How can humane models of fishing be developed? As discussed below, some artisanal fishers are already using humane methods of slaughter with relatively more humane capture methods, and some research is currently investigating the use of percussive and dry electrical stunning machines which could be used on trawl-caught and other fish. Fishers who are already bleeding the fish may be the most likely to begin to adopt humane slaughter methods since humane stunning would only involve adding another step in a current process. Humane slaughter methods may be easier for artisanal fishers since some are already employing them but, on the other hand, larger fishing operations will have economies of scale with the use of humane slaughter technology.

The fishing methods which appear to have the greatest potential for humane capture include:

  • fast hook and line methods where use of live bait fish is avoided
  • trapping where traps are retrieved in short intervals
  • use of surrounding nets.

Sections 1. to 3. below show some fisheries employing humane slaughter methods. Note that we have not conducted any welfare assessment of them but are simply reporting their use of potentially humane slaughter methods from information given on their websites or by email:

  1. Fisheries using manual humane slaughter methods
  2. Fisheries using more automated humane slaughter methods
  3. Humane slaughter as part of certification
  4. Correspondence with MSC-certified fishery companies
  5. Costs, benefits, constraints & opportunities

1. Fisheries using manual humane slaughter methods

Alaskans Own troller

Trolling for salmon.
Credit: Eric Jordan.

Fishery : Alaskans OwnTMtroll-caught salmon
Country : Alaska
Year : current
Fishing methods : trolling (fast hook & line)
Slaughter method : manual percussive stunning followed by bleeding.
Alaskan’s OwnTM is a family-run company marketing fish harvested by fishermen participating their Fishery Conservation Network. This network promotes stewardship innovation among fishermen who are operating in Marine Stewardship Council certified fisheries and going beyond requirements to improve best fishing practices. The fishermen own and operate small, shore-based boats, most of which are under 60 feet in length.

Usan Fisheries

Usan Fisheries percussively despatching a salmon.
Credit: Usan FisheriesTM.

Fishery : Usan Salmon Fisheries LtdTM
Country : Scotland
Year : current
Fishing methods : bag nets (traps). These aim to catch fish without injury or damage
Slaughter method : Manual percussive stunning possibly followed by bleeding.
Usan Salmon Fisheries LtdTM is a family-run business marketing the salmon on its high quality:
“We operate both bag and jumper nets that help prevent damage to the fish and so ensure that the product we sell is of the highest quality.”
YouTube video viewable from the website homepage shows fish being percussively stunned at 4 mins 17 secs in.

2. Fisheries using more automated humane slaughter methods

Wild Salmon Direct

Wild Salmon Direct.
Credit: Wild Salmon Direct on YouTube.

Fishery : Wild Salmon Direct
Country : Alaska
Year : 2009
Fishing methods : small purse seine (surrounding) nets
Slaughter method : manual flow-through percussive stunning machines followed by manual bleeding.

The humane slaughter technology used by Wild Salmon Direct is marketed on quality and efficiency by Seafood Innovations International Group Pty Ltd who wrote:

“Seafood Innovations are also developing simple systems to help stun and bleed fish at the first opportunity after harvest. Preliminary results so far have suggested that this can provide a marked improvement in quality as a motivator for better handling practices. The SI technology is seen as a good potential solution in handling fish from, trawl, seine-net and long-line.”

Recent research into the humane slaughter of trawl-caught fish using electrical dry-stunning was discussed at the Humane Slaughter Association’s Centenary International Symposium (see our reports from the ufaw and hsa symposia portsmouth july 2011).

3. Humane slaughter as part of certification


percussive stunning in the fair-fish certification scheme
Credit: fair-fish

Fishery : fair-fish pilot project for artisanal fishers
Country : Senegal
Year : 2007
Fishing methods hook & line (maximum capture duration 5 mins); encircling gillnets and beach seines (maximum capture duration 30 mins)
Slaughter method : manual percussive stunning followed by bleeding.

The fair-fish Swiss fish welfare group has developed a certification scheme standard in this pilot project (certified by third party Société Générale de Surveillance in 2007). The standard includes:
  • animal welfare
  • sustainability and
  • fair trade.

Fishery : WildcatchTM salmon
Country : Alaska
Year : 2000
Fishing methods nets
Slaughter method : manual spiking followed by bleeding.

WildcatchTM was certified organic in 2000. One of the organic standards that this company addressed was the humane slaughter of the catch. WildcatchTM told us:

“It may not seem practical to humanely slaughter net caught salmon. However, I think many could be stunned or pricked just prior to the bleeding process. Those that have taken the steps to bleed and refrigerate would be the best recruits to humanely slaughter as these fishers have already embraced change. Monetary incentives paid for bleeding are approximately $0.05 per lb to fishers plus refrigeration of $0.12 per lb. Quality bonuses are also given by salmon buyer at the end of the season based on their sales in the market for his whole pack.”

One of the primary reasons for their pursuit of the organic label was to have a processing chain of custody that would allow them to make up their own set of standards/rules that each fisher would have to sign off to.

Unfortunately organic certification was not continued due to the inherent difficulty of marketing food from wild fish as organic.

4. Correspondence with MSC-certified fishery companies

Several spokespeople and fishing companies for fisheries certified for sustainability by the Marine Stewardship Council were contacted, including Alsakan’s OwnTM and WildcatchTM discussed in the sections above. A fisherman representing a larger fishing company responded:

“We are already struggling hard to compete in the market…because of the general market‟s focus on cheap food …with limited focus on sustainability, working conditions, health/nutrition etc. Since we are large suppliers of fish to the world markets, we are not in a position to market our fish as niche products, and have to direct attention to the mass/large markets…
“Economic implications would involve extra worker(s), redesign of fish receiving area of vessel (if possible with respect to area constraints), investment in permissible stunning system (various legal constraints on use of stunning, tranquilizing or similar, and unclear basis for defining what would be considered ‘humane’).”

5. Costs, benefits, constraints & opportunities

Benefits from improving welfare include:

  1. Better flesh quality from humane slaughter (if fish are not too stressed before landing)
  2. Added welfare quality leading to:
    • welfare premiums
    • new markets
    • better welfare choices for consumers
    • more sustainable jobs in fishing.

Economic costs include:

  1. Additional labour required per fish for catching and handling
  2. Reduced catch sizes in some cases (e.g. from shorter capture durations)
  3. Equipment costs for humane slaughter and fish handling (e.g. pumps) technology
  4. Redesign of vessels may be required.

Other constraints include:

  1. Humane slaughter and handling technology requires further development for larger fishing operations
  2. Lack of recognition of this welfare issue among stakeholders
  3. Assurance will be more challenging on fishing vessels.


Fishers for whom quality and ethical seafood is part of the branding appear to be the most likely to seek to improve welfare. Many artisanal fishers may be using methods which could be made more humane relatively easily. One good place to start may be wild salmon since:

  • Some salmon fishers are already using humane slaughter methods
  • These fish are often handed individually and “carefully”
  • It is a high value species
  • Consumers often look to wild salmon as a higher welfare alternative to farmed salmon.

A premium market in better welfare may help bring better practice across the whole industry.