Today, the European Parliament hosted the first ever high level political event, ‘Seizing the Day for Fish Welfare’, gathering fish professionals and political stakeholders to discuss the welfare of fish. At this occasion experts, farmers, and certifiers voiced the value and importance of addressing welfare while MEP’s shared the political process they are pursuing to advance the issue and hold the European Commission to the findings of its own study. The event coincides with the release of a new EU survey on fish welfare evidencing that the majority of EU citizens agree that fish are sentient beings (65%), and that they feel both positive (55%) and negative emotions (65%), and that not allowing fish to exhibit natural behaviours has a negative impact on the welfare of fish.
Momentum has been building around the welfare of fish since consensus emerged that they are sentient including the capacity to feel pain . At the end of 2017 the European Commission published a study  into the welfare of fish during transport and at slaughter in European Aquaculture and followed this with a report to Parliament and Council . Despite finding that international standards are being failed across most sectors of European aquaculture, the report disappointingly recommended that the European Union take no action.
At the occasion of the event, gathering aquaculture professionals, animal advocates and political stakeholders, John Flack MEP, Anja Hazekamp MEP, and Stefan Eck MEP announced the formation of a sub-group of the European Parliament Intergroup on the welfare and conservation of animals. The group has cross-party membership and is pursuing a motion in the Parliament in pursuit of specific and deliverable improvements in the welfare of Europe’s farmed fish.
Speakers and participants from research, policy, advocacy, and industry used the forum offered by the event to demonstrate the range of issues and opportunities for enhancing fish welfare in European aquaculture.
During their presentations Commission officials emphasized that one of Europe’s largest aquaculture sectors, sea bass and sea bream in the Mediterranean, is failing to meet the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) standards  to which all EU Member States are signatories. They also confirmed that the common practice of asphyxiation in ice slurry fails standards and causes prolonged suffering.
“We expect the European Commission to help bring about harmonisation between Member States when it comes to fish welfare” said Katerina Marinou, Head of Animal Welfare in the Ministry of Rural Development and Food in Greece, Europe’s largest producer of sea bass and sea bream “ fish are sentient, so we expect the EU to take account of fish welfare as it does for other species”.
The German government representative furthermore stated “In Germany we have, in addition to Regulation (EC) No. 1099/2009, domestic legislation to safeguard the welfare of fish and invertebrates during transport and slaughter. For example, it is mandatory to stun fish prior to killing; there are some exceptions like mass-catching from a fishing vessel. With a view to a level playing field across Europe, we support an increased level of cooperation on fish welfare.”
This was equally paraphrased by the Irish government representative with an emphasis on organic farming by saying “Ireland’s salmon sector is focused on producing organic fish. We’re the only sector of organic aquaculture in Europe that has normalised the humane stunning of fish, a requirement of the Organic Regulation. It’s a great benefit to our producers and we would be keen to share our experiences with other Member States, producers or institutions. How can we ensure that all organic farmed fish meet the regulation so that Irish producers are not undercut?”
The event coincides with the release by Eurogroup for Animals and Compassion in World Farming of a recent European opinion survey sounding public perceptions around fish welfare. The dramatic headline findings include that 79% of EU citizens think that the welfare of fish (salmon) should be protected to the same extent as the welfare of other animals we eat, and that it should be better protected than it is now. The findings also clearly show that consumers want welfare guarantees on their fish products (79%), and that welfare guarantees are an indicator of the product characteristics that are less visible but most important to them (quality and sustainability) as well as assuring them that the fish was well treated .
“As aquaculture is still a young farming sector, relative to other livestock farming sectors, we believe that the trend should be in the direction of high quality, high welfare, low environmental impact products in line with consumers expectations. This means moving towards systems that meet the species-specific welfare needs and behavioural preferences of the fish.” said Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals.
In the lead up to the event, Eurogroup for Animals published its report ‘Looking beneath the surface: Fish Welfare in European Aquaculture’, mapping out the issues faced by Europe’s farmed fish, how current regulatory frameworks can address these issues, and the areas in which new regulation will be required sooner rather than later .
Sophie De Jonckheere, Communications and Development Manager, email@example.com
Douglas Waley, Fish Welfare Program Leader +32 (0)2 740 08 95, firstname.lastname@example.org
 EFSA, General approach to fish welfare and to the concept of sentience in fish, https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/954
 DG-SANTE, Welfare of farmed fish: common practices during transport and at slaughter, https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/facddd32-cda6-11e7-a5d5-01aa75ed71a1/language-en
 European Commission, REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL on the possibility of introducing certain requirements regarding the protection of fish at the time of killing, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2018%3A87%3AFIN
 OIE, Aquatic Animal Health Code, http://www.oie.int/standard-setting/aquatic-code/
 Research carried out by ComRes on behalf of Eurogroup for Animals and Compassion in World Farming between 30th April and 8th May 2018 using internet polling. 9,047 adults across the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Czechia responded. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of each market by age, gender and region. Data tables can be viewed here.
 Eurogroup for Animals, Looking Beneath the Surface: Fish Welfare in European Aquaculture, 2018.
Reineke Hameleers (Eurogroup for Animals), “European Consumer Demands”
Albin Gräns (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), “Fish Sentience and Implementing Welfare”
Niall Gerlitz (European Commission, DG-SANTE) “Fish Welfare During Transport and Slaughter”
Katerina Marinou (Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food), “Welfare in Greek Aquaculture and Making EU Legislation Fit for Purpose“