Over a billion fish are farmed within the EU every year, and the EU imports farmed fish (especially salmon) from other countries). Lacking legislative requirements, there has been little attention from the aquaculture sector on reducing the harm caused by many common farming procedures, or on providing a good life for farmed fish.
Most farmed fish are two years old or more before they are slaughtered. It makes for a long life on farms where their welfare typically has not been considered. Fish farms vary from net pens to concrete raceways to plastic tanks, and common across systems are plain, barren environments, and challenges in maintaining appropriate water quality. A farmed fish can expect to be crowded, taken out of water, size graded, moved, and inspected on multiple occasions in its life. In between, it is a routine of receiving pellet feed and whatever limited swimming opportunities the containment unit allows for. Finally, fish are starved before slaughter and normally killed by either asphyxiation or bleeding out without prior stunning.
Consensus is well established now among experts and stakeholders that fish are sentient, emotional animals, and this was reflected by EFSA in 2009. Fish welfare guidelines in aquaculture, applicable across species and production systems, during farming were developed by the Council of Europe in 2005, and during transport and slaughter by the World Organisation for Animal Health in 2009. Europe’s organic regulation has incorporated welfare requirements related to nutrition, health and environmental factors such as stocking density. National producer associations have increasingly developed and adopted regional and species relevant guidelines, including in Greece and Spain. Private labelling schemes are increasingly incorporating fish welfare indicators.
Despite the increasing concern of citizens and the huge progress made in our understanding of fishes’ needs, there remains a lack of awareness and implementation of welfare measures in Europe’s aquaculture sector.
Fish in aquaculture are not domesticated animals, most are carnivorous predators, and many of their species-specific needs are still unknown. The fundamentals required for rearing animals to have a good life are not in place for these animals.