Fish that has been more humanely caught could soon be on sale in some of Europe’s supermarkets following a Norwegian-funded group of projects to develop improved systems for handling fish catches.

Scientists at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture of Norway (the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia), are involved in several projects that aim to improve fish quality and fishermens’ health and safety with automated stunning and killing of fish, according to Dr Hanne Digre of SINTEF1.

Dr Digre explains that the ultimate goal is, by “gentle” handling, to land each fish alive and keep them so until they are stunned and killed by bleeding. Landing dead fish is bad for fish quality since, if a fish has been dead for more 30 minutes, the animal will not bleed properly. Electrical stunning (which is used for the humane slaughter of farmed fish and other animals) applied soon after landing enables the fish to be bled more rapidly and with less heavy manual work. Gentle handling of the fish prior to stunning is crucial for fish quality, with damage to fish being a cause of serious losses to the industry2. A further advantage, suggests Dr Digre, is that a switch of focus from quantity to quality could contribute to more sustainable fisheries3.

As explained in a SINTEF factsheet4, the overall project is a collaboration between scientists, vessel and equipment vendors, fishermen and seafood processors. The project aims to meet the fishing industry’s need for automated catch handling, including automatic stunning and killing of fish, that will safeguard fish quality, competitiveness and fisherman safety.

An important part of this project has been the development of a machine that electronically stuns the fish, and another machine that automatically bleeds them, enabling fish to be humanely killed soon after landing. A prototype stunner, similar to a commercial stunner used in fish farming (available on the market from the equipment supplier Seaside), has been installed on the fishing vessel Gunnar K with a favourable response from the fishermen (images of stunner and bleeding machine available on pages 9 and 13 respectively of Dr Digre’s presentation ):

The crew of the vessel are satisfied with the system: bleeding fish is a cold, heavy task that has given many a fisherman strain injuries. When fish are lying quietly, the job is easier. Moreover, if a fish has worn itself out before it is bled, it will not bleed enough; this lowers the quality of its flesh, which both acquires a bitter taste and turns greyish during heat treatment. Last but not least, the electro-stunning system saves the crew time.5

This research project is discussed in a presentation entitled Session 3: Effective fish handling systems3 by Dr Digre.

Dr Digre is also co-author of a paper describing research into consciousness of cod and haddock during on-board storage, and into electrical stunning for their humane slaughter, conducted by scientists from SINTEF and Wageningen University and which discussed on this website at: Research into on-board stunning of trawl-caught fishes.



1. Effective catch handling systems for cod, haddock and Saithe. Hanne Digre, SINTEF, Norway. Accessed at on 14/10/2013.

2. Summary report and recommendations obtained from the workshop: fishing vessel technologies. Challenges for a sustainable European fishing fleet. ICM-CNR, Capo Granítola, Sicily, 6th-7th June 2012. Accessed at Fishing Vessel Technology Final Draft.pdf on 14/10/2013.

3. EFTP –Future Fishing Vessel Technologies, Sicily June 6-7th 2012. Session 3: Effective fish handling systems. Hanne Digre, PhD SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture. Accessed at 3 Hanne Digre.pdf on 14/10/2013.

4. Fact sheet – SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture – August 2012 – Automatic catch handling systems of white fish onboard. Accessed at catch handling systems of white fish onboard.pdf on 14/10/2013.

5. World Fishing.SINTEF’s automatic catch handling project. 23 Aug 2012. Accessed at on 14/10/2013.