Animal Aid

Environment body attacked for sponsoring 'polluting' angling

Posted 1 August 2005
Man holding dead fish

Animal Aid condemns the government conservation body, the Environment Agency, for sponsoring this year's National Fishing Week (August 20th - 29th). Far from being an environmentally-friendly, cruelty-free pastime, angling subjects fish to suffering and death in the name of 'sport', whilst discarded fishing tackle litters the countryside and kills other riverside wildlife.

The Environment Agency encourages angling because it generates money through the sale of rod licenses to anglers as young as 12 years old. This money is then used to manage fisheries, in lakes and rivers that are kept stocked by fish purposely-reared for the 'sport'. Part of this management includes preventing natural predators, such as cormorants and otters, from eating the fish. Even though cormorants are legally protected animals, in some cases licences are granted to shoot them. How can this be called conservation?

Rather than promoting an activity that kills animals and leaves debris in our countryside, the Environment Agency should promote programmes to protect wildlife and to keep river habitats free from pollution, degradation and litter - problems to which many anglers actually contribute.

Although some anglers are responsible and take their rubbish - such as jagged bait cans - home, others do not. Many regularly discard hooks and nylon line, which is non-biodegradable. This can have deadly consequences for wildlife. Birds and ducks often become fatally tangled in the line. Frequently, swans are found with anglers' hooks embedded in their throats. One wildlife sanctuary recently rescued a swan with 19 hooks stuck in his throat.

Fish on hook

Angling is cruel. Many people think that fish don't feel pain, but this is untrue. Fish are vertebrates, with a brain, a central nervous system and pain receptors all over their bodies, including the lips. As with mammals, it is a biological necessity to feel pain. Scientific research from around the world substantiates this, as reported by the government's very own official advisory body on farmed animal welfare, the Farmed Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). Sometimes fish swallow the hooks, which are often covered in small spikes. This can cause serious injury to their internal organs and result in a painful death. Fish start to suffocate when wrenched out of the water and their gills may collapse and bleed as they gasp for air, fighting for their lives. Even if fish are returned to the water, handling by anglers removes the outer protective mucus layer that makes them waterproof, leaving them open to infection.

Many anglers try to justify their cruel sport by claiming they contribute to conservation, just as fox hunters once did. But, for the vast majority, their prime concern is that the waterways are well stocked with fish for them to catch. If fishing were banned tomorrow, how many anglers would still be interested in doing their bit for the countryside?

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