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Aquatic Animal Welfare in China

Updated: May 27, 2022

There is likely no more significant country in the world for fish welfare than China: Its aquaculture industry is home to over 65% of worldwide production, and its global influence is ever increasing. For these reasons, FWI explored the potential for fish welfare work in China back in 2020.

We have now begun the next stage of our work in China, launched by our recent co-hosting of the first-ever Aquatic Animal Welfare Forum at the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare (WCFAW). The online conference took place in April and included attendees from industry, nonprofits, academia, and government.

As this conference is organized by ICCAW, a Chinese organization with very close ties to the Chinese government, we believe the precedent set and relationships built will pave the way to enable China’s future leadership role in the field of fish welfare internationally.

The Aquatic Animal Forum’s opening speech at the World Conference for Farm Animal Welfare.

About the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare

The WCFAW is an annual event hosted by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the China Association for the Promotion of International Agricultural Cooperation (CAPIAC). The conference features various forums on farmed animals, including chickens, pigs, donkeys, cattle, dairy cows, sheep, and horses. Each of these is hosted by a partner organization. In the past, partners have included the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, and World Animal Protection, among others.

Last year, the event organizer, the International Cooperation Committee on Animal Welfare (ICCAW), invited us to expand its program by adding an Aquatic Animal Welfare Forum.

Adding a Forum on aquatic animals was an urgent matter given the increasing importance of fish welfare worldwide and that over 65% of worldwide aquaculture production occurs in China. Seeking local support, we invited Prof. Lv, from the Shanghai Ocean University and the RSPCA as our co-hosts.

Setting the Stage

While welfare for terrestrial farmed animals is increasingly becoming part of industry discussions in China, the welfare of aquatic animals has yet to enter the scientific and industry discourse. We think that this Forum was a crucial step in bringing aquatic animals to the table and raising concerns over their current welfare state.

In preparation for the conference, we collaborated with ICCAW to publish several articles introducing the concept of aquatic animal welfare. The articles were published on ICCAW's and their partner organizations’ social media platforms. We expect that circulating these helped introduce the topic of aquatic animal welfare to academics and the broader public.

An excerpt of the five aquatic animal welfare pillars as detailed in our publication in Popular Science (translated by Google Translate).

Finding a Common Language

We hosted a number of Chinese and international experts, including the FAO Senior Fisheries Officer, the President of the Chinese Fisheries Society, the Director-General of the Network of Asia-Pacific Aquaculture Centres (NACA), and the Executive Director of FAI Farms. The Forum sessions covered a variety of topics including:

  • Current status, challenges, and opportunities of global aquaculture

  • Recommendations for aquatic animal welfare in international standards

  • Production benefits of improving aquatic animal welfare

  • Impacts of aquaculture noise on industrialized aquaculture organisms

  • Bringing best practices and animal welfare to aquatic systems: The example of tilapia in Brazil

The Forum concluded with a panel discussion including all the Chinese speakers and moderated by associate professor Wen Zhang from the College of Marine Culture and Law at the Shanghai Ocean University. On average, 14,000 people were watching the conference livestream.

Lu, FWI’s China Specialist and primary organizer of the Forum, found this discussion to be especially fruitful:

“For the first time, Chinese aquaculture stakeholders were discussing what the concept of aquatic animal welfare means in the local context, what’s already being done, and what potential future implications are.” - Lu Chen, FWI China Specialist

We see this Forum as a step toward creating an environment in which we can start improving aquatic animal welfare in China. Attendees appreciated the ideas of welfare and had constructive discussions about its implementability in the Chinese aquaculture context.

Together with ICCAW, we are currently considering an in-person roundtable with the Forum attendees to continue the dialogue.

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