F. A. Huntingford and S. Kadri

This paper briefly describes the recent development of fish welfare science and some of its complexities vis-a-vis different scientific approaches to fish welfare, its definition and measurement. It goes on to ask how industry has responded to concern about fish welfare; where and why this has been successful; and how this knowledge gained could benefit welfare in commercial fishing.

From the early 1990s there was a steady increase in the number of published papers relating to welfare in aquaculture, including fish health, effects of transport and stocking density, and slaughter. Research is currently being conducted to obtain “welfare indicators” that could measure welfare outcomes on fish farms.

The authors briefly explain three different approaches1, or frameworks, to defining good animal welfare: function-based; nature-based and feelings-based. The function-based approach considers whether the health of the animal is good whereas the nature-based approach considers whether the animal is living a natural life. The feelings-based approach considers whether the animal is free from suffering, and this is the most important question from an animal-friendly perspective. These different approaches can lead to different conclusions about good welfare. The authors suggest research to map these frameworks onto each other as a longer-term means of reconciling these different approaches.

The paper argues that some improvements have been made in the welfare of farmed fish, including creation of good practice guidelines and regulations. The fact that intensive aquaculture is a relatively new industry and less set in its traditional ways may have helped these improvements, as might the fact that improved welfare often promotes productivity. They highlight the contribution made by welfare certification schemes to improving the welfare of farmed fish, such as the RSPCA Freedom Food Scheme to which 80% Scottish farmed salmon belong.

The authors identify 3 specific areas of fish welfare knowledge acquired by the Aquaculture industry that might be particularly helpful for improving welfare in capture fisheries i.e. that relating to:

  • incentivising stakeholders through an ethical premium
  • welfare implications of fish handling practices, especially crowding and slaughter
  • technology for improving welfare, especially humane slaughter

and hope for a constructive exchange on these issues.

Link to paper

1. For brief disucssion on these 3 approaches to assessing good welfare see what is animal welfare