including veterinary care and welfare provisions in a broad sense. Regulations should also apply to the care and treatment of fish destined for sport-fishing. Meanwhile, commercial considerations should encourage care in handling, transportation and release.

283. The problems posed by discarded tackle and other litter special to the angler have been well aired. Angling organisations are fully aware of the bad image that can result from adverse publicity, and in fact take strong steps to control their members. We accept that, m litter-mongers, anglers are no worse behaved than other frequenters of the waterside. Publications such as 'Waterside Watch' (produced by the Angling Foundation) encourage responsible attitudes.

284. The special problem of the ingestion of lead weights by swans reflects the peculiarities of swan behaviour as much as anglers' failings. We support the proposal to instigate research.

285. At present, we do not feel that any formal training programme, or any system of statutory testing or examination is likely to affect the attitudes or practices of anglers. The present licensing system is complex, but we consider it an advantage that the revenue raised is received by the water authorities and so devoted to relevant purposes. Yet there will undoubtedly be some people who will question the propriety of spending public money (para. 138 for an example), however it is raised, to promote an activity which, on the face of it, involves a potentially cruel procedure as its basic practice.



286. In the light of evidence reviewed in Section 3, it is recommended that, where considerations of welfare are involved, all vertebrate animals (i.e., mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) should be regarded as equally capable of suffering to some degree or another, without distinction between 'warm-blooded' and 'cold blooded' members (paras. 56-57,202).

287. It is also recommended that the killing of wild animals should not in itself be stigmatised as cruel, provided that death is as nearly instantaneous as possible (para. 203).


(i) General

301. It is suggested (para. 251) that every angler should review his appreciation of the sport in the light of evidence presented on the perception of pain (Section 3). Panel members believe that many anglers are concerned to promote the welfare of fish and will welcome advice on methods of lessening the likelihood of suffering among fish (para. 253).

302. The following practical recommendations are made:
(i) The use of double and treble hooks should be kept to a minimum. These should be avoided entirely when the intention is to return the catch alive to the water (para. 254).
(ii) Fish that have swallowed the hook and those intended for food should be killed humanely before any effort is made to unhook them (para. 255).
(iii) All anglers should be equipped with, and use, disgorgers (para. 256).
(iv) Employment of the pike-gag should take fully into account the size of the fish for which it is used. Anglers should take advantage of the availability of gags in more than one size to equip themselves suitably. Any sharp points left by the manufacturing process at the distal ends of gags (and of some patterns of disgorger) should be removed before use (para. 257).
(v) Barbless hooks should be favoured (para. 258).
(vi) Holding periods in keep-nets should be as brief as possible (para. 259).

303. In order to provide a sound basis for regulations specifying the characteristics of keep-nets (as made by many water authorities), scientific research should be performed to investigate the environment within a keep-net under the circumstances of normal use (paras. 260-261).

304. A code of practice should be instituted to cover all aspects of handling of fish out of water, and information on the effects on fish of improper handling should be widely disseminated (paras. 262-264).

305 Prolonged 'playing' of fish, especially those destined to be returned to the water, and the use of ultra-fine tackle which necessitates such 'playing', are both deprecated (paras. 265-266). Practical recommendations for balanced tackle are given (paras. 269-270, Table 6).

306. The use of vertebrates as live bait should be banned (para. 273).

307. Method of administering the coup de grace are recommended (paras. 275-278).
(ii) Training and qualifications

308. The publication of literature that increases public knowledge of fish and fish physiology­ particularly in relation to higher vertebrates-should be encouraged (para. 280). Uniformed popular concepts of predatory fish as 'savage' or 'vicious' are deprecated (para 281).

309. It is recommended that codes of practice should be formulated to cover the veterinary care and welfare of fish involved in fish farming (para 282)

310. Research into the problems of wildfowl ingesting lead (from whatever source) is supported (para. 284).


Fish Pain