Contrasting pragmatic and suffering-centred approaches to fish welfare in recreational angling


  • R. Arlinghaus,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Müggelseedamm 310, 12587 Berlin, Germany
    2. Inland Fisheries Management Laboratory, Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture, Humboldt-University of Berlin, Invalidenstrasse 42, 10115 Berlin, Germany
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  • A. Schwab,

    1. Schwab & Sohn, Rohrstrasse 46, 3507 Biglen, Switzerland
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  • S. J. Cooke,

    1. Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Department of Biology and Institute of Environmental Science, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, K155B6 Canada
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  • I. G. Cowx

    1. University of Hull, International Fisheries Institute, Hull HU6 7RX, U.K.
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Two views dealing with fish welfare in recreational fishing are discussed in an effort to stimulate the current discourse on the topic. The pragmatic approach asks whether and how strongly recreational fishing compromises the health and fitness of individual fishes and what can be done to avoid or mitigate such effects. Its implementation rests on accepting recreational fishing as a principally legitimate activity. The second approach to fish welfare focuses on suffering and pain in fishes and is usually morally prescriptive. Its central tenet is that some or all recreational fishing practices may be unacceptable unless sufficient benefits to humans are created, which justify the supposedly cruel treatment of the fishes. The pragmatic approach to fish welfare is preferred because it relies on objectively measurable variables of impaired fish welfare (e.g. physiological, behavioural or fitness indicators) and does not question recreational fishing on moral grounds. Contrary to a suffering-centred approach to fish welfare, a pragmatic perspective emphasizes positive messages and facilitates constructive dialogue among stakeholders. In contrast, a suffering-centred approach to fish welfare tends to promote tension and enduring conflict that cannot be reconciled objectively and thus should be avoided.