Fish welfare means...
Because of the impact fish welfare can have on our world,
we believe that higher welfare is the right thing for industry, the environment, and the fish.
Higher welfare is the future of business.
The world is changing: People increasingly care about animal welfare, where their products originate from, and what kind of industry their purchase promotes (Conte, 2014; Lai et al., 2018; Buller et al., 2018). With more products than ever before, consumers can now choose between animal protein and new alternatives. The only way seafood producers can remain viable in this increasingly competitive and dynamic market is by offering high-quality, welfare-oriented products.
Global markets, such as the European Union, have already introduced minimum standards for welfare and humane treatment (Buller et al., 2018). Exporting to these countries requires welfare to be a core part of production.
Introducing higher welfare standards demonstrates that one is a leader, not a laggard, in this growing movement. The future profitability and resilience of the aquaculture sector lie in welfare-oriented products.
Productivity & Efficiency
Fish with higher welfare have better survival rates and increase farm efficiency.
Higher welfare and improved efficiency are closely correlated. Efficient production often reflects good animal health. This is partially because disease-infested fish populations are prone to higher mortality rates and reduced yields.
Farmers who improve welfare note less aggression, reduced fin damage, improved growth rates, and improved feed conversion ratios (Stewart et al., 2012; Schneider et al., 2012). One study found that the introduction of aerators to enhance water quality increases survival rates by roughly 43%, which also boosts farm profit (Qayyum et al., 2005).
Appropriate transport and handling further reduce stress and mortality rates (FAO, 2008). Keeping suffering and stress affiliated with slaughter to a minimum is reported to ensure not only animal welfare but also high product quality (Holmyard, 2017).
Welfare-oriented products are also appreciated by customers, who are willing to pay extra for welfare-friendly options (Lai et al., 2018; BENEFISH Final Activity Report, 2010). By improving welfare, farmers not only improve their efficiency, but can also sell their products for a price premium and increase their revenue.
Higher welfare means happier employees.
Farmworkers are generally aware that fish feel pain and that mortalities can be reduced by increasing welfare (Adams, 2019). Several farmworkers told us that they genuinely care about the fish they rear and would like to see welfare improvements on their farms. They acknowledge the importance of appropriate stocking densities and good water quality and worry about emerging diseases in aquaculture farms (Read, 2008). As they are concerned about fish well-being, workers expect that farm operations should minimize suffering.
Operational guidelines that include welfare allow workers to improve fish farming conditions. Workers can actively contribute to higher survival rates, which increases their sense of job achievement. Higher welfare is thus the starting point for more fish-friendly operations and employees who fully believe in their work.
Higher welfare helps to ensure a safe product.
Scientists proved that choosing a slaughter method that minimizes suffering is essential to guarantee high product quality (Poli, 2009). Stress before and during slaughter not only affects the fish but also leads to reduced quality.
Fish products can contain bacteria, viruses, biotoxins, and parasites, all of which occur more frequently under poor welfare (EFSA, 2008 & EFSA, 2009). Prolonged stress can also increase bacterial growth post-slaughter (EFSA, 2009).
Reducing stress during cultivation and slaughter safeguards fish welfare. For example, effective stunning methods have been shown to reduce harmful post-mortem processes. As a result, high fish welfare ensures the humane treatment of fish and improves food safety.
Fish with high welfare have fewer diseases and parasites.
The combination of pathogen presence and stressed fish leads to disease and parasite outbreaks. Most outbreaks relate to poor welfare (Aslesen et al., 2009; McClure et al., 2005). On farms, disease spread can induce financial hardship, food shortages, and even industry failure (Arthur & Subasinghe, 2002). Outbreaks cost the global aquaculture industry an estimated $6 billion per year and are the breaking point for the sector’s predicted growth (Stentiford et al., 2017).
Diseases and parasites frequently spread to wild populations, where they may endanger entire ecosystems (Naylor, 2005). To combat diseases, farmed fish are commonly treated with antimicrobials. Yet these involve their own health risks: Antimicrobials promote the development of ultra-resistant bacteria strains, which can then leave fish and enter humans (EFSA, 2008).
