HUNTING AND FISHING
Question 63: Humans are natural hunter/gatherers;
aren't you trying to repress natural human behavior?
Yes. Failing to repress certain "natural behaviors" would
uncivilized society. Consider this: It would be an expression of natural
behavior to hunt anything that moves (e.g., my neighbor's dogs or horses)
and to gather anything I desire (e.g., my employer's money or furniture).
It would even be natural behavior to indulge in unrestrained sexual
appetites or to injure a person in a fit of rage or jealousy.
In a civilized society, we restrain our natural impulses by two codes:
the written law of the land, and the unwritten law of morality. And this
also applies to hunting. It is unlawful in many places and at many times,
and the majority of Americans regard sport hunting as immoral.
Many would question the supposition that humans are natural hunters.
In many societies, the people live quite happily without hunting. In
our own society, the majority do not hunt, not because they are repressing
their nature--they simply have no desire to do so. Those that do hunt often
show internal conflicts about it, as evidenced by the myths and rituals
that serve to legitimize hunting, cleanse the hunter, etc. This suggests
that hunting is not natural, but actually goes against a deeper part of
our nature, a desire not to do harm.
The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.
Henry David Thoreau (essayist and poet)
see also question 37, 64-67
Question 64: The world is made up of predators
and prey; aren't we just another predator?
No. Our behavior is far worse than that of "just another predator".
kill others not just for nourishment but also for sport (recreation!),
the satisfaction of our curiosity, for fashion, for entertainment, for
comfort, and for convenience. We also kill each other by the millions for
territory, wealth, and power. We often torture and torment others before
killing them. We conduct wholesale slaughter of vast proportions, on land
and in the oceans. No other species behaves in a comparable manner, and
only humans are destroying the balance of nature.
At the same time, our killing of nonhuman animals is unnecessary, whereas
nonhuman predators kill and consume only what is necessary for their
survival. They have no choice: kill or starve.
The one thing that really separates us from the other animals is our
moral capacity, and that has the potential to elevate us above the status
of "just another predator". Nonhumans lack this capacity, so
look to them for moral inspiration and guidance.
see also question 37, 63, 67
Question 65: Doesn't hunting control wildlife
populations that would otherwise get out of hand?
Hunters often assert that their practices benefit their victims.
variation on the theme is their common assertion that their actions keep
populations in check so that animals do not die of starvation ("a
bullet in the brain is preferable to a slow death by starvation").
are some facts and questions about hunting and "wildlife management"
reveal what is really happening.
Game animals, such as deer, are physiologically adapted to cope with
seasonal food shortages. It is the young that bear the brunt of starvation.
Among adults, elderly and sick animals also starve. But the hunters do
seek out and kill only these animals at risk of starvation; rather, they
the strongest and most beautiful animals (for maximum meat or trophy
potential). The hunters thus recruit the forces of natural selection against
the species that they claim to be defending.
The hunters restrict their activities to only those species that are
attractive for their meat or trophy potential. If the hunters were truly
concerned with protecting species from starvation, why do they not perform
their "service" for the skunk, or the field mouse? And why is
limited to times when starvation occurs, if hunting has as a goal the
prevention of starvation? (The reason that deer aren't hunted in early
or late winter--when starvation occurs--is that the carcasses would contain
less fat, and hence, be far less desirable to meat consumers. Also, hunting
then would be unpopular to hunters due to the snow, mud, and insects.)
So-called "game management" policies are actually programs
to eliminate predators of the game species and to artificially provide
additional habitat and resources for the game species. Why are these predator
species eliminated when they would provide a natural and ecologically sound
mechanism for controlling the population of game species? Why are such
activities as burning, clear-cutting, chemical defoliation, flooding, and
bulldozing employed to increase the populations of game animals, if hunting
has as its goal the reduction of populations to prevent starvation? The
is that the management agencies actually try to attain a maximum sustainable
yield, or harvest, of game animals.
The wildlife managers and hunters preferentially kill male animals,
policy designed to keep populations high. If overpopulation were really
concern, they would preferentially kill females.
