Earlier this week the European Commission presented to the European Parliament and European Council a much anticipated report on the welfare of fish at the time of killing in European aquaculture . The Commission has failed in its legal obligation to establish specific standards for fish and spare them from pain, distress and suffering. The EU’s Slaughter Regulation (2009) instructed the publication of this report for this purpose.
Cruel practices contrary to international standards and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) advice  – in particular killing fish in iced water (causing prolonged suffering) – are shown to be commonplace in Europe. The European Commission has concluded that any guidance on killing fish is ‘best achieved at Member State level’ rather than using EU competence which goes against the slaughter regulation . Expecting guidance at Member State level means this unacceptable practice is likely to continue and be repeated in Europe. This week’s new report from the Commission shows that market forces are, meanwhile, driving electrical stunning in third countries in place of the iced water method.
The report further demonstrates that while fish welfare standards are being routinely failed across Europe, the necessary improvements are practicable and that in most cases the improvements would result in either financial savings or only small increases in cost price.
Absent from this report is fish welfare during transport. The Commission’s own study  into the implementation of the EU’s Animal Transport Regulation called to consider a review of the Regulation. Excluding transport from this report to the Parliament and the Council has rendered the Commission’s own study inconsequential and leaves unchanged an unsuitable regulation, which for example requires that fish are provided with a non-slip flooring surface.
John Flack MEP (ECR, UK) commented: ‘‘It is unacceptable for the Commission to ignore its commitments, and to disregard the findings of its own studies carried out at great expense. The European Parliament has already passed legislation protecting the welfare of fish, and I am disappointed to see the Commission ignoring the clear message sent by the elected representatives of European citizens. We have a duty to protect all animals, especially those we depend on for sustenance and we have a duty to support our aquaculture sector and its world-class standards.’’
Eurogroup for Animals, who has a dedicated program on fish welfare and who follows the political discussions on the issue closely, calls on the EU to prioritise fish welfare in the EU Platform on Animal Welfare including creating a fish sub-group, fund the research necessary to answer its remaining questions, ensure that effective pre-slaughter stunning of fish is adopted across European aquaculture, and ensure that the welfare needs of fish are met during transport.
Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals added: ‘The Commission should fulfill its obligation to establish standards on the killing of fish. While it has failed to do so, we do welcome the language in this report on pursuing stakeholder dialogue and we are happy to work with Member States and other stakeholders on this. We look forward to taking this forward within the Commission’s EU Platform on Animal Welfare’.
 This is a concerning conclusion of the report given that in Spain the statutory body for commercial standards has recently instructed farmers to continue using the iced water method.