Do Fish Feel Pain?

  Do fish feel pain? It’s an age-old question that no-one, least the scientists, can answer with a drop of conviction. Yet animal liberationists like to think they do, putting the hook in anglers, and branding our sport cruel.
  The latest irritating article I stumbled on appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald. Bidda Jones, chief scientist of RSPCA Australia, started with the usual emotive anecdote about her catching a fish at age 11. She was disturbed at her inability to properly dispatch the catch and bludgeoned the fish to death. Jones then sights an oft-quoted study of how bee venom injected into a trout’s lips apparently made the fish agitated.
  “We don’t know what fish feel, but if they lose their appetite and act like they’ve got a sore mouth after being jabbed in the lips with bee venom, that’s good enough for me.”
  I’m no boffin, but I am a considerate angler and great observer of fish habits. And I don’t need to use bee venom to concoct some bizarre theory. It’s potent stuff that can easily kill a human.
  But after years of angling I have seen enough hooked fish to realise they aren’t bothered by it. Perhaps I too was 11 when I landed a small wrasse on a piece of peeled prawn from a wharf at The Spit. The fish had virtually swallowed the hook, which I then removed.
  I put the wrasse in a bucket of water and, many hours later, released it into my saltwater aquarium (a great place to learn fish habits). The fish immediately took to its new home and started feeding, swallowing peeled prawn morsels, swimming happily among the other species I caught and collected.
  After some months in captivity, I released that wrasse and replaced it with something else. But whenever I did, the fish took no time to acclimatise to their new surroundings. To paraphrase Jones: that’s good enough for me.
  I’ve lost count of the number of times a tagged fish has been re-caught, sometimes on the same day, or been landed with someone else’s hook in its mouth.
  So don’t take the bait about fish feeling pain.
  But do treat fish with the upmost respect. Those destined for the table should be dispatched and stored properly and promptly, not left to suffocate or die from head injuries. There’s a host of great information about releasing fish at catch-and-release.

Think iki-jime

  If you think you know all there is about keeping the catch in top condition, think again. Or at least I did after a commercial fisher wrote to correct this writer about his fishhandling practices.
  The longliner gave the good oil on preparing tuna for the table. In short, we need to think iki-jime. Now, who does that?
  Dennis Brown, an ex-longline fisher and yellowfin tuna enthusiast, says the fish’s autogenous (internal) nervous system can create burnt-flesh syndrome whereby, after being landed, the flesh heats up to the point it actually cooks.
  I put this to marine biologist Dr Julian Pepperell, who said burnt flesh is not necessarily due to heat but autolysis or a breakdown of muscle caused by stress hormones. And that process can begin when the fish is on the line.
  But whatever the cause, there’s no debating the best way to treat yellowfin tuna destined for the table, especially if you want to eat it raw. Turn to the Japanese method of iki-jime.
  The rest of the (commercial) fishing world has.
  Once landed, bore a hole in the fish’s skull and feed a length of wire into its brain and then along its backbone. Though it doesn’t sound too pretty, this destroys the nerve links that lead to tuna meltdown.
  After being ‘spiked’ place the fish in an ice slurry. At market, iki-jime can make the different between A-grade and C-Grade flesh and double a single fish’s value. More on fish preparation at

Fat Cats and Sprats

  They are the most pampered of pets, vainglorious, preened and patted. Problem is, cats are cleaning out the world’s fish stocks. Time they were made to eat carp or worse.
  According to a recent paper by two Deakin University scientists, an incredible 2.48 million tonnes of forage fish are harvested each year by the global cat food industry.
  Sardines, herrings and anchovies, which form the cornerstone of the marine food chain, are being plundered for gourmet lines of kitty cuisine. Now bigger fish such as salmon and tuna are being dished up to moggies.
  In Australia, 34,000 tonnes of fish are imported each year to satisfy our fat cats’ appetite for sprats. That means every Australian cat is eating 13.7kg of fish a year, above the average annual human consumption of 11kg of fish in Australia.
  “Australian pet cats are eating better than their owners,” bemoaned food nutrition researcher Giovanni Turchini to The Age newspaper.
  “I think giving a nice chunk of fish to a pet is important to satisfy the personal hedonistic needs of the owner, not the nutritional need of the cat,” Turchini said, adding that “cats would be only too happy to eat the offal from a trout.”
  An even better solution is to feed the kitties carp. The scourge of our inland waterways, carp can be gathered en masse using electrical prods. And once minced they would make a meal fit for even a Cheshire cat.

David Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – November

  Forget the cliché of floppy-hatted fishos baking in the midday sun at the end of a line. In fishing, it’s more about the quick and the dead. Just a few weeks ago the yellowfin tuna arrived off Sydney but in the blink of an eye the fish had swum further south.
  A prized species for boat anglers, the tuna prefer 21°C water, especially where that warm current meets colder water.
  This edge of the East Australian Current advances down the coast each year and can be seen at <http://www.cmar.csiro. au/remotesensing/oceancurrents/Syd-Hob/latest.html>.
  In the hot water behind it, you are more likely to catch the odd baby yellowfin tuna. So if you plan to head wide this month, target marlin or mahi mahi around the fishaggregations devices or FADs and the fish-trap floats in 60 fathoms. For FAD locations in NSW see <http://www.dpi. map>.
  And the marlin have arrived on cue, with the first marlin of the season tagged just off The Heads last month. Fishing charter skipper Ross Hunter found the striped marlin in 75 fathoms or about 15 miles east of Centrepoint Tower, while trolling out to the tuna grounds in his charterboat Broadbill.
  The feisty striped jumped on a lure and was full of fight on 24kg tackle. Estimated at 70kg, the fish was tagged after 25 minutes, giving angler Joe Di Tommaso his first marlin catch and a real thrill.
  But the strong current and seasonally vigorous northeast winds can make reef fishing tough this month. Late November can be really trying. You need to pick the windows of weather and think no deeper than 80 metres.
  Mark Turnen says local anglers off Long Reef are taking some thumper snapper. Big soft-plastic lures are the ticket, especially the Gulp Jerk Shad in Barbecue Chicken and Tandoori colours. One boat fishing lures took a brace of 6.8 and 7kg snapper last month. Since then, many other top fish have been taken.
  After missing out on the tuna, Scott Thorrington cleaned up on big snapper, pearl perch, Samson fish and pigfish off the Central Coast. The best two hauls saw 16 pearlies and then 57 snapper in his charter boat.
  Closer in, the trolling along the headlands can be great sport in November. Use diving minor lures for kingfish, bonito, tailor and salmon. Or down-rig whole squid for big kingfish.
  By the time you read this there’s bound to be warm water on the beaches. An improvement of a few degrees has already prompted anglers to pitch baits in the late afternoon for jewfish.
  We heard of three fish being landed: two from Palm Beach of 5kg and 8kg, and one from Dee Why of 5kg.
  Jumbo salmon to 5kg and stud bream have been hanging out in the southern corners off the beaches, the whiting will surely have arrived by now. Nothing like dangling a worm off the beach at first light. A swim, a fresh fish breakfast, and you’ve just had the best part of the day.
  Narrabeen Bait weighed a 4kg jewfish taken from the local lake this week by Chris Leslie on whitebait. He got broken off by some other big jewfish and landed 10 flathead to 2.5kg. If the weather is lousy, here’s a safe fishing haven that also produces good catches of prawns.
  Hawkesbury River guide Greg Joyes scored 13 jewfish from just legal to 5kg around the road and rail bridges on the runout tide during on session. A couple of big bream also hit the decks, so consider the river season open.
  November is also my favourite month for catching jewfish in Sydney Harbour. They aren’t necessarily big fish, but you find plenty of 5-6kg schoolies around The Heads.
  Harbour highlights also include kingfish in Middle Harbour and Goat Island, plenty of tailor in Port Jackson, flathead over the flats in North Harbour and Balmoral, and whiting.
  Try the harbour beaches at night or dawn. November is one of the better fishing months, but it also brings black northeasters, thunderstorms and rain. Bear that in mind, take advantage of the mornings, and you’ll catch plenty. Tight lines.

Fishing Key —

AS Australian salmon
Schooling fish that mills about on the surface, patrols the harbour, headlands and beaches. Partial to a well-presented saltwater fly, soft-plastic lure, or small casting slice. Takes both live baits and pilchards with gusto. Quite palatable when hot smoked.

B Bream
Berleying with chopped pilchard and floating lightly weighted pilchard fillets back into the berley using light tackle and fine line. Suitable method from both boat and shore. Hook size No 1 to 2/0. Or try using the latest softplastic lures jigged around the harbour wharves, jetties and rock walls on ultra-light flick sticks and 4kg braided line with a 4kg monofilament trace.

F Flathead
Drift with whitebait or frog-mouthed pilchards hooked through the eyes and bounced along the sandy bottom. Glue reflective tape to the sinker for added flash and appeal. Early morning before busy boat traffic is best. Or use rubber-tailed jigs flicked around the foreshore.

J Jewfish
The prize of the estuaries, jewfish gather in the deep holes in our harbours and bays from November through to the end of summer. The fish is most active right on dusk, especially when that coincides with the last hour of a run-in tide. Use large cut baits of mullet, slimy mackerel or tuna, or fresh squid strips, set on the bottom. Berleying with cut fish pieces can help attract the fish to your bait. Ranging from 3-8kg, though specimens to 20kg aren’t unheard of, the general run of jewfish is easily subdued with 10kg tackle and a 4/0 hook.

K Kingfish
Fish the deep, tidal shores or around the harbour channel markers with live or strips or heads from fresh-caught squid. Stagger the depth at which you fish the baits until the school is located. Berley helps keep the fish around you boat.

L Leatherjackets
Found around kelp beds and foraging off wharf pylons, retaining walls and other submerged structures. Easy to catch with a long-shanked hook topped with peeled prawn or try using the flesh from mussels gathered at the fishing grounds.

S Snapper
Fish the inshore reefs in 30-50 metre of water with 6kg- 10kg tackle. Anchor up and berley with chopped pilchards and chicken pellets. Drift a half pilchard bait on a 4/0 chemically-sharpened hook back down the berley, with a pea-sized running sinker or just enough lead for the bait to waft down to the bottom. Dawn and dusk is best.

T Tailor
An aggressive schooling fish, named for its ability to slash baitfish to ribbons, the tailor is a snap to catch. Troll or cast and retrieve lures around the schools of fish hunting around headlands and estuaries in winter. Or cast a pilchard from the shore or boat during the flood tide and at night around Sow and Pigs or The Spit.

Tun Striped tuna, Mackerel Tuna and Bonito
School of small tuna can be found zipping across the surface at first light. Cast small metal slugs and retrieve fast, try saltwater flies, or troll minnow lures for the bonito, which are great eaten fresh on the barbie.

W Whiting
Warm water heralds the whiting run along the beaches. The sweet-tasting fish are a cinch to catch, the only prerequisite being live worms for bait. Fish in the deep gutters and where there are rips and no surfers. Night sessions can be most rewarding from the harbour beaches.