top of page

Overview of our 2024 R&D Studies

Updated: Mar 27

By Dr. Paul Monaghan, Fish Welfare Initiative Research & Development Lead

Summary: In late 2023, we broadened the mandate of our research to explore other theories of change, in the hope that they could be more impactful than what we are currently executing. Our R&D Department conducts field studies to inform these theories—this post gives an overview of the four such studies we are conducting in 2024.


Last year we established our new Research & Development (R&D) Department, with the stated goal being to develop new theories of change and to conduct studies to inform FWI programs to improve the lives of fishes. As 2023 drew to a close we published a blogpost broadly outlining the R&D Department’s plans for 2024. In that post, we mentioned that we were in the process of shortlisting a number of studies and we committed to sharing more about our plans once decisions had been made. This blogpost is a follow-up, presenting an overview of the studies we have selected to conduct in 2024. 

We’re intending for these studies, if and where they resolve positively, to contribute to strengthening our programs in the following ways:

  • Increasing our effectiveness by detecting welfare issues remotely, as opposed to in-person (i.e. the satellite imagery study).

  • Identifying new, cost effective avenues for making welfare improvements (i.e. the modified feed study).

  • Improving the evidence base and our ability to evaluate our interventions (i.e. the DO tolerance and welfare assessment protocol studies).

Selected Studies

Four studies have been selected thus far. Here we provide a brief overview of the background, hypothesis, and timelines for each.

Study 1: Validating satellite imagery for remote monitoring of water quality at fish farms

Background: FWI’s current core program—the ARA—requires data collectors to physically visit individual farms, with the current strategy being to conduct visits about once a month or more to each pond. Utilizing satellite imagery as a means for remotely monitoring water quality would allow us to collect water quality data more regularly, while simultaneously limiting the requirement to actually visit farms. 

HypothesisIf we can show that key water quality data collected through analysis of satellite imagery are sufficiently accurate and reliable, the ARA model could be modified to exploit remote data collection, allowing for more frequent collection of water quality data at all farms without the need for additional human resources. 

Timeline: Q1 through Q2, 2024. (Note: We already published a blogpost in February to coincide with the beginning of field work for this study. We expect to know before the end of Q2 if this concept is sufficiently promising to take forward.)

A satellite image view of SNR2, one of the farms participating in this study. We are comparing assessments generated from imagery like this to the ground measurements our team collects.

Study 2: Assessing whether de-oiled rice bran (DORB) feed supplemented with selected low-cost nutrients is cost-effective for farmers to utilize for the grow-out phase of Indian major carp

Background: The vast majority of farmers of Indian major carp (IMC) in Andhra Pradesh at the grow-out stage of the farming process use DORB as the primary form of supplemental feed (considered “supplemental” as fishes also feed on naturally-occurring plankton). However, DORB is not considered a suitable feed due to its poor nutritional value coupled with its “anti nutritional” quality (components that reduce nutrient utilization, leading to impaired metabolic performance). DORB is the feed type of choice for IMC farmers in Andhra Pradesh due to its low cost.

Hypothesis: If we can produce DORB supplemented with selected nutrients at a low cost, and show that the additional cost is met—or exceeded—by the increased margins that farmers gain from selling fishes considered to be of better “quality”, we could consider a future program whereby we work with manufacturers to produce supplemented DORB and encourage farmers to use it.

Timeline: Q1 through Q4, 2024 (Note: We expect the data-collection component of this study to be completed by the end of Q3, with data analysis extending into Q4. We expect to know before the end of the year if the supplemented DORB is superior to regular DORB to inform if we can take this idea forward.)

FWI's test ponds, hosted at our university partner Adikavi Nannaya University (AKNU) in Rajamahendravaram, Andhra Pradesh, India. The modified feed study will be conducted at these ponds.

Study 3: Development of a welfare assessment protocol to assess welfare of Indian major carp at grow-out stage farms in Andhra Pradesh

Background: The ARA uses water quality parameters as a proxy for fish welfare, with the assumption being that if water quality is poor, fishes suffer. While water quality is crucial for creating and maintaining a suitable environment for fish, it is considered preferable to have a more direct assessment of fish welfare, rather than relying solely on proxies. 

Hypothesis: If trials in real-life settings indicate that a welfare assessment protocol is sufficiently contextualized to the realities of fish farms supported by FWI, and that the information obtained through conducting the welfare assessment provides useful and consistent data for assessing welfare conditions, the protocol could be rolled out to serve as a critical monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool for FWI. This would help us more objectively (i) understand welfare needs (which would help with targeting farms—and therefore, fishes—most in need of support), and (ii) more effectively assess our impact.

Timeline: Q1 through Q4, 2024 (Note: This project involves developing a “beta version” of a protocol, which will be tested and iteratively improved based on trials over the course of a number of months at fish farms. We expect the final version to be finalized by the end of the year, ready to serve as a key M&E tool for 2025.)

Study 4: Assessment of dissolved oxygen (DO) levels that Indian major carp can tolerate without welfare concerns

Background: DO is considered the key water quality parameter by FWI, and many of our decisions around fish welfare are based on DO levels. The corrective actions currently utilized by the ARA program include an “optimal” (narrow range) and a “required” (broader range) DO range, but the evidence for these ranges, particularly as they pertain to IMC—considered quite tolerant to DO—needs to be strengthened. 

Hypothesis: If we can conduct a laboratory-based experiment to ascertain the DO range which IMC can tolerate without welfare concerns, this could inform the corrective actions issued as part of the ARA. It could also inform if FWI’s focus on DO is justified, or needs to be reconsidered. 

Timeline: Q1 through Q4, 2024. (Note: We expect the data-collection component of this study to be completed by mid-Q3, with data analysis extending into Q4. We expect results in early Q4.)

Selection Process of These Studies

We selected these studies through an internal process, overseen by the R&D Lead who has extensive experience with designing and overseeing large-scale research studies. The studies presented in this blogpost are those that resulted from the process described below:

  1. Ideas for studies were solicited via an open process, encouraging contributions from everyone within FWI so as to take advantage of everyone’s unique perspective and insight of welfare issues at the farms we work with. 

  2. These ideas were individually assessed by a panel from the R&D Department, using carefully selected criteria designed by the R&D Lead based on his experience of evidence-based programming at scale. 

  3. Following individual assessments, the panel convened to discuss their individual and collective assessments to allow the panel to hone in on the ideas most suitable to take forward. 

  4. For each study selected through this process, a project proposal was developed and submitted to FWI leadership.

Next Steps

We have already begun planning for these studies. For the Satellite Imagery study, not only have we begun planning, but we have actually already completed field work—at the time of writing, data is being analyzed (we look forward to sharing findings from that study soon). As we progress through the year we may decide to include additional studies, but at this point in time the studies listed above represent the plans for the R&D Department in 2024. We believe this set of studies will provide key information for informing future plans for FWI. In keeping with our commitment to evidence-based decision making, we’ll await results of these studies before deciding how/if we can take the concepts forward.

We’re excited to see the outputs from all of these studies, and we commit to sharing progress updates throughout the year.


bottom of page