Wild-caught fish

The capture experience of wild fish is typically violent and lasts for up to several hours.

In the wild capture fishery sector – an old and conservative sector – fish welfare is not on the agenda.

The various methods of capture all subject fish to injury or distress. Fish may be left to starve for days on the end of a long line or in a trap where they are vulnerable to attacks from predators, or be crushed to death in the pressure of a large commercial trawl net with thousands of other fish. Gill nets snare fish by the gills, and they are unable to free themselves. 

Removing fish from their aquatic home subjects them to pain and suffering as their gills collapse preventing breathing, and their internal organs burst as a result of the dramatic change in pressure from rising to the surface.

Fish may be hit on the head to cause unconsciousness – sometimes multiple times, as revealed by Animal Equality’s exposé of the tuna industry – or have their gills sliced open and be left to bleed to death while still conscious. Most frequently, they are left to suffocate over a period of hours. If they survive this, they are often gutted alive. 

Between 830,000,000,000 and 2,400,000,000,000 fish per year are wild-caught globally.  

Fish killed for human consumption are so numerous and poorly documented that it is impossible to place an exact figure on the number of deaths.

Non-target animals such as other fish, marine mammals and other living creatures can be caught in vast numbers. 

These animals are considered ‘bycatch’, with no commercial value, and are often simply cast back into the sea, dead or dying. Their living environments are destroyed, polluted and encroached upon not only by fishing but by shipping, extractive industries and increasingly, windmills at sea.

IN A YEAR, AS MANY AS

1980 billion

FISH ARE WILD-CAUGHT GLOBALLY

IN A 2018 SURVEY,

60%

OF RESPONDENTS BELIEVED THAT FISH FEEL PAIN

54%

OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS BELIEVED THAT FISH ARE SENTIENT

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

By proving that fish can and do suffer, research in 2003 opened up discussion in both public and political spheres on the human obligation to protect fish. Since then, increasing evidence has shown that some species demonstrate tool use and cooperation with others and exhibit complex social skills and even self-awareness, previously only attributed to humans, great apes and some dolphin and whale species.

In a 2018 survey, the majority of respondents believeD that fish are sentient beings (65%), feel pain (73%) and feel positive (55%) and negative (65%) emotions. With their heightened awareness of global crises such as climate change and extinction, the public is becoming increasingly concerned about the wild fishery industry posing an environmental and biodiversity problem, as well as causing animals suffering and pain.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Under EU law, fish welfare is covered by Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty, which states: “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

While the welfare of farmed fish is covered by the EU legislation on rearing, transport and slaughter, the welfare of wild-caught fish is not. However, effective and humane fish slaughter methods are available not only for fish farmers but also for fishermen.

Eurogroup for Animals wants to see wild capture fishery policies include their first welfare objectives.

The most urgent changes needed are humane methods of stunning and killing wild caught fish immediately after landing; time limits for the duration of capture, and methods of landing that minimize time out of water and injuries; prohibition of the use of live fish as bait; modifying fishing gear and practices to reduce bycatch; a reduction in ghost fishing (abandoned, lost and discarded nets that continues to fish and trap animals); and banning gear such as gill nets or other methods that cause stress and injury. 

We will continue to work with member organisations, supporting and facilitating their fish advocacy, and lobby for fish welfare to be included in future trade agreements.