Does dropping a fish hurt it?

Does dropping a fish hurt it

The debate as to whether fish have feelings and can feel pain rages on but there is a lot of compelling research to say they do. 

If you’ve ever accidentally dropped a fish while out fishing your local fisheries or when changing a fish tank to clean it, you’ll know that sinking feeling you get, wondering if dropping your fish hurts it when you are handling it. 

This article explores some of the research behind fish having senses of pain, and whether dripping a fish causes it harm.

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Do fish even feel pain? 

There is research that suggests that fish do have feelings, feel pain and stress, and can even learn to avoid situations that might cause them harm. Fish demonstrate fear avoidance, comfort behaviors, and activity in the telencephalon when danger is present.

For many, the idea of fish having feelings seems odd. Fish have been characterized for the ages as unfeeling creatures with little sense and behaving by instinct alone. 

But, in recent times, with the development of scientific research into animal nervous systems and brain functions, it’s been strongly suggested that fish may indeed feel sensations like pain, fear, and stress. 

A study with trout found that they reacted to unpleasant stimuli, which activated the trouts’ sophisticated network of receptors across the jaw and face of the trout. 

After exposure to the unpleasant stimuli, the trout displayed behaviors associated with avoidance and seeking comfort. 

Here is a great quote from an analysis of studies into fish welfare that sums up the findings behind fish senses and whether fish feel pain:

“The human experience of pain, fear and suffering may not be a feature of the neurobiology of fish. However, a prerequisite for animal welfare consideration is sentience, and increasing evidence in physiological, behavioral and anatomical studies suggests that fish may be sentient and meet basic criteria for welfare consideration.”

Does dropping fish hurt them?

Dropping a fish can hurt it. Fish are incredibly sensitive to the environment outside the water, and dropping a fish onto surfaces it usually wouldn’t come into contact with can do it harm.

This is why the recommendation when fishing for catch and release is to keep the fish out of the water for as little time as possible and to handle them for less than 30 seconds when removing the hook. 

Fish are slippy though, and if not handled carefully can fall out of your hands and be dropped on the floor. 

The scales on fish are prone to damage, and if the fall leads to a cut or graze in the fish’s scales or flesh, this could lead to infection and illness. 

If dropped from a great height then there may be a chance of bruising or breaking fins or bones, which would impact its ability to swim and move around. 

Also, the drop and impact of hitting the floor is likely to stress the fish. 

Fish have a coat of slime that helps protect them from the environment around them, keeping their scales in good condition. 

Dropping a fish can damage or remove its coating of protective slime, which can lead to further damage or infection.

Can fish survive being dropped?

Can fish survive being dropped?

Fish can survive being dropped, but it depends on how high they are dropped from and what they land on. 

There are examples of tiny minnows being dropped from an airplane in Utah – which is an initiative of the government to try and restore trout stocks in the mountains. 

Regrettably, some of the fish probably do die, but the majority survive the fall. 

This is because the fish themselves are very small and their hydrodynamic shape and the fact they are entering a water surface that has been disrupted helps them survive the fall.

If you have accidentally dropped a fish when handling it off your fishing tackle, or when cleaning or changing tanks, then there is a chance it will survive the fall. 

Multiple fish owners with fish tanks at home have mentioned on pet fish forums that they have accidentally dropped their fish and the fish has been fine after the fall. 

To help prevent too much damage when handling and moving a pet fish, you can add a formula to the new tank to help regenerate their protective slime coat. 

In the wild, of course, you cannot do this. So you must be very careful to handle the fish gently, and for a very short time if possible.

Check out our article on how long a fish can survive with a hook in its mouth for more info.

Does throwing a fish back hurt it?

Throwing a fish back into the water through the air after catching it can do the fish harm, either physically or by stressing the fish because it’s entering the water in an unnatural way which might stun the fish even more.

The best way to return the fish to water is by gently holding it under the water upright so that water can pass across its gills, helping to generate oxygen and recover from the stress of being caught. 

In moving water, like a river, you should face the fish upstream so that the water current goes over the fish’s gills. In still water, like the ocean, moving the fish gently back and forth can help stimulate oxygen production via the gills as the water passes over them caused by the motion. 

How far can a fish fall and survive?

How far a fish can fall and survive depends on many factors, including the size and shape of the fish and if the surface of the water it’s falling into is disturbed at all or still. 

If the water is still then there is less chance it will survive the impact of falling from a great height. 

However, many fish are not in a situation where they’re falling from a very tall place. 

It’s often the case that fish jump out of their tanks or a clumsy angler drops the fish while removing a hook or taking a picture. 

In these cases, it’s likely that the fish will survive the fall if they’re put back carefully into the water quickly.

And as long as the fish hasn’t sustained any major bruising, cuts, or grazing that might lead to an infection. 

How high can you drop a fish?

I’m sure there is a height from which you can drop a fish, but ideally, you never drop a fish because of the stress and harm you can cause.

If this happens by accident then that’s an accident, and you’re probably not dropping it from a great height that would seriously endanger the fish. 

There are many reports on fish-keeping forums that speak of fish jumping 2-6ft out of tanks and onto a hard floor. In all the reports we reviewed, the fish survived. 

If you’re out fishing and trying to land and return fish from a high structure like rocks or a pier, then it may seem like the only option is to throw the fish back into the water. 

Firstly, consider whether this is the best place to fish from – because you may cause harm to the fish by throwing it from a height into the water. 

Secondly, if you continue to fish from that elevated spot, think about how you might return the fish without throwing it.

Can you place it into your landing net and lower it gently into the water? 

Can you quickly walk the fish to a place where you can gently place it back in the water? 

Always try to think of the fish’s welfare first if you are catch-and-release fishing. 

Looking for new rod as a rookie angler? Here’s a guide for selecting the best rod for you.

Does dropping a fish hurt it? Summary

The short answer to the question ‘does dropping a fish hurt it’ is yes, it can do. 

The fish may survive the fall if certain measures are taken quickly to return the fish and try to revive it somewhat. 

The golden rule with catch and release fishing is to think about minimizing the impact on fish welfare when you’re out angling.

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