European Commission announces creation of Fish Welfare Reference Centre
At the 12th EU Platform on Animal Welfare this Monday, the European Commission announced the creation of a new EU Reference Centre for Animal Welfare dedicated to farmed fish (EURCAW-Fish). It marks a major milestone for aquatic animals, as the EU is finally embracing their sentient status and focusing on enhancing their welfare in aquaculture.
EU Reference Centres aim at improving the enforcement of the legislation on animal welfare, which is one of the Commission's priorities. Three animal welfare reference centres have already been set up for pigs; poultry and other small farmed animals; and ruminants and equines.
This step was eagerly awaited by Eurogroup for Animals as aquatic animals are the most diverse, and exploited, groups of animals on the planet - with billions of fish around Europe being hatched, reared, transported and slaughtered every year in aquaculture. Despite this, knowledge of fish to date remains quite limited. Fish species differ greatly from one another, and species-specific needs vary significantly. With fish’s immune systems and appetites being especially vulnerable to stress, the lack of knowledge of behaviour and husbandry leads to mortality rates of 15-20%. This is why such a centre was called for by all stakeholders and many European authorities (European Parliament, AAC, DG MARE, etc.).
Specifically, the EURCAW-Fish could:
(1) provide technical support and coordinated assistance to Member States - in particular by developing methods for improving and assessing the welfare level of animals; carrying out studies; and providing scientific and technical expertise (including telephone support) to help the Competent Authorities of Member States interpret and implement legislation and guidelines in aquaculture.
(2) contribute to the dissemination of good practices on animal welfare in the EU;
(3) ensure knowledge transfer and innovative strategies, including through disseminating of research findings and conducting training courses for the Member States’ competent authorities and experts from non-EU countries.
Enhancing and using knowledge on fish’s needs will not only improve their welfare, but also reduce economic and environmental costs by:
- reducing medical costs;
- reducing mortality;
- leading to savings on wasted feed.
A win-win situation.
An EURCAW-Fish should deliver on the Commission’s Strategic Guidelines for a More Sustainable and Competitive EU Aquaculture by developing best practices, indicators and training for aquaculture operators. Primarily it should help with the revision of EU animal welfare legislation, supporting the implementation of new provisions by establishing indicators and supporting Competent Authorities.
The announcement of an EURCAW-Fish constitutes an important milestone for fish welfare - which Eurogroup for Animals thanks the European Commission for. Eurogroup will closely follow the mandate given to the centre to ensure that improving the lives of fish remains at its core.