TIR files criminal complaint: animal welfare law also applies to fish!
Fish are sentient animals protected by animal welfare legislation. Yet, problematic, and sometimes cruel ways of treating them are not uncommon. Obvious animal cruelties are often not recognized or played down. In a documented case, Tier im Recht (TIR; Foundation for the Animal in the Law) has now filed charges for improper handling of a trout.
March 4, 2021
In agreement with various experts, TIR assumes that in this case the criminal offense of mistreating of animals is fulfilled. Even though it is not clear from the report what exactly happened to the trout, all plausible scenarios suggest that the animal was subject to excessive stress. TIR has therefore filed criminal charges against the author of the report and another alleged offender.
Fish have sense organs on their bodies. What is particularly noteworthy is their highly sensitive lateral line system, with which they perceive vibrations, currents and sounds in the water along the surface of their head and body. Furthermore, the fish skin has sensory hair cells that react to chemical substances, heat, and pressure. They produce a nerve signal when their fine hairy extensions are bent. Scientists believe they are of importance with regards to the pain sensation of the fish. The skin cells produce an antibacterial mucus that keeps the gills and skin clean and protects the animal against parasites and pathogens (click here for more details). Touching the fish with dry or rough surfaces injures the outer layer of the mucus, which bears the risk of a fungus infection when the fish is returned to the water and in many cases leads to a slow and painful death for the animal.
While contemplating the criminal charges, TIR ran through various possible scenarios: It is plausible, for example, that the fish was caught for the purpose of removal and killed after being photographed. However, the law requires that fish be killed immediately. Stress must be reduced to an indispensable extent.
The procedure of photographing and the manner of holding the animal
unnecessarily prolong the stress, fear and suffering of the animal.
Therefore, it can be assumed that the offense of mistreatment and
unnecessary overexertion is fulfilled.
In a second possible scenario, the fish was caught for the purpose of removal, but was put back alive at the legal discretion of the fisherman. According to Fisheries Act, the ecological value of an animal judged capable of surviving must be taken into account. Because the trout is held by a dry hand – a procedure that must be avoided at all costs and is taught accordingly in every expert course – and the associated damage to the protective mucus layer on the fish skin, a fungal infection and the subsequent death of the fish are virtually inevitable. In addition, the visible grip with which the fish is held for the photo is clearly improper and will very likely have led to internal bleeding. Moreover, the risk of non-regenerative oxygen deprivation due to the process of photographing and the corresponding time out of the water is extremely high. Therefore, one must assume that the fish suffered a painful death after being put back, which amounts to the offense of killing in a cruel manner. In addition, the animal was subjected to unnecessary suffering (pressure on internal organs, excessive stress) while photographed.
In the third possible case, the trout was caught and put back alive solely for the purpose of taking a picture. This would be an unlawful case of "catch & release", which would clearly qualify as mistreatment of animals.
The competent public prosecutor's office has confirmed receipt of the criminal charges and has initiated investigations. TIR hopes that the accused persons will be held accountable in an appropriate manner and that the legal protection of fish will be respected.