A strategy to substantially reduce the welfare cost of commercial fishing is as follows:

Reducing the suffering in commercial fishing:

  1. Reduce the numbers of fish caught. This could be achieved by:
    1. Reducing levels of fishing to more sustainable levels, by :
      1. Reducing fishing effort
      2. Setting up temporary or permanent no-catch zones
      3. Selectively fishing for larger fish
      4. Selectively fishing to reduce bycatch numbers & death rates
      5. Reducing ghost fishing
      6. Better enforcement of regulations

      A balance between human and fish welfare is achieved by aiming to catch a smaller number of larger fish. This will also be necessary for protecting fish stocks, and the natural marine environment, for future generations. Reducing the level of fishing effort should also reduce the significant greenhouse gas emissions of the fishing industry.

    2. Reducing levels of industrial fishing for species intended for conversion to feed or oil. The number of fish affected here is large, around an estimated 60-80% the total number of fish caught, since these include small species such as anchovies, capelin, sandeels and sprats which are caught in huge numbers. The human food benefit is lessened by the feed conversion rule that it takes 3.5 tonnes of feed fish, converted to fish oil and meal, to produce one tonne of farmed fish. It must be questioned whether the production of 1.5-3g of cod or salmon flesh in a fish farm justifies the stressful death of a 5g sprat or a 10g anchovy or sandeel.
    3. Reducing the use of bait fish. Wherever possible, fish off-cuts or synthetic lures should be used instead.
  2. Reduce fish suffering during the process of capture by modifications to fishing gears and practice and, in particular, reducing the duration of capture.
  3. Slaughtering fish humanely as soon as possible after landing. Artisanal fishermen could achieve this manually. Humane slaughter methods for farmed fish need to be adapted for use at sea. It needs to become unthinkable, as well as unacceptable, to gut or fillet fish which are still alive.
  4. Ban the use of live bait. This should be seen as contrary to any norms of civilised animal treatment.

To date, relatively few animal welfare groups have seriously addressed the welfare issues associated with commercial fishing. While there are real practical difficulties involved, the overwhelming magnitude of the welfare problem means that even modest measures may benefit very large numbers of animals. Animal welfare groups can achieve much by:

Working for change:

  1. Recognising that commercial fishing raises major welfare problems and that long-term strategies are required to address them.
  2. Persuading the public that fish welfare matters. This includes educational programmes to promote animal sentiency.
  3. Lobbying governments and intergovernmental organisations such as the European Commission to fund research into:
    • Humane methods of slaughter for wild caught fish
    • Welfare assessment of different catching methods
    • The sentiency of fish
  4. Lobbying the OIE and Council of Europe to develop welfare standards for wild-caught fish.
  5. Campaigning alongside environmental groups for:
    • Lower levels of fishing effort, for sustainability and welfare objectives, including the development of no-take zones
    • Policies that reduce levels of bycatch
    • A reduction in industrial fishing for feed and oil
  6. Lobbying governments, retailers and fisheries for an end to the use of live-bait
  7. Lobbying the Marine Stewardship Council to develop a welfare scheme which fisheries could subscribe to.
  8. Encouraging the development of fish welfare certification schemes such as Fair-fish and lobbying retailers to subscribe to such schemes