Tools For Welfare Improvements In Fish Aquaculture
In 2018, a landmark was established in the fishing sector: for the first time, aquaculture overtook wild-caught production by tonnage, meaning that more people than ever before rely on aquaculture production as a source of food. Nevertheless, due to the increased competitiveness in the industry, companies have intensified their production to stay profitable, raising concerns about quality, sustainability, and the welfare conditions in which fishes are harvested.
Among the issues raised by its stakeholders, fish welfare is a key aspect to be addressed, once improvements in this topic not only can upgrade the life of trillions of conscious individuals that are slaughtered each year but also represent gains for the environment, businesses, and society.
In this setting, a recent report from the Fish Welfare Initiative identifies the challenges to improve fish welfare and, at the same time, provides to stakeholders the tools for overcoming these obstacles.
Divided into three sections, the report primarily distinguishes three essential conditions for properly improving fish welfare in aquaculture: first, a general understanding of the welfare issues faced by fish in farms; second, knowledge of the specifics surrounding the fish species, farming system, and local context being targeted; and third, a welfare assessment of specifically targeted fish in the farm environment, presenting Operational Welfare Indicators and methods to apply them.
After providing the necessary information to stakeholders to properly address fish welfare issues, the second section outlines actionable welfare improvements available for different aquaculture systems and for different actors in the aquaculture value chain. With this broad approach, the report suggests improvements not only for the producers but also to policy makers, researchers, and NGOs. For this last group, the report highlights the importance of coordination between multiple strategies and organizations to increase fish welfare awareness and ensure the enforcement of OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health) Animal Welfare Standards, among other suggestions that include improving training around fish welfare and influencing improvements in legislation.
Finally, in the third and last section, the know-how from previous sections is tested in the context of Indian carp aquaculture. Being the third-largest aquaculture producer after China and Indonesia, India was selected by FWI after a process that considered its high production levels, strategic viability, attitudes towards fish, among other criteria.
After visiting around 60 farms across multiple Indian states, 17 surveys were obtained. Despite the number of surveys being modest given the number of farms in India, the information collected was used to outline and support preliminary research on aquaculture welfare-related issues and possible mitigation procedures.
Finalizing this last segment, the report describes potential welfare improvements for catla and rohu species, in the following areas: feed and nutrition, water quality and flow, stocking density, handling, diseases and parasites, breeding selection, social stress, predators, transport, and slaughter. Also, the report identifies water quality as the improvement to be prioritized in the Indian context due to its large impact on fish wellbeing and tractability.
Considering that aquaculture is still in its infancy compared to other food sectors, FWI believes that there are opportunities to positively direct the growth of this sector. To do that, the organization highlights the importance of a collective effort to address fish welfare challenges, including NGOs, producers, corporations, and governments.
As new researchers are showing fishes’ true capabilities, confronting the stereotypes held by many, FWI envisions a world where fishes have interests protected in a way that reflects their status as sentient beings. Thus, the report is expected to be a step towards safeguarding fish, the planet, and humans.