The Angling Trades Association (ATA) has submitted to Government a detailed
consultation document in response to the proposed Animal Welfare (Sentencing and
Recognition of Sentience) Bill. If it becomes law, this legislation is intended to not only
fill any vacuum left in welfare provision once Brexit occurs; according to Michael Gove,
Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, it will form “… the start of our ambition to set a global gold standard for animal welfare as we leave the EU”.
Scientific experts, including ATA Chief Executive Dr Bruno Broughton, have advised that
the proposed new Bill includes several key aspects which are of significant concern
because of the possible unintended and serious consequences that may arise from
them. They occur in the draft text in the repeated statements that: “animals are sentient
beings” and that: “Ministers must have regard to matters affecting the public interest”.
As currently drafted, the scope of the proposed Bill encompasses all animals, without
exclusion based on phylum or class. From a scientific perspective, the same degree of
enhanced legal protection would be granted to – say – single-celled Amoeba, parasitic
fleas, nematode worms and barnacles as that afforded to great apes and ‘companion
animals’. It is difficult to visualise how this might apply without potentially huge and
adverse implications on most spheres of human activity.
It could be argued that the Bill should cover only specified, more evolutionarily-
advanced animal groups such as vertebrates or so-called ‘warm-blooded’ animals. Such
restrictions have considerable merit because they would be more practical, simplify
enforcement and restrict potential costs. The Bill should clearly define what animals it
covers and which are excluded.
In Western philosophy, animal sentience is usually understood as the ability to perceive
or feel things, or to experience sensations. This does not mean that sentience is
intrinsically linked to the emotional abilities of animals – their capabilities to experience
pain or pleasure, for example; rather, it implies that animals are capable of detecting
and reacting to external stimuli.
This does not signify that fish are incapable of complex behaviour, but it does
demonstrate that, anatomically, fish do not have the ability to experience pain or
pleasure. This is also the case with many other classes of animals. If the word ‘sentience’
is to be retained within the Bill, it is essential that its definition is precise and legally
Moreover, as currently drafted, the Bill would apply to all animals, irrespective of
whether they are ‘kept’ or not, and as such it would cover stillwater, riverine and
marine fish. Naidre Werner, ATA Chair commented: “If Section 59 of the Animal
Welfare Act is revisited or if a similar section is added to the current Bill, there should
be a clearly stated exemption for recreational fishing in fresh water and marine
Dr Broughton warned of the likelihood of unintended and dangerous consequences
arising from the Bill. “Good fish welfare is at the very heart of angling because the
sport relies on healthy fish and sustainable fish populations. However, as currently
drafted, the Bill would be a hostage to fortune and enshrine in law what would
amount to animal rights legislation. This could be disastrous for millions of citizens
and for huge sections of British industry, commerce and recreation, including our
The ATA is committed to ongoing dialogue with Defra to push for a sensible
approach to redrafting the Bill, thereby ensuring that it is fit for its intended purpose.