No Animal Left Behind: why do farmed fish need specific laws to protect their welfare?


No Animal Left Behind: why do farmed fish need specific laws to protect their welfare?

2 May 2023

Fish are farmed in their billions in Europe, yet sadly, they currently receive little to no welfare protection, and many of their needs are still unknown. Countless fish are farmed in the EU every year in awful conditions where they experience overcrowding, high mortality rates, inhumane slaughter methods, and stress and injuries from routine handling and transport. The European Commission has the power to address these issues when revising the animal welfare legislation this year, by including species-specific laws for fish in farming, transport and slaughter.

Fish are sentient animals with individual personalities, who experience diverse emotions and live complex lives. Importantly, each species of fish is unique and varies greatly from another, which also means that their needs are not ‘one size fits all’. Fish in aquaculture are not domesticated animals - most are carnivorous predators and many of them are solitary animals by nature. 

Just like other animals, their environment impacts their wellbeing, whether its available space, water quality, water temperature, etc., there are a lot of factors to take into account for each fish species. 

Unfortunately, to date, fish have been neglected and misjudged. As our recent exposé revealed, billions of fish are suffering in the EU because aquaculture systems are based on a poor understanding of their needs and natures, and high mortality rates have been accepted with little regard for the welfare of the fish involved. 

The needs of farmed fish have been neglected for too long

These poor beings often spend up to two years: 

  • Packed in overcrowded conditions where diseases can spread quickly
  • Being routinely handled, which is extremely stressful for farmed fish and can cause scale loss, skin, fin and eye injuries, muscle bruising, reduced appetite and impaired development
  • Struggling psychologically, as the farm environment is devoid of stimulation, particularly when compared to the dynamic, ever-changing sea and river environments in which fish evolved to live.

If they manage to survive the farming environment, the journey to slaughter is yet another tribulation, where fish typically undergo:

  • Starving for days or even weeks, which can increase aggression, competition and stress amongst farmed fish
  • Crushing as they are lifted out of the water in a large group net
  • Inadequate transport methods where water quality, water movement, noises and vibrations are severe stressors
  • A slow death from asphyxiation as the fish are put on ice or into an ice slurry bath which can last for minutes or hours. 

Learn more about these issues on pages 7-9 of our new exposé report

It’s time for the European Commission to protect farmed fish

The European Commission has the power to dramatically improve the lives of farmed fish when they revise the animal welfare legislation later this year. They must factor in strong, precise, and targeted rules for fish welfare that take into account their sentient status and the best welfare practices that we know of. 

They should be handled with care, offered enriching lives and slaughtered in a way that doesn’t inflict intense suffering. There is no substitute for these basic needs. 

We’re trying to change history for farm animals this year through phase two of the No Animal Left Behind campaign

Add your voice to our movement!