Fish Welfare in European Aquaculture

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By Milthon Lujan

Fish represent over 60% of all known vertebrate species on Earth. As a sentent species they have the capacity to sufer, including the ability to experience pain. Fish are one of the most populous and diverse animal groups on the planet and, importantly, the most widely exploited for human use and consumpton. Despite this, the welfare of fish has remained a relatvely unexplored concept, in both scientfic terms and in public and politcal spheres. The fact that their living environment is innately hostle to humans distances fsh from us and makes them difcult to observe.

Historically, very litle was known about fsh behaviours, although it was widely believed that they did not have the capacity to feel pain. This perhaps goes some way towards explaining the lack of concern for fsh welfare until recently. However, with the publication of groundbreaking work by researchers in 2003 proving categorically that fish can and do sufer, the debate surrounding the extent to which they require legal protection has gained momentum. While legislaton on the protection of animal welfare is increasingly implemented in countries around the world, fish have remained largely ignored and are, at times, expressly excluded from the legal protections aforded to mammals, birds and other vertebrates. The few pieces of legislaton that apply to fish welfare are insuficient in their scope, poorly implemented and poorly enforced.

If legal protection of fish welfare is to have any meaningful and practical application, a proper understanding of aquaculture is necessary. It is important to recognise that fish in farms (unlike those caught in the wild) will likely spend their entre lives in captivity, thus the potential welfare impact of aquaculture practices is not limited to end-of-life capture and slaughter. Rather, welfare concerns extend across the entre lifecycle of the fish, including housing, transport, handling, health and monitoring systems.

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In 2017, the European Commission published a report on the welfare of fish during transport and at the time of slaughter in European aquaculture. The report showed clear weaknesses in aquaculture processes, which undoubtedly had a negatve impact on fish welfare. However, rather than recommend formal remedial action, the Commission stated its confidence in the industry itself to address the issues and make the necessary welfare improvements. Eurogroup for Animals strongly opposes this view and believes that there is no evidence to support the idea that the industry is moving to standardise welfare practices at slaughter.

This report provides an overview of the extent to which fish welfare might be impacted within the aquaculture industry, by describing the main processes of fish farming and their associated welfare implications. The report then outlines how these welfare issues can be addressed, by considering the current regulatory framework in relation to the welfare of farmed fsh, including a critique of the Commission’s 2017 report and recommendatons. Finally, this report sets out some recommendations for formal remedial action. Eurogroup for Animals believes that swif action is vital if fish are to be protected from further harm; applicaton of the recommendations in this report would signifcantly improve the welfare of fish in the aquaculture industry.

Reference (open):
Eurogroup for Animals. 2018. Looking Beneath the Surface: Fish Welfare in European Aquaculture. 

Source: Eurogroup for Animals

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