Fish Welfare In Indian Aquaculture: Research And Recommendations
Fish are capable of feeling pain and suffering, yet little attention is generally given to their welfare. Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector worldwide, with India being the second largest producer of finfish. Due to increasing demand, as well as government policy encouraging expansion of the industry, fish farming in India is becoming more intensive. With intensification comes the risk of increased issues in fish welfare, a risk made worse by general apathy towards the well-being of fish. This is the case even in places with otherwise strong animal welfare regulations.
To better understand fish welfare in India’s aquaculture production, researchers at the Fish Welfare Initiative visited 30 fish farms around the country, observing each site and speaking with owners. They also visited hatcheries and wholesale (wet) markets to see what conditions were like for fish throughout the entire supply chain.
Many of the farms visited by the researchers sold fish to resellers while they were still alive, and the netting and transporting process often caused the fish distress and injuries. Some were still alive when they arrived at the wholesale markets and these fish were often left out in the air for a period of time, before being killed by having their blood drained or head removed. Indian Major Carp were frequently descaled while still alive.
On the farms, researchers observed stagnant water, as well as garbage and animal or human waste in and around the ponds, which can lead to fish becoming ill. Conversations with farm owners revealed their concerns about water quality, disease and infections, as well as issues with a lack of qualified veterinary care and medicines to treat sick fish. Fish that were visibly diseased were seen at two sites, although researchers believed that the true number of farms with sick fish was probably higher. Encouragingly, most of the surveyed farm owners indicated that they’d be interested in working with NGOs to improve fish health.
Fish welfare work is not very common in most places around the world, including India, and so unique approaches are needed. Demonstrating the connection between fish welfare and other issues, such as human health, is recommended by the Fish Welfare Initiative. If fish are being raised so that people can eat them, it’s in people’s best interest to look after the well-being and health of fish. It’s also important to consider the well-being and livelihoods of people in India — many of whom live in poverty — in efforts to improve the lives of fish in aquaculture. Focusing on the human element is important in itself, and doing so also means that governments will be more likely to support any proposed changes.
According to the report, India has one of the most established animal protection movements in the world and the majority of Indian people support laws that require the humane treatment of animals used for food. It’s a good idea to engage with this pro-animal support to gather momentum for fish welfare advocacy. Finally, advocates must be mindful that welfare improvements in one area do not lead to greater costs in another. For example, what good is improving the water quality for fish if it then leads to farmers packing more fish into the same amount of space? More detailed advice can be found in the report, as well as suggestions of other avenues to explore in advocating for fish welfare in India.