Fish Welfare Initiative has engaged with Chinese stakeholders for the past 1 ½ years. In June 2021, the nonprofit organization International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare (ICCAW) invited us to host the first-ever Aquatic Animal Welfare Forum at the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare in April 2022. This event gave us the unique opportunity to introduce the topic of aquatic animal welfare to a Chinese audience.
A screenshot of our pre-event speaker and host meeting at the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare.
The forum was a success and gave us a more detailed view of the opportunities and challenges of fish welfare in China. Following the event, we thus felt sufficiently informed to develop a more coherent vision of the most impactful way of helping fishes in China.
Building Foundations: FWI’s One Year Plan in China
In the following year (June 2022- June 2023), we will pursue four main goals to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the needs and opportunities of fishes on Chinese farms.
Build a strong partnership with ICCAW to raise awareness and build local welfare standards for aquatic animals.
Conduct a literature review and priority species research in cooperation with Chinese academics.
Place aquatic animal welfare into the landscape of Chinese animal advocacy by working with local advocacy organizations.
Conduct (a) field visit(s) to identify fish farmers’ understanding of welfare and the bottlenecks for aquaculture stakeholders in improving welfare.
China's aquaculture industry is the biggest in the world, being responsible for almost 70% of world production. Our China Scoping Report outlines the key welfare challenges fish on Chinese farms seem to face. During our scoping work, we did not find many projects addressing these pressing issues.
However, working more closely with Chinese stakeholders this year, we found that local fish farmers research and implement various practices to “raise fish well”. We believe that they usually don’t describe their work as “welfare work” and their efforts thus remain absent from international fish welfare discussions.
We are planning a literature review to bring light to the state of “welfare” research in Chinese academia. We expect that this will help us understand existing and missing welfare improvements. The literature review will be conducted in cooperation with researchers from the Shanghai Ocean University.
The goal of the subsequent priority species research aims to identify which fish groups should be prioritized for our planned welfare improvement research and aquaculture standards (see details below). This project will also explore farmers’ understanding of welfare and willingness to cooperate with NGOs and academics to improve practices.
We hope to complement this research with at least one field visit. However, visiting China has been challenging (even for Chinese nationals) due to ongoing entry restrictions related to COVID.
Broader Vision: FWI’s 3 Year Plan
Post-June 2023, we will continue working with ICCAW and research institutes to focus on building aquatic animal welfare standards. Doing so will involve forming a working group of welfare experts to explore impactful and implementable improvements. While making the standards, we will contact industry stakeholders to get early buy-in for the drafted welfare improvements.
COVID-permitting, we will host smaller events on aquatic animal welfare to raise awareness among academic, nonprofit, and industry circles.
By late 2024, we expect stable partnerships with various Chinese stakeholders covering research, the public sector, and advocacy. We will likely scale our work through exploring welfare model towns and the place of welfare in the Chinese government’s strategies on “rural revitalization” and “green sustainable development of aquaculture”. We will also further advance the welfare research team and help promote the uptake of the previously developed welfare standards.
You can find detailed information about our yearly goals in our Three Year Plan.
Our high-level theory of change for how FWI plans to help fish in China. Each item has a more detailed sub-theory of change.
Key Uncertainties With Our Plans
Working with ICCAW to develop standards is a unique opportunity to influence a vast number of fishes. These standards will also play an important symbolic role in embedding fish welfare in Chinese aquaculture practices. However, the standards will not be mandatory, and industry adherence is thus not guaranteed. We expect to minimize this risk by ensuring the implementability of the standards and getting early buy-in from industry stakeholders.
Regarding the creation of the welfare standards, we expect similar challenges to the ones we encounter in India: It is difficult to develop implementable and impactful welfare standards that sufficiently improve welfare and whose impact can be reliably measured. This is particularly true for species with little prior welfare research like carp. Early involvement of academics and farmers is our main strategy for reducing this uncertainty.
COVID-related entry restrictions have made it impossible to plan or conduct a field visit in China. This is unfortunate because we expect great value from visiting fish farms and connecting with our local stakeholders. If we cannot enter China by the end of the year, we will likely rely on our local partners to conduct field visits. However, we are aware that their second-hand experiences may limit our ability to fully understand local aquaculture challenges.
Staying on Track: Accountability
Tracking our progress on these plans, we included new key results in our Annual OKRs (Objective 6: International):
In-person aquatic animal welfare seminar organized with ICCAW: - Goal: 1
Literature review on priority species published internally in Chinese in cooperation with Chinese aquaculture academic - Goal: 1
These are then further broken down into quarterly key results. We review the progress on these key results weekly.
Who’s Behind The Scenes?
Our China program is led by our China Specialist, Lu Chen. Lu recently finished her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology focused on fishermen’s religious traditions and communities. As a student of culture, she is keen to understand what kind of changes in beliefs and practices could lead to large welfare improvements. Lu joined FWI as an intern in April 2021 and has moved to a full-time role in April 2022.
Our China Specialist, Lu Chen
The program is supervised by Jennifer-Justine Kirsch, our Director of International Programs and advised by a number of formal and informal advisors from Chinese animal advocacy organizations and academia.
Thank you for supporting us in our journey of helping fishes in China!
If you have thoughts or resources to advance our strategy in China, contact us.