07/02/2013 11:15 EDT | Updated 06/23/2014 10:59 EDT

Fish Feel Pain? Study Suggests They Do Not

perch in fisherman's hand with...

The question has been pondered since time immemorial -- and considering the seeming torture a fish undergoes before becoming seafood it's a worthy one.

Do fish feel pain?

In a new study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, a team of scientists concludes they do not.

In the study's abstract, researchers at the University of Wyoming conclude, "Even if fishes were conscious, it is unwarranted to assume that they possess a human-like capacity for pain."

Team leader James Rose suggests a fish's brain just isn't big enough to process pain the way humans do, The Telegraph reports.

Previous scientific studies have suggested just the opposite. Much of the debate comes down to the presence in fish of nociceptors -- sensory receptors that detect physical damage and send a signal to the brain that equates to a feeling of pain.

At least, that's how nociceptors work in humans.

Rose's team, on the other hand, argues their presence in fish does not necessarily mean they work the same. Rather, when a fish writhes on an angler's line, it's simply acting instinctively.

Instead of acting out of pain, the fish acts reflexively.

In a 2003 study, researchers at the University of Edinburgh injected the lips of rainbow trout with acid. Scientists then observed "profound behavioural and physiological changes" in the fish, including rubbing their mouths against objects.

According to a New Scientist report, it is impossible to determine whether another being is feeling pain -- but the next best thing is to look for a behavioural response.

But Professor Robert Arlinghaus, a member of the team that conducted the latest study, suggests that is a big assumption -- and one that has fueled much debate between anglers and animal rights advocates.

“I think that fish welfare is very important, but I also think that fishing and science is too,” he said in The Telegraph.

“There are many conflicts surrounding the issue of pain and whether fish can feel it, and often anglers are portrayed as cruel sadists. It's an unnecessary social conflict.”

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