Chilean jack mackerel caught in a purse seine

Wild caught fish suffer slow and distressing deaths in enormous numbers.
Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.

How big is a problem of animal suffering? This depends on the numbers of animals involved. The total magnitude of animal suffering may be quantified with the equation:

Magnitude of welfare problem = Severity x Duration x Numbers.

For most wild-caught fish, and also most farmed fish, during capture and subsequent processing the severity and duration of suffering will be high. Most wild-caught fish are likely to die from being crushed in nets or from suffocation, freezing or live dissection after landing. This process will probably take many minutes, or even hours. Most of the world’s farmed fish are also killed by slow and inhumane methods.

The following estimates have been made for the numbers of fish killed globally each year in fishing and fish farming, using FAO fisheries capture and aquaculture production tonnages together with estimated mean weights for fish species. It is estimated that, on average each year:

  • 7902,300 billion fishes were caught from the wild for 2007-2016
  • 9702,700 billion fishes were caught from the wild for 1999-2007
  • 4501,000 billion fishes were caught to make fishmeal and fish oil for 2005-2009.
  • 48160 billion farmed fish were killed for food in 2015.
  • 220520 billion farmed crustaceans were also killed for food in 2015.

These huge numbers mean the treatment of fishes in commercial fishing and fish farming are major animal welfare issues. These estimates are discussed in the pages below and may be viewed for global numbers, for a selected country and for a selected species.


 * rounded to 2 significant figures.