Another common practice that belies the claim that wildlife management
as a goal the reduction of populations to prevent starvation is the practice
of game stocking. For example, in the state of New York the Department
Environmental Conservation obtains pheasants raised in captivity and then
releases them in areas frequented by hunters.
For every animal killed by a hunter, two are seriously injured and left
to die a slow death. Given these statistics, it is clear that hunting fails
even in its proclaimed goal--the reduction of suffering.
The species targeted by hunters, both the game animals and their predators,
have survived in balance for millions of years, yet now wildlife managers
and hunters insist they need to be "managed". The legitimate
task of wildlife
management should be to preserve viable, natural wildlife populations and
ecosystems. In addition to the animal toll, hunters kill hundreds of human
beings every year.
Finally, there is an ethical argument to consider. Thousands of human
beings die from starvation each and every day. Should we assume that the
reader will one day be one of them, and dispatch him straight away?
Definitely not. AR ethics asserts that this same consideration should be
accorded to the deer.
Unless hunting is part of a controlled culling process, it is unlikely
be of benefit in any population maintenance. The number and distribution
animals slaughtered is unrelated to any perceived maldistribution of species,
but is more closely related to the predilections of the hunters.
Indeed, hunting, whether for "pleasure" or profit, has a history
closely associated with bringing animals close to, or into, extinction,
than protecting from overpopulation. Examples include the buffalo and the
passenger pigeon. With the advent of modern "wildlife management",
a transition to systems designed to artificially increase the populations
of certain species to sustain a yield or harvest for hunters.
The need for population control of animals generally arises either from
introduction of species that have become pests or from indigenous animals
that are competing for resources (such as the kangaroo, which competes
sheep and cattle). These imbalances usually have a human base. It is more
appropriate to examine our resource uses and requirements, and to act more
responsibly in our relationship with the environment, than to seek a
"solution" to self-created problems through the morally dubious
...the American public is footing the bill for predator-control
that cause the systematic slaughter of refuge animals. Raccoons and red
fox, squirrel and skunks are but a few of the many egg-eating predators
trapped and destroyed in the name of "wildlife management programs".
Sea gulls are shot, fox pups poisoned, and coyotes killed by aerial gunners
in low-flying aircraft. This wholesale destruction is taking place on the
only Federal lands set aside to protect America's wildlife!
Humane Society of the United States
The creed of maximum sustainable yield unmasks the rhetoric about
"humane service" to animals. It must be a perverse distortion
of the ideal of humane service to accept or engage in practices the explicit
goal of which is to insure that there will be a larger, rather than a smaller,
number of animals to kill! With "humane friends" like that, wild
animals certainly do not need any enemies.
Tom Regan (philosopher and AR activist)
The real cure for our environmental problems is to understand that
our job is to salvage Mother Nature...We are facing a formidable enemy
in this field. It is the hunters...and to convince them to leave their
guns on the wall is going to be very difficult.
Jacques Cousteau (oceanographer)
see also question 66
Question 66: Aren't hunting fees the major source
of revenue for wildlife management and habitat restoration?
We have seen in question #65 that practices described as "wildlife
management" are actually designed to increase the populations of game
species desirable to hunters. Viewed in this light, the connection between
hunting fees and the wildlife agencies looks more like an incestuous relationship
than a constructive one designed to protect the general public's interests.
Following are some more facts of interest in this regard.
Only 7 percent of the population hunt, yet all pay via taxation for
programs and services. Licenses account for only a fraction of the cost
hunting programs at the national level. For example, the US Fish and Wildlife
Service programs get up to 90 percent of their revenues from general tax
revenues. At the state level, hunting fees make up the largest part, and
significant part is obtained from Federal funds obtained from excise taxes
guns and ammunition. These funds are distributed to the states based on
number of hunters in the state! It is easy to see, then, how the programs
designed to appease and satisfy hunters.
It is important to remember that state game officials are appointed,
elected, and their salaries are paid through the purchase of hunting fees.
This ensures that these officials regard the hunters as their constituents.
