“If you’re going to kill fish, kill them fast. This is the human way. It’s a philosophical, common-sense approach that’s not based on any scientific assessment of pain.” – fisheries biologist Steve Gephard
At least twice a month, I serve my family yellow perch fillets, first dipped in flour, then dipped in beaten eggs and rolled in equal parts Italian breadcrumbs and panko mixed with a little Parmesan cheese. minced. Fry the fillets in canola oil, squeeze over lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Yellow perch cooked this way gets my vote for the best tasting of all freshwater fish. They are my smart, beautiful and kind niece’s favorite meal. But she won’t fish with me because she doesn’t like the sound of perch breaking necks or the sight of blood pouring from gills.
I break the necks of perch (as well as other fish, bass, bream and trout) with a quick, fluid motion, pressing the heads against the mast of the boat or, when I’m on the ice, against my knee. It takes two seconds. For larger fish, I insert my index and middle finger into the gills and bend. This takes three seconds. My grandfather taught me how to break a fish’s neck, and my great-grandfather taught me that.
So here’s the question I asked my niece about 12 years ago, the last time we fished together: “Which would you rather hear: the two-second crack of a broken neck or a perch thrashing in agony over the sides of the refrigerator for half an hour?”
My late fishing buddy, Bill Adamonis, was a master “jigger”. The Jiggermen are a dying breed of ice fishermen. We avoid advice. Instead, we fish with handmade jiggersticks and handmade jiggers baited with perch balls. When Bill and I shuffled around the March “prayer ice” and heard the call of a bluebird or the “feebee” of a bird, he would utter this lament: “Spring always comes so soon.”
You can’t tell Billy too much about anything, especially fish or fishing. When I told him that he had to break the necks of the perch, he stated flatly that this would hinder the file. When I walked around the ice, breaking the necks of his rambling perch, he huffed and puffed.
But later that day Bill learned something about the fish he didn’t know: Breaking the neck makes filleting easier because it gives you a better grip on the head. Most importantly, it extracts the fish’s blood (which improves their taste); and prevents stress, which floods the meat with lactic acid, cortisol, and adrenaline (all of which degrade flavor and accelerate spoilage).
Most importantly, it is the decent, humane thing to do. Leaving fish to dance to death on land, ice, or in a boat, bucket, or refrigerator is comparable to putting people in metal cages and drowning them until their lungs fill with water and they expire. The difference is that fish take at least ten times longer to “drown” in air.
Metal wires are popular because fishermen imagine they keep fish fresh. Stringers do no such thing. What keeps the fish fresh is killing them instantly, bleeding them and immediately putting them on ice.
Fish usually die on the hanger, and nothing degrades fish flesh more than soaking carcasses in water, especially warm water. Fish can breathe in the hanger for several hours; but this prolongs the stress, thus increasing the infusion of lactic acid, cortisol and adrenaline.
Furthermore, wires are a big hassle. They must be kept in water; you have to pull them every time you move your boat; and they only keep about a dozen fish. I live in Massachusetts, where, like most of Yankeeland, there is no daily limit on catfish. (In New Hampshire, where I have a fishing camp, it’s 50 – 25 of each species.) Small fish are so prolific that you don’t have to feel guilty about filling a cooler. In fact, by doing this, you tend to reduce the chance of getting stuck.
The traditional Japanese method of killing fish, called Let’s run awayit is more humane and dramatically improves the taste and shelf life of harvested fish.
About ten years ago Dr. Brian Hiller, a wildlife professor at Bemidji State University (Minnesota), had an epiphany about stringers. “I hadn’t heard much about the value of bloody fish,” he told me. “As I read more and more about why fish bleed, I turned off my phone for good. Now, if I’m holding a fish, I draw the blood right away, cut it at the base of the gill to speed up the blood loss, and put it in a cooler with some ice. There’s no need to torture a fish by shoving a large safety pin through its mouth and dragging it behind the boat until I’m done fishing. A quick and respectful kill draws the blood out of the meat and leaves a cleaner, whiter fillet that tastes much better.”