Humanely raised fish have better immune systems. This helps prevent infections, minimizes disease outbreaks, and reduces the need for antimicrobials.
Higher welfare sustains a healthy ecosystem and environment.
Untreated aquaculture wastewater is toxic, degrades the environment, and can disrupt ecosystems (Adams, 2019). Wastewater significantly contributes to eutrophication, causing algal blooms and ocean dead zones (Global Aquaculture Alliance, 2019). Aquaculture waste also contains antimicrobials, leading to health problems if ingested by humans.
Improved fish welfare reduces harmful wastewater generation:
Appropriate feeding systems reduce aggression, improve feed conversion ratios (FCRs), and leave less feed suspended in the water (Gan et al., 2013).
Appropriate stocking densities and less crowding further enhance feeding efficiency and lead to better FCRs (Santos et al., 2010).
Higher welfare ensures the conservation of local species.
Aquaculture that is not welfare-oriented adversely impacts ecosystems in three ways:
Diffused feed from aquaculture operations attracts wild fish. This, in turn, attracts larger predatory fish and mammals (Miller & Semmens, 2002) who are harmful to farm operations and who can injure themselves by becoming entangled in aquaculture gear (Barrett et al., 2018).
Wild fish collected near farms are 16 times more likely to have diseases and parasites. These are easily spread between farmed and wild populations (Barrett et al., 2018).
Fish frequently escape from farms and threaten local species by interbreeding, competing for resources, and transmitting diseases and parasites (Flatt & Ryan, 2017).
Optimal farmed fish welfare decreases many of these risks. Under good welfare, fish eat more efficiently, and less feed is diffused to attract wild fish (Miller & Semmens, 2002). Fish are less susceptible to infections and parasites, thereby reducing the likelihood of spreading them to wild populations (Naylor & Burke, 2005). And fish who are less stressed appear to attempt fewer escapes (Cerqueira et al., 2020 & 2017).
Better Lives for Fish
High welfare is the right thing for fish.
Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food sector worldwide, and already today over 50% of seafood comes from farms (Ritchie & Roser, 2020). On these farms, between 73 and 180 billion fish are reared at any given time (Fishcount, 2019). In the future, aquaculture will likely expand much further and produce the majority of seafood consumed.
Nevertheless, many fish reared in aquaculture continue to suffer greatly. Welfare issues include diseases, crowding, improper handling, poor water quality, and the inability to display natural behavior (e.g., Animal Charity Evaluators, 2019, Cerqueira & Billington, 2020). Consequently, in most aquaculture farms, fish are exposed to constant stress and mortality rates are high (Ashley, 2007).
This suffering is unacceptable, because fish are sentient beings capable of feeling pain as much as terrestrially farmed animals (e.g., Brown, 2014; Braithwaite, 2010; Riberolles, 2020; Babb, 2020). Even when there is no legal requirement, we have a moral obligation to provide them with a life worth living. To this end, humane rearing, appropriate transport, and slaughter methods that minimize suffering are essential.
Marine Fish Conservation
Higher welfare for farmed fish means less wild-caught fish.
One of the key arguments in favor of aquaculture is that it reduces the strain on wild fisheries.
However, the reality is that aquaculture often increases overfishing due to the wild-caught fish used in fishmeal and fish oil.
Farmed carnivorous fish consume vast amounts of fishmeal and fish oil (Naylor & Burke, 2005), the production of which accounts for almost 70% of wild-caught fish (Changing Markets Foundation, 2019). Producing fishmeal and fish oil impacts ecosystems through habitat modification, food-web collapse, and the introduction of non-native species (Changing Markets Foundation, 2019; Deutsch et al., 2007). Furthermore, food-web collapses and eutrophication decimate wild fish populations. Many coastal communities are reliant on fisheries, and population declines threaten their livelihoods (Changing Markets Foundation, 2019; Wijkström, 2009).
Improving fish welfare through feed management decreases stress and causes fish to eat more efficiently (Martins et al., 2012). As a result, fish need less feed to sustain marketable weight. Less feed means fewer wild-caught fish are required, and thus alleviates overfishing impacts.