P. Sandøe, C. Gamborg S. Kadri and K. Millar

Now that the welfare of farmed fish has been raised, there is every reason to expect an emerging discussion concerning the welfare of fish in capture fisheries, alongside discussion on conservation. Based on the experience of previous debates on animal use, the authors argue that the fishing industry can benefit from positively engaging in this discussion as it arises. There is a need, they say, for substantial ethical debate around the needs of people and effects on fishes in capture fisheries.

Consideration of the needs of people should include a number of issues such as the sustainability of fishing; acceptability of feeding wild fish to farm animals and impacts of fishing activity on poor local communities who may not benefit from it.

Consideration of the affects of fishing on fishes is controversial since the growing evidence that fish can suffer is not accepted by everyone1. Yet if the arguments made against fish sentience are valid, they could be extended to cover most farmed species, which to most people will serve as proof that these arguments must be flawed. This debate is not dissimilar to past discussions of farm animal welfare, and for much of the 20th Century the suffering of farm animals was debated and contested. Developments in animal welfare science in that last two decades have since lead to approaches that reduce farm animal suffering.

An ethical debate should attempt a balancing of the many aspects of the needs of people, the welfare of fish and protection of nature. Those involved in commercial fisheries should be willing to take a critical look at traditional practices.

Link to paper

1. For discussion on fish sentience see fish are sentient
and do fish feel pain?