Animal Emotions

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Fishing is Bad for the Best Bass Fathers: Evolution at Work

Recreational fishers may be removing the best fathers who are most vulnerable.

We are living in an era called the Anthropocene and are witnessing unprecedented losses of nonhuman animals (animals) and habitats due to our egregious and self-centered intrusions into diverse ecosystems. Indeed, we are living on "a planet transformed by humanity". 

Often we learn about the unexpected consequences of our activities and a good example about which we've just been informed centers on the ways in which recreational fishing - fishing for fun -can influence male parenting in largemouth bass in unanticipated ways. It turns out that the easiest fish to catch are the best dads

"Recreational fishing can be a potent evolutionary force" and unsustainable

Largemouth bass are prized targets for sport fishers and males of this species are responsible for child care. Males are dedicated parents and are known to "go for weeks without food to guard their nests from predators or to swim protectively nearby as tiny fry start exploring the big wet world." They readily attack nest intruders and strike at lures and also tend to raise more youngsters than males who are less active parents. This study is the first that shows a link between what University of Montana's Fred Allendorf calls "vulnerability and reproductive fitness" and now researchers need to work out how human anglers are affecting the evolution of various traits in populations of fish.

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Stony Brook University scientist David O. Conover "welcomes the bass study for showing that recreational fishing too can be a potent evolutionary force. The study also shows that such practices can act not just on physical traits but also on fish behavior ..." It's more docile males who survive fishing and they are also less effective parents. And, youngsters inherit their parent's gullibility to lures.

Dr. Allendorf also notes, “From my perspective, the implications of this work go far beyond bass management” ... Managers of other species, in the sea or on land, would do well to consider the possibility that harvesting can bring fast evolutionary changes that may turn the enterprise unsustainable."

Fish are smart and sentient beings who don't like being hooked

This study caught my attention, not only because of the unanticipated ways in which human activities can have wide-ranging and long-term devastating effects on populations of animals but also because we know that fish are very intelligent and sentient beings who experience pain and suffering (see also) and don't like being hooked.

In her seminal book called Do Fish Feel Pain? researcher Victoria Braithwaite notes, "I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals -- and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies." (page 153). A recent debate between Victoria Braithwaite and Paula Droege about consciousness sentience in fish as part of the World Society for the Protection of Animals' (WSPA) Sentience Mosaic can be found here

Surely there have to be less intrusive and painful ways to enjoy nature and let's hope this important study opens our eyes to the many surprising ways in which we influence other nature in destructive and irreversible ways. 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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