European Commission report demonstrates need to improve fish welfare regulation

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By Milthon Lujan

Eurogroup for Animals welcomes the long awaited report into welfare aspects of transport and slaughter in European aquaculture, published this week by the European Commission [1]. While many aspects of fish welfare remain poorly understood and are absent from standards regimes, this report finds whole sectors of European aquaculture failing to meet established international welfare standards for transport and slaughter. This highlights weaknesses in European regulations and the need to act if European aquaculture is to live up to its claim as the world leader in quality.

Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals, says, ‘‘We welcome this detailed look at these issues which reaffirms our call for specific regulation of stunning procedures, and for immediate action to make EU transport regulations implementable within European aquaculture’’.

Europe’s five major aquaculture species were examined across 11 European countries and several specific failings are highlighted. In particular the seabass and seabream sectors, primarily across Greece, Spain and Italy, are still slaughtering fish using asphyxia in ice. ‘Violent attempts to escape are made and maximal stress responses are initiated’, with brain scans showing the fish remain conscious for five minutes. Trout are effectively stunned in only some cases, and carp is rarely effectively stunned. Norway, the UK, and Ireland are demonstrating in their salmon sectors that effective stunning can be industry standard. Where failings are found in the live transport of fish, the case is made for guidelines to help farmers meet European regulations and international standards.

European consumers want animals to be treated with respect, as seen in the Special Eurobarometer 450 (EU consumer habits regarding fishery and aquaculture products) where consumers rated ethical issues as of equal importance as the source of their fish. The new information presented in the Commission report should be used to bring European aquaculture up to consumers’ expectations and international standards.

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The next steps are for the report to be presented to the Parliament and Council, which is the Commission’s opportunity to make the legislative and guidance proposals called for in the report’s terms of reference. Eurogroup for Animals is calling on the Commission to use this opportunity to better regulate fish welfare, and on MEPs and Member States to make clear their own interests in these improvements.

Reference (open):
Welfare of farmed fish – Common practices during transport and at slaughter : final report – Study 

[1] A report on the possibility of regulatory amendments was called for in the 2009 EU Slaughter Regulation (1099/2009), and a later report (COM(2011)700) on the implementation of the 2005 EU Transport Regulation called for a study to understand difficulties in applying this legislation to fish.

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