Over the past few months, Fish Welfare Initiative has been meeting with farmers and other stakeholders across the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where we plan to focus our work for the next few years. This post outlines what we believe are the main welfare improvements that are required in Andhra Pradesh to begin safeguarding the welfare of fish. These will be the main focus within our pilot study, and, assuming strong results, will likely be our focus as we initiate welfare improvements across the state. We believe these improvements strike close to the optimum balance between having a large positive effect on fish welfare whilst still being achievable (albeit ambitious) for Fish Welfare Initiative and our partnering NGOs to implement.
The following are the broad categories of welfare improvements that Fish Welfare Initiative will help implement.
1. Adhere to best pond management practices relating to welfare.
Effective management is a core part of ensuring the welfare of fish is protected. All across India (as in most other places globally), there is a lack of management practices tailored towards ensuring the welfare of the fish. Most producers have not received any training in aquaculture, much less any with a focus on fish welfare.  As a result, many best management practices are either inconsistently applied or completely unknown to producers here.
Many of these improvements are relatively easy for producers to apply. For example, broadcasting feed broadly across the pond’s surface will help ensure all fish get to feed. Another example is making sure that producers’ hands are wet before handling fish, which reduces damage to the fish’s skin.  Small improvements such as these, when applied regularly and in-tandem, constitute a major boost to the welfare of fish. Producers must be conscious of fish welfare in all management decisions and apply scientific research to best care for their fish.
Fish Welfare Initiative is currently building training materials to educate producers in these best management practices. These will be made available to producers both through booklets and videos, as well as in-person training events that will be joint-hosted by Fish Welfare Initiative and our partnering NGOs.
2. Maintain consistently high water quality.
Water quality is frequently cited as one of the most important aspects of maintaining good fish welfare, [3, 4, 5] including in our report discussing welfare improvements for Indian Major Carp.  However, early tests seem to indicate that water quality is often low in Andhra Pradesh.  Water quality should be monitored at least once daily, and necessary equipment and contingency plans must be in place to ensure that water quality issues can be effectively managed. Water quality parameters should be kept at levels that are informed by the available research for the species being farmed.
Fish Welfare Initiative is currently conducting primary research to help define the best water quality conditions for Indian major carp (the most common species in Andhra Pradesh). From this, we will set the acceptable water quality parameters that producers will adhere to.
3. Ensure healthy stocking densities.
High stocking densities cause physical injury, as well as increasing disease rates, water quality degradation, social stress, and the environmental toll of the system. Producers need to ensure that stocking densities are kept at a level that is not damaging to the fish.
Often, welfare improvements also increase the carrying capacity of a given system, allowing producers to push their stocking densities even further at the cost of fish welfare and environmental sustainability. As such, it is imperative that producers commit to healthy stocking densities before other welfare improvements are introduced to their system, in order to lock in the benefits for fish and the environment.
Fish Welfare Initiative is also conducting primary research into stocking densities and their effects on fish welfare. From this, as well as our previous secondary research, we will create a standard stocking density that farmers will sign onto through a contract. We will also, alongside our partnering NGOs, be conducting audits in order to ensure that stocking densities, as well as all other welfare improvements, are being properly implemented on farms.
1. This is based on the preliminary findings from our upcoming survey, as well as our site visits.
2. For more examples of best management practices, see pages 68 to 92 of our Fish Welfare Improvements in Aquaculture report.
3. Cooke, M. (2016). Animal Welfare in Farmed Fish.
4. Farmed Animal Welfare Committee (2014). Opinion on the Welfare of Farmed Fish.
5. Yildiz, H. Y., et al. (2017). Fish Welfare in Aquaponic Systems: Its Relation to Water Quality with an Emphasis on Feed and Faeces—A Review.
6. Cequeira, M., and Billington, T. (2020). Fish Welfare Improvements in Aquaculture.
7. Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (2021). Aquaculture: An Investigation on Trends and Practices in India.