Art installation at Westminster Hall puts fish welfare in focus

Artist Isabella Cotier has unveiled a travelling mural that highlights the plight and unnecessary suffering of farmed fish at slaughter.

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
20 October 2022, at 7:33am
Art installation at Westminster
Cotier's Tea in a Fish Farm installation

Cotier wanted to remind viewers that fish have their own agency and deserve respect

Two images appear on the mural – one of human characters sleeping atop giant fish, and another of five figures drinking tea underwater inside a sea cage, used for fish farming.

Cotier explained, “the underwater world is a source of wonder and inspiration, from harmonious relationships between humans and animals shown in documentaries like My Octopus Teacher to the dazzling explorations of Jacques Cousteau. I want to remind the viewer that fish are creatures with their own agency who deserve respect like any other animal. Art is a great tool to help combat difficult subjects – I hope people will develop their own narratives hidden within the drawings and begin to question fish farming with an open mind.”

The art installation, unveiled outside Parliament in Westminster, was created to support The Humane League UK, whose Forgotten Fish Campaign calls on the Government to give farmed fish detailed protections at slaughter as other farmed species possess.

Ms Cotier’s work has previously featured in publications like The New York Times and Vogue, and her drawings have appeared on Gucci clothing.

Fish are the second most farmed species in the country after chickens, with up to 77 million slaughtered each year – more than pigs, cows, sheep, turkeys and ducks combined.

Amro Hussain, senior public affairs lead for The Humane League UK, said, “fish are the second most farmed animal in the UK. Millions are slaughtered each year, yet farmed fish have weaker legal protections at slaughter than other farmed animals. The evidence on fish sentience has been bulletproof for years, and their lack of legal protections can result in their slaughter being painfully botched. We can’t continue to neglect the welfare of millions of sensitive animals – the Government must act.”

Isabella Cotier standing with her art
Isabella Cotier with her Sleeping on Fishes mural

Cotier’s work has previously featured in publications like The New York Times and Vogue

The major species farmed in the UK are rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon. However, there is little oversight of their welfare at slaughter, and no legal provisions detailing how to kill fish in a minimally painful way.

This means that animal abuse is less likely to be detected or punished, as welfare is currently regulated by the fish farming industry itself.

Scotland is the third biggest producer of farmed salmon in the world – the biggest, Norway, already has a law mandating the pre-slaughter stunning of farmed fish.

Undercover investigations led by Animal Equality and Viva! have uncovered serious welfare violations against fish at slaughter, including animals being repeatedly clubbed incorrectly, having their gills cut with a knife whilst fully conscious, and slipping off conveyor belts and choking to death.

Sleeping on Fishes mural
Sleeping on Fishes mural

The government’s Animal Welfare Committee is due to release an opinion on the welfare of fish at slaughter this autumn

The government’s Animal Welfare Committee is due to release an opinion on the welfare of fish at slaughter this autumn – in the past, in opinions in 1996 and 2014, they recommended updating the law to provide detailed stunning and slaughter requirements for farmed fish.

YouGov polls commissioned by The Humane League UK show that 71 percent of the public support updating the law to include detailed stunning and slaughter requirements for farmed fish, as opposed to 45 percent of MPs and 55 percent of MSPs.