What does the EU’s new transport proposal mean for fish?


What does the EU’s new transport proposal mean for fish?

15 December 2023
Last week, the European Commission published its long-awaited proposal on animal welfare rules during transport. While the transport of terrestrial farm animals is a well-recognised issue, what are the key issues fish face during transport, and to what extent does the new proposal cover them?

Fish are particularly sensitive to disturbance and experience stress while being handled during farming, being moved with nets or pumps, or being transported between sites or to slaughter. Inappropriate transport of fish can result in injury, pain, distress and suffering. A brief period of stress for fish can result in long-lasting effects such as increased disease incidence, reduced appetite, impaired development, deformities and increased mortality. 

The most critical aspects of welfare in the transport of fish are:

  • Handling and loading procedures;
  • Equipment for monitoring and maintaining water quality;
  • Feed withdrawal prior to loading;
  • Monitoring of fish after unloading. 

Until now, EU transport legislation was very weak on fish transport, and implementation was difficult. Fish were included within provisions on planning and documenting journeys, but no standards or practices were set. Certain provisions were also detrimental to fish welfare, such as the requirement to inspect fish at border control points, which means increased light exposure, changes in ambient noise causing stress and stationary periods affecting water quality.

The new proposed legislation includes aquatic animals (fish, cephalopods such as octopuses, and decapods such as crabs and lobsters) in its scope. Unfortunately, it excludes fish used in aquariums or ornamental fish as “the transport of ornamental fish rarely represents a major risk for animal welfare“.  

Annex two of the proposal outlines basic principles for the transport of aquatic animals, recognising that aquatic animals have specific welfare needs that have to be protected by law. For example, conditions for crowding and loading fish, ensuring that water quality is appropriate for the species, and reasons for considering aquatic animals as not fit for transport are included.

The aquatic annex provides positive recognition of the importance of aquatic animal welfare during transport. The proposal calls for specific provisions for aquatic animals to be set and updated based on new science when the relevant EFSA opinions are available. This follow-up work is essential to ensure specific and implementable requirements for fish and other aquatic animals.

Now that the European Commission has published the proposal, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU will have a chance to review and propose amendments to the text. 

Eurogroup for Animals calls for the text to include deadlines for adopting the delegated acts with more species-specific requirements following the scientific opinions.