A first for fish as the European Parliament hosts a high level political event, gathering fish professionals and political stakeholders to discuss fish welfare.
Experts including researchers from our own fish team, farmers, and certifiers voiced the value and importance of addressing fish welfare. MEPs also shared the political process they are pursuing to advance the issue and hold the European Commission to the findings of its own study.
Shoal of thought
Momentum has been building around the welfare of fish since consensus emerged that they are sentient and have the capacity to feel pain. At the end of 2017 the European Commission published a study into the welfare of fish during transport and at slaughter in European Aquaculture and followed this with a report to Parliament and Council.
Despite finding that international standards are being failed across most sectors of European aquaculture, the report disappointingly recommended that the European Union would take no action. This is something we contest: action is needed now.
Speakers and participants from research, policy, advocacy, and industry used the forum to demonstrate the range of issues and opportunities for enhancing fish welfare in European aquaculture.
During the discussions, MEPs announced the formation of a sub-group of the European Parliament Intergroup on the welfare and conservation of animals. The group is pursuing a motion in the Parliament in pursuit of specific and deliverable improvements in the welfare of Europe’s farmed fish.
Presentations by Commission officials emphasised that one of Europe’s largest aquaculture sectors, sea bass and sea bream in the Mediterranean, is failing to meet the World Animal Health Organisation standards, to which all EU Member States are signatories. They also confirmed that the common practice of asphyxiation in ice slurry fails standards and causes prolonged suffering.
Our Head of Fish Policy, Krzysztof Wojtas, commented in response to a European Commission representative: “The European Commission report is showing us that most of the fish in Europe are killed inhumanely. There is only one country with one species that is fully compliant with EU slaughter legislation (UK salmon) and that only makes up 3-4% of the numbers of farmed fish slaughtered each year in the EU.
"The report highlights that some countries are trying improve systems but they are not meeting the standards required. We need guidelines and legislation from the Commission for producers and a synchronised effort between member states, countries and producers to achieve higher welfare standards.”
He also said: “When it comes to farming methods, countries can learn from each other. When developing guidelines for improved farming methods fish need to be considered as individuals and we must look at the numbers of individual species that are being impacted.”
We’re hooked on fish welfare
The event coincides with the release of a new EU survey on fish welfare we commissioned in partnership with Eurogroup for Animals. This study shows that the majority of EU citizens recognise fish as sentient beings, that they feel both positive and negative emotions and that allowing fish to exhibit natural behaviours is among the most important aspects of ‘sustainable’ fish.
Krzysztof Wojtas, said: “Compelling evidence is growing that fish can suffer.
“When fish are taken out of water and left to suffocate, they often crush each other in their thousands. Fish are frequently denied their most basic needs under current legislation. I hope that today’s discussions are the beginning of a better way forward for fish welfare.”