Fish, contrary to popular belief, are sentient beings who do experience pain. Recent research shows that fish are extremely intelligent and have complex inner lives. Fish have been shown to be capable of complex communication and cooperation within schools, and even of deceiving others and making social judgements as to the trustworthiness of other members of their group. Fish are often considered to be mindless, but if other animals are not mindless, then we must conclude that fish are not either, since the level of mental complexity fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates.
Many communities are dependent upon fishing as a food source, and while this is necessary for them, for most of us fishing is little more than a sport. While many fish caught are eaten, most people who go fishing kill and eat fish because they find the experience pleasurable, not because it is necessary. Fish caught by line usually die from suffocation, when they are dragged from the water their gills often collapse, and their swim bladders can rupture because of the drastic and painful change in pressure. This cannot be considered humane under any reasonable definition of the word. Considering that this is a species we know feel pain, it is utterly illogical to assume that these animals do not suffer during their horrific and often prolonged death. Anyone who has ever watched a fish caught by line will attest to this, they struggle and fight, the way that any stressed animal does when they are frightened and in pain. Putting fish through this for the sake of a meal when alternatives exist is unjustifiable.
Some people believe that fishing is acceptable, so long as the caught fish are released back into the water once they are caught. However, this justification fails to realise that many released fish die when put back in the water; at least one out of three fish caught with bait will die after release, as will over 60% of deep hooked fish. The most common cause of death for caught fish is stress, though many also die from rough handling, exhaustion from struggling, or injuries to their highly sensitive mouths or internal organs making them unable to eat, causing them a slow and painful death due to starvation. When animals are dying from shock and stress due to being dragged out of the water, it cannot reasonably be denied that even for those who do survive, the experience is painful, traumatic and utterly cruel. It is not only the fish who are effected, since many other marine animals and birds die from swallowing discarded or broken fishing lines and hooks from recreational fishing. The removal of large numbers of fish from natural stocks due to recreational fishing has a direct impact on local ecosystems, particularly on fish dependent predators. Recent studies indicate that recreational catches account for nearly a quarter of the total take of over fished populations.
Regardless of whether it is being done for the pleasure of sport or a meal, recreational fishing, like hunting land animals, is a blood sport, where animals suffer purely for human entertainment. To attempt to justify this activity is to openly admit that human pleasure and amusement override the right of animals not to be hurt or killed unnecessarily. If we believe that the suffering of animals matters at all, harming or killing them for sport simply cannot be defended, irrespective of whether the victims are lions, deer, bulls or fish.