What Is The Best Way To Kill A Fish? - Deep Water Fishery

What Is The Best Way To Kill A Fish?

After catching fish, the next thing to do is to kill it. So what’s the fastest, easiest, most humane, best way to kill a fish? While some people would prefer to let the fish thrasharound to slowly die before icing or cleaning them, this method is actually cruel, inhumane, unethical, and generally inadvisable.

For one recent studies show that fish are actually feeling creatures. So when you do this, they feel unnecessary pain and distress. Also, this reduces its value, freshness, quality and also decreases the storage life of the flesh.

The Unacceptable Methods​

Before we get right into the best method, first, here are the methods deemed unacceptable by the Humane Slaughter Association and Fish Count (a UK organization):​

1. Live chilling in the freezer or ice water - it slowly suffocates the fish.

2. Cutting and bleeding out the gills before stunning - this is extremely painful for the fish.

3. Exposure to air or removal from water- this also violently and painfully suffocates the fish​.

What’s The Best Way to Kill a Fish?​

​Now that we’ve ruled those out, here are the different easy, quick, and humane ways to kill a fish.

Three methods are preferred by most anglers, fishermen, cooks, and food handlers.

  • Percussive stunning followed by bleeding
  • Severing the spinal cord
  • The iki jime method

1. Percussive Stunning​

The Blow

​Percussive stunning, simply put, is a blow to the fish’s head using a blunt object. It is arguably the quickest and easiest method of killing a fish.

How to Stun a Fish?

To do this, just deliver a fast, firm, hard blow or knock on the head of the fish at the top of its skull behind its eyes. You can use a heavy wooden or metal club called a “priest” or a small club made specifically for this purpose.

This delivers a huge, sudden impact on the brain to instantly kill the fish or cause it to become unconscious, thus the term “stunning”.

The blow should have enough mechanical force to reach and be absorbed by the brain and disrupt its neurological activity. However, it should not be too powerful as to crush the skull.

Most smaller fish can be stunned by holding the fish in one hand and using your dominant hand to strike it. If you’re handling larger fish, you can lay them on its belly on a flat, steady surface.


​Confirming Death or Unconsciousness

​After the blow, there are a few tests you can do to determine if your fish actually died or was rendered subconscious. Here’s how:

  • Rotate the fish in your hands while observing the eyes to test the eye roll reflex. If the eye does not move, the fish is either dead or unconscious.
  • Look at the operculum or the structure covering the gills. If these do not rhythmically open and close, the fish is dead.
  • Place the fish in a bucket of water. If it sinks and no movement is seen as an attempt to swim, the stunning is successful.

​Bleeding

​Once the fish is confirmed to be unconscious or dead, you should now let it bleed. Bleeding is done to maintain the freshness and high quality of the flesh.

To do this, turn the fish so that its belly is facing up. Look for the thin flap of skin tissue between the base of its throat and the gills. Hold the fish by the head using one hand, pointing the throat away from you and with your finger hooked around the flap.

Next, pull the flap to cut or disrupt it. Two large blood vessels located in the throat should open and gush out blood. Let the fish bleed out for a while before removing its guts, cleaning it, and icing it.

Percussive stunning is commonly used when dealing with strong, large, and potentially dangerous fish like halibut, mackerel, tuna, sharks, and such. Usually, several blows may be required. It can also be used for salmon and trout.

However, it may not be effective for fish species with hard skulls or those that are significantly different regarding anatomy. For these fish, you may need to adjust the position so that you can strike nearest to the brain or use a different method.

To know more about this method, please check out this video:​

​2. Severing the spinal cord

Cutting or destroying the spinal cord of the fish also renders it dead immediately and so it can also be the best way to kill a fish.

To do this, you should first identify the part of the fish called the throat latch. It is located between and under its gills.

Then, holding it with both hands, bend the fish’s head back sharply using a swift movement. This breaks the spine and severs the spinal cord.Not only does this method kill the fish instantly but also lets it bleed out thoroughly without doing another extra step.

While this method can be very effective especially when handling smaller species, it requires some skill and guts to do it. Sometimes, it can also be messy and nerve-wracking to perform.​

3. Iki jime​

Iki jime is a Japanese technique also known as spiking or pithing. It involves piercing and destroying the fish’s brain using a sharp metal object such as a screwdriver or knife. There are also specialized iki jime tools that you can buy from some tackle shops.

Iki jime is a precise process and requires some skill. But, if mastered, it can be the a good method to kill a fish because it causes the least amount of stress to the fish and improves its value as food.

The first thing you need to do is to find a soft area of the skull close to the brain (Refer to the figure below for salmon and trout). Remember that this may vary among different species.

Then, using your chosen spiking tool, quickly and firmly pierce the area. Next, wiggle the tool around. When done properly, this should destroy the brain, and the body of the fish should limp instantly. This indicates that it is dead or unconscious.​

After pithing, you can now clean and ice your fish. Afterwards, it is ready to be skinned, filleted, or cut.

Conclusion​

Depending on the fish species, your skills, and personal preference, these three different methods may be considered as the best way to kill a fish. However, in real life, a combination of two or all of these is used for optimum results.

Percussive stunning is quick and efficient but requires extreme strength. Severing the spinal cord and iki jime, on the other hand, requires special skills and guts to perform such as find fish brain location for instance. Future, they may have to be performed differently or may not work at all for every fish species.​

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