David Favre, Professor of Wildlife Law at the Detroit College of Law,
describes the situation as follows:
The primary question asked by many within these special [state] agencies
would be something like, "How do we provide the best hunting experience
for the hunters of our state?" The literature is replete with surveys
of hunter desires and preferences in an attempt to serve these constituents.
*Three factors support the status quo within the agency. First, as with
most bureaucracies, individuals are hesitant to question their own
on-going programs...Second, besides the normal bureaucratics, most state
game agencies have a substantial group of individuals who are strong advocates
for the hunters of the state. They are not neutral but very supportive
of the hunting ethic and would not be expected to raise broader questions.
Finally, and in many ways most importantly, is the funding mechanism.
*Since a large proportion of the funds which run the department
and pay the salaries are from hunters and fishermen, there is a strong
tendency for the agency to consider itself not as representing and working
for the general public but that they need only serve their financial sponsors,
the hunters and fishermen of the state. If your financial support is dependent
on the activity of hunting, obviously very few are going to question the
ecological or ethical problems therewith.
Many would argue that these funding arrangements constitute a prostitution
of the public lands for the benefit of the few. We can envision possible
alternatives to these arrangements. Other users of parks and natural
resources, such as hikers, bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, eco-tourists,
etc., can provide access to funds necessary for real habitat restoration
wildlife management, not the perverted brand that caters to the desires
hunters. As far as acquisition and protection of land is concerned,
organizations such as the Nature Conservancy play an important role. They
can do much more with even a fraction of the funding currently earmarked
subsidize hunting ($500 million per year).
see also question 65
Question 67: Isn't hunting OK as long as
we eat what we kill?
Some vegetarians accept that where farmers or small landholders
maintain, and then kill their own livestock there is an argument for their
eating that meat. There would need, at all stages, to be a humane life
death involved. Hunting seems not to fit within this argument because the
kill is often not "clean", and the hunter has not had any involvement
birth and growth of the animal.
As the arguments in the FAQ demonstrate, however, there is a wider context
in which these actions have to be considered. Animals are sentient creatures
who share many of our characteristics. The question is not only whether
acceptable to eat an animal (which we perhaps hunted and killed), but if
is an appropriate action to take--stalking and murdering another animal,
or eating the product of someone else's killing. Is it a proper action
a supposedly rational and ethical man or woman?
This question reminds one of question #12, where it is suggested that
killing and eating an animal is justified because the animal is raised
that purpose. The process leading up to the eating is used to justify the
eating. In this question, the eating is used to justify the process leading
up to it. Both attempts are totally illogical. Imagine telling the police
to worry that you have just stalked and killed a person because you ate
see also question 12, 21, 63-64
Question 68: Fish are dumb like insects;
what's wrong with fishing?
Fish are not "dumb" except in the sense that they are
unable to speak.
They have a complex nervous system based around a brain and spinal cord
similar to other vertebrates. They are not as intelligent as humans in
terms of functioning in our social and physical environment, but they are
very successful and effective in their own environment. Behavioral studies
indicate that they exhibit complex forms of learning, such as operant
conditioning, serial reversal learning, probability learning, and avoidance
learning. Many authorities doubt that there is a significant qualitative
difference between learning in fishes and that in rats.
Many people who fish talk about the challenge of fishing, and the contest
between themselves and the fish (on a one-to-one basis, not in relation
trawling or other net fishing). This implies an awareness and intelligence
in the hunted of a level at least sufficient to challenge the hunter.
The death inflicted by fishing--a slow asphyxiation either in a net or
after an extended period fighting against a barbed hook wedged somewhere
in their head--is painful and distressing to a sentient animal. Those that
doubt that fish feel pain must explain why it is that their brains contain
endogenous opiates and receptors for them; these are accepted as mechanisms
for the attenuation of pain in other vertebrates.
Some people believe that it is OK to catch fish as long as they are
returned to the water. But, when you think about it, it's as if one is
playing with the fish. Also, handling the fish wipes off an important
disease-fighting coating on their scales. The hook can be swallowed, leading
to serious complications, and even if it isn't, pulling it out of their
leaves a lesion that is open to infection.
see also question 22, 39