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Fish get stressed, too, and some die even after commercial fishermen release them, study says

Fishermen from Bramante Seafood unload a haul of monkfish in Boston, after an eight-day fishing trip off the coast of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/William B. Plowman)
Fishermen from Bramante Seafood unload a haul of monkfish in Boston, after an eight-day fishing trip off the coast of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/William B. Plowman) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Scientists have confirmed something many of us suspected all along: Fish do, in fact, have feelings and they get really freaked out when caught, even if we throw them back in the water.

The latest study, published in Oxford Academic, reports a “cryptic stress response” was found in certain ocean fish caught in the Atlantic off New England.

Specifically, researchers measured the responses of monkfish accidentally trapped by commercial fishermen dredging for scallops, says a Feb. 27 report on the data in Oxford Academic.

“In fact, new research has found that even fish that appear unharmed following accidental capture are highly stressed and unlikely to survive once released,” says the Oxford Academic.

The data was collected by University of New England researcher Amelia Weissman and a group of colleagues, who accompanied multiple scallop dredging expeditions, said the report.

Her team discovered 80 percent of the monkfish caught in dredging operations did not appear injured, says the report. But a closer examination of 483 monkfish, including blood tests, showed chemical evidence of so much stress that they might not survive the ordeal, says Weissman’s report.

Among the factors that added to their stress: Being trapped in fishing gear longer than 70 minutes and/or being exposed to air longer than 20 minutes, said the data.

“These findings highlight just how stressful being hauled out of the ocean can be, even if a species is resilient to physical injuries,” concluded the Feb. 27 Oxford Academic article.

“Weissman’s study highlights the true importance of delving beyond outward appearances. Often, it’s what’s on the inside of an animal that tells us the most about its health,” said the article.

The goal of the research, at least in part, was to advise fisheries on how to reduce the mortality rate among “commercially valuable (monkfish)” caught in dredging, says the report. It’s believed that “the stress of capture and handling” often leads to death, even after the fish is returned to the sea, concluded the report.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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