The unseen and unfamiliar life of fish has given them low visibility in civil society, in policy circles, and in the animal welfare movement. The number of farmed fish outnumbers by far any other sentient animals farmed for food and the number of fish captured from the wild outnumber farmed fish by a factor of ten.
Farmed fish live their entire lives in captivity, reliant on external control of water quality, feed and health treatments, with regular handling and little consideration to slaughter processes. In wild capture fisheries, fish are often chased to exhaustion, crushed, raised quickly to air pressure, and then asphyxiated or processed alive.
With funding received from the Open Philanthropy Project to address fish welfare, Eurogroup for Animals will address the greatest level of suffering of the greatest number of individual fish.
The right time to act
Consensus arrived in the mid-2000s around science demonstrating high-level pain perception in fish, and examinations of fish behaviours are beginning to reveal a picture of fish as complex, social and emotional beings. Appreciation of these facts are not widespread in civil society, but came about in time for the principle of fish welfare to be recognised in a number of pieces of EU legislation.
Specific knowledge of fish experiences and needs is emergent. The publication at the end of 2017 of the European Commission’s report into welfare during transport and slaughter in European aquaculture is the opportunity to begin to move fish welfare protections beyond recognition of the principle, and into specific provisions making regulations enforceable with regard to fish.
Evidence of fishes’ sentience, and emergent knowledge of their behaviours and emotions, has given credibility to divers’ experiences and anecdotal evidence of the world of fish. These are increasingly coming through in media coverage and documentaries exploring the ocean environment and our understanding of fish.
This progress is mirrored in the animal welfare movement where organisations focused specifically on fish and aquatic creatures are increasingly visible, and multi-issue organisations increasingly include fish within their scope of work.
Eurogroup for Animals is working to put fish welfare on the European policy map, creating visibility on the topic among EU decision makers (European Parliament, Council and Commission), while pursuing specific regulatory opportunities. As the evidence base on fish welfare issues continues to emerge, there is a long-term role to integrate it into the regulatory framework addressing animal welfare more broadly.
Through Eurogroup for Animals’ fish welfare programme, we work closely with our member organisations across Europe. They play a fundamental role through their national advocacy efforts and awareness raising on fish welfare. We also work through a network of fish experts to bolster science on fish physiology, their behaviour, their needs and encourage the development of welfare indicators.
Eurogroup for Animals anticipates a long-term advocacy approach and awareness raising to ensure that fish welfare is high on the EU’s agenda.
Fish Welfare Programme Leader
Briefing, October 2016 (PDF)