The five millions tonnes of fish caught in EU fisheries every year equates to around 50 billion animals. The same weight again is caught of shellfish and other aquatic animals. Plus imports, consumption in the EU approaches doubling that number again. Without any objectives on animal welfare in EU fishery policy, and without initiative by the sector or certifiers, the capture and death of these animals is typically a long and horrific experience.
Unlike farmed fish, wild fish enjoy a near-natural life. However, for wild-caught fish, the end of each life is commonly exceptionally stressful due to practices that would not be allowed in any kind of terrestrial animal production.
During the capture process, fish are often chased to exhaustion, crushed, asphyxiated, injured due to interaction with fishing gear, eaten by predators while trapped, or subject to decompression injuries as they are brought to the surface. If they survive the capture process, they often die of asphyxia due to air exposure, or are killed without pre-slaughter stunning. By-catch (e.g. non-target species that are inadvertently caught) that are thrown back into the sea often have little chance of survival.
In addition to the capture experience, the environmental conditions and fishery management regimes are serious welfare as well as environmental problems. Overfishing of target species remains common in Europe and globally, threatening the future of whole populations of fish and the delicate balance in aquatic ecosystems. Non-target, by-catch animals are often killed, injured or highly stressed during capture, and the survival rates for those thrown back to the water can be low.
With more attention on welfare aspects of commercial fishing, better practices can be introduced and enforced, and the gap can be closed between the welfare experience of fish, consumer expectations, and the development and application of higher welfare practices.