How To Humanely Kill Fish.

Ok you've caught a fish you want to eat what is the most humane method of killing it? This guide is based on years of experience as both an angler and aquarist. Methods are from various books on angling and fish care as well as techniques told to me by other anglers over the years. a fish should only be killed if you wish to eat it, feeding the cat is not a valid excuse.

Tricaine ( also known as MS-222)

Used by aquarists to tranquilize, for transportation, anesthesize and to kill sick fish. 1 g per litre kills in about 10 minutes. Cannot be used to kill for human consumption, fish transported using tricaine should not be eaten for at least 4 weeks. Tricaine is toxic in direct sunlight and in salt water. As tricaine does not physically damage the fish it is useful as a killing agent before dissection, particularly when the brain is to be examined or a blood sample is to be taken. Although useful to aquarists tricaine is of little use to anglers.

The Ice method

An old and popular method with aquarists. The fish is placed in a dish with water and ice cubes and placed in the freezer. Placing a fish on ice and allowing to suffocate in air is not acceptable. I am unsure how humane this method is but it is commonly mentioned in various fish care books. It is of course impractical for anglers to use this method in the field but may be of benefit for dispatching eels at home. This method can be used to slow down the metabolism of crabs and lobsters before plunging them in boiling water.

The Alka setza method

Place the fish into a bucket of water and add a few alka setzer tablets( 1 tablet/ 20L ). The carbon dioxide quickly renders the fish unconscious. Sodium bicarbonate can also be used at 30g/L an old method now considered a bit dodgy.

The priest method

A priest is a small cosh for dispatching fish. These can be bought or fashioned at home from a piece of piping. The fish is hit quickly and sharply behind the eyes resulting in instant death. This method requires a bit of practise to get the aim right. If the blow is too soft the fish may simply become stunned and recover later, tales of fish suddenly resurrecting in the kitchen abound. If in doubt hit twice. If done properly this method is humane and is one of the most common techniques used by anglers. Priest range in price, size and design with each angler having his favourite.


The fish is wrapped in a cloth and hurled forcefully to the ground. I saw this method a while back in a book on garden ponds and is not one I could recommend. This may work for a small goldfish but would be difficult with a 10lb cod. I doubt that this method could be considered humane but is probably a sport in some countries.

The knife method

A knife is inserted behind the eyes and towards the upper edge of the operculum piercing the brain. resulting in instant death. Alternatively the spinal cord can be severed. I find this method to be very effective but does have some draw backs. Fish have very small brains so a good aim is essential, it is a good idea to dissect a fishes head to get an idea where the brain is. Knives can slip when they hit the skull and slide to the side if the user is inexperienced. Folding knives can fold causing injury to the angler. It relies on the angler been able to cut quickly and deep enough. A spinal incision is particularly effective in dispatching flatfish.

Banging head on hard surface

The fish is held upside down and it head is hit on a rock, rail, tackle box etc. This is effective with small fish such as whiting and mackerel but awkward with large species. On a sandy beach there may not be anything suitable to strike the fish on.


A small amount of vodka, whiskey etc is placed in the fishes mouth instantly stopping the heart. I've never tried this or met anyone who has but it does get mentioned on occassions. Giving a fish a final drink may just be part of angling folklore, then again.......


Mainly used for eels in the kitchen. Eels are often wrapped in a wet cloth to keep them alive and killed moments before cooking. A heavy knife or a cleaver should be used. Whilst a cleaver can be used like an executioners axe the knife requires a more subtile approach. Jam the eel by the neck with the blade then whack the knife with a wooden mallet.


Cutting one or both gill arches and leaving the fish to bleed to death is only considered humane in unconscious fish. Exsanguination is considered essential by many experts to ensure death. Regardless of which method you choose I would always bleed the fish as well as it keeps the flesh fresh.

The Microwave

Apart from the fact there's no where to plug in on the beach microwaving live fish is not considered humane.


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