Live wells are more humane than stringers and much more convenient. They allow high degrees (check the regulations to make sure it’s legal in your state), but they still cause stress; and they facilitate the illegal collection of alien invasives by bucket biologists.
The outdoor press is full of pieces trying to prove that fish “don’t feel pain.” It’s all speculation and junk science meant to counter the animal rights community’s calls for a ban on recreational fishing — especially catch-and-release fishing, which it defines as recreational torture.
It would make no biological sense for any vertebrate to not feel pain (or severe “discomfort”, if one prefers). In one study, acetic acid was injected into the lips of rainbow trout, causing them to breathe rapidly, delay feeding, and rub their lips on the gravel.
“Fish feel pain,” said biologist Victoria Braithwaite of Penn State University The same magazine. “It’s likely different than what people feel, but it’s still some kind of pain.”
He doesn’t stay continues to report: “At the anatomical level, fish have neurons known as nociceptors, which detect potential harm, such as high temperatures, intense pressure, and caustic chemicals. Fish produce the same opioids—the body’s innate painkillers—that mammals produce. And their brain activity during injury is analogous to that of terrestrial vertebrates: Sticking a needle into a goldfish or rainbow trout, just behind their gill, stimulates nociceptors and a cascade of electrical activity surges toward core brain regions. for conscious sensory perceptions (such as the cerebellum, tectum, and telencephalon), not just the hindbrain and cerebellum, which are responsible for reflexes and impulses.
Because the animal rights community has a right for a fish to experience at least some discomfort from a hook in its mouth or throat, fishermen can help their public image by preventing much more intense and completely unnecessary suffering. caused by not killing the fish quickly. This fact seems lost on most anglers I talk to, especially Facebook anglers.
There is a learning opportunity on Facebook if all the food photos, ads, feel-good wildlife tales, introspective outbursts and political puffery are filtered out. For example, photos of dead and dying fish on strings abound in the fishing grounds I visit. For anyone paying attention to the posts and comments, it’s clear that string usage varies inversely with the angler’s experience.
Over at Perch & Monster Perch I recently offered this comment in response to a photo of nine large yellow perch hanging from a line: “Nice. I’ve found that perch taste better if you immediately snap their necks and put on ice. That makes them bleed too. In a stringer they build up lactic acid and adrenaline that degrades the flesh. Also, breaking the neck is more humane.”
The first response was encouraging: “Ted: I’ve always wondered why some anglers do this and then throw them in their cooler. Thanks for the advice. From an old timer.
But then I got these:
“You are crazy.”
“Are you breaking your neck? What a neck lmao its not a duck.”
“They are fish man.”
“I live on Lake Erie, but I never broke my neck? Lol if I did my kids would probably throw stones at me!!! Lmao.”
“I hope you broke your knuckles. Good grief Ted won’t stop, drinking a bad combo on FB lol.
Then, in response to my patient explanations and a photo of me holding three 15-inch perch with broken necks: laughing emoticons.
I don’t know anyone with a greater knowledge of fish than Steve Gephard, former Connecticut fisheries biologist and now an environmental consultant working on fish passage. He offers this: “There’s been a lot of debate in the lay press about whether fish feel pain, but I’m not aware of much research being done in the technical press. By taking blood samples we can document stress, but not pain. Stress causes [flesh degrading] accumulation of adrenaline and lactic acid. I fish a lot for bluefish. I kill them quickly by slitting their throats. This also makes them bleed. Then I put them on ice. No matter what pain the fish registers, if you’re going to kill the fish, kill them fast. This is the human way. It is a philosophical, common sense approach that is not based on any scientific assessment of pain.
“I’m not sure there’s even a way to measure human pain. You go to your doctor and he asks you what your pain level is – one to ten. This is not scientific, but at least you have the ability to communicate. A fish does not have this ability. As a scientist, I try to avoid anthropomorphizing, but when it comes to killing something, you set yourself, let’s say, a perch, and that’s it: You’re going to die. Do you want to die quickly or slowly? It’s hard to imagine a man taking the slow route. Again, if you’re going to kill a fish, kill it fast.”