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The Welfare of Farmed Fish - FAWC Opinion

12 March 2012, at 12:00am

The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) is currently working to update a 1996 report which looks at thewelfare of farmed fish generally, andthe welfare of farmed fish at slaughter. The study, of which an outline is set out below, will assess whether the welfare of farmed fish has improved, declined or remained the same.

The study, which will be conducted over the next year will be carried out by the Pigs, Poultry and Fish Standing Committee, chaired by Professor Mike Appleby, and the Welfare at Killing Standing Committee, chaired by Professor Henry Buller.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council produced a Report on the Welfare of Farmed Fish in 1996, which was influential in raising the profile of animal welfare in the fish farming industry. Since the Council’s 1996 report there have been many changes both in understanding of fish welfare and in the industry. It is appropriate to review both progress and new issues that are arising in providing an assessment of whether the welfare of farmed fish has improved, declined or remained the same since 1996.

The 1996 report covered mainly salmon and trout. These are still the large majority in the UK, but an increasing diversity of species is farmed, including tilapia, sea-bass, cod, halibut and charr. Species differences are often ignored by people unfamiliar with the subject but many are profound. Fish are also markedly different in their physiology to terrestrial farmed species and the effect these differences have on the assessment of their welfare will need to be taken into account.

Welfare of farmed fish (excluding slaughter)

The number of animals involved is huge: a breeding unit may contain a million fry. There are many challenges in inspection and individual identification, especially at earlier developmental stages.

Systems are also very diverse, including tanks (which may re-circulate water), freshwater systems and sea nets. Major areas to be covered include environmental conditions (especially water quality), diseases and parasite infestation, nutrition, genetics, mutilations, emergency killing, movement/handling and transport.

Welfare of farmed fish at slaughter

The 1996 FAWC Report on the Welfare of Farmed Fish contained a section on ’Killing and Slaughter’, confirming the principle that “farmed fish must be killed humanely” (para 233). However, the considerable expansion of fish farming over the last 15 years, the introduction of new technologies and changes to the national and European regulatory and legislative context regarding both fish farming and killing, mean that a new informed Opinion is necessary.

EU Regulation No. 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing specifically excluded detailed provisions for farmed fish from its remit and this Opinion will give FAWC an opportunity to contribute to the additional scientific and economic opinion on the welfare of farmed fish at killing solicited by the EU in that Regulation.

Over 35 million farmed salmon and trout are reported to be slaughtered annually within the UK. While there has been an increasing centralisation (falling numbers of companies but increased production) of salmon and trout enterprises, other forms of fish farming have developed as part of small-scale agricultural diversification.

There is a variety of killing methods employed in the industry, some of which involve pre-stunning, others not. The welfare issues specific to each will be explored, and the need for further improvements in humane practice will be considered.

Consultation

If you have comments to offer about the welfare of farmed fish and the welfare of farmed fish at slaughter, please send them to Richard Aram at the FAWC Secretariat, Area 8B, 9 Millbank, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR (e-mail: richard. aram@defra.gsi.gov.uk) by 24 February 2012.

FAWC expects to hold a public consultation meeting in 2012, and shall write again with information on that in due course. Further information on the role of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is on the website http://www.defra.gov.uk/fawc.

The 1996 Report on the Welfare of Farmed Fish can be found at http://www.fawc.org.uk/reports/fish/fishrtoc. htm .

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