If you choose to eat fish you need to consider few factors. Wild caught fish had a natural life but usually suffer throughout the capture process and are nearly always killed inhumanely.
Farmed fish are often kept in unnatural conditions with little respect for their natural behaviour. They live in high stocking densities which can cause bad water quality and parasitic infestations. Some of farmed species are killed using humane methods (all Soil Association and RSPCA labelled fish) but many are killed inhumanely (eg seabass and seabream within the EU).
Carnivorous species like Salmon, Trout or Seabass are usually fed with feed containing a big proportion of fish oil and fishmeal. To obtain those products large quantities of small wild caught fish are needed. Again, these are not caught humanely.
Look for the Marine Stewardship Council logo to ensure wild-caught fish is sustainable. MSC unfortunately do not have welfare criteria listed in their certification.
If you do buy farmed fish, buy Soil Association organic for higher welfare standards. Otherwise fish may have suffered in over-crowded tanks, experienced unacceptable periods of starvation and been slaughtered inhumanely.
Fish are the most utilised animals on Earth. Up to three trillion individuals are killed for food every year. They are able to feel pain, pleasure and other emotions throughout their lives. Despite this, fish receive very little legal protection and are either farmed in terrible conditions or caught using extremely cruel methods.
Fish are aquatic vertebrates that live in the sea and fresh water. Most fish have highly developed senses with excellent taste, smell and colour vision. They also have a ‘lateral line system’ of receptors that can detect the motion of currents, nearby fish and prey.
They are sentient animals: capable of feeling pain, and experiencing a range of emotions. Scientific evidence has revealed that fish are far more intelligent than people assume. They have long-term memories, complex social structures, problem solving abilities, and some have been seen using tools.
Fish are eaten by people around the world and are either caught from the wild or farmed, which is known as aquaculture.
Fish farming today
Some scientists have predicted that by 2048, stocks of all species of sea fish will have collapsed, largely due to over-fishing. Meanwhile, aquaculture is growing rapidly. In 1970 around 5 per cent of the fish we ate came from farms. Today, around half of the fish we eat has been farmed. Globally, between 40-120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered for food each year.
Farmed fish are reared in large numbers in crowded enclosures. These may be situated on land or in rivers, lakes or at sea. The vast majority of Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout consumed around the world are farmed intensively. Other species commonly farmed include carp, catfish, sea bass, and tilapia.
When fish become fish feed
Although aquaculture may seem like a solution to the problem of over-fishing wild stocks, it can actually add to the issue. As many of the species farmed are carnivorous, they are fed largely on wild-caught fish. Over 450 billion fish are caught each year for reduction to fish oil and fishmeal, which is then fed to farmed fish.
This means even greater numbers of fish are taken from the oceans and rivers for use as feed, than if they were eaten by humans directly. This is very unsustainable.
For example, to produce one tonne of farmed salmon it takes about two and a half tonnes of wild-caught fish, such as anchovies. Due to the small size of anchovies, this can mean that 500 individuals must be caught and killed for fish oil, just to produce one salmon.
There are also serious welfare concerns about how wild fish are caught and slaughtered. To find out more about the welfare of wild fish visit www.fishcount.org.uk and for information on sustainable fishing see www.msc.org.
In fish farms, large numbers of fish are confined in a small area which can cause serious welfare problems. Salmon, while around 75cm long, can be given the space equivalent of just a bathtub of water each.
Overcrowded fish are more susceptible to disease and suffer more stress, aggression, and physical injuries such as fin damage. Along with lack of space, overcrowding can also lead to poor water quality, so the fish have less oxygen to breathe.
The behavioural requirements of most of the fish species used in aquaculture are poorly understood. It is unlikely that the conditions in intensive farming meet even the basic needs of fish.
For example, rearing fish in cages prevents their natural swimming behaviour. Salmon are migratory, and would naturally swim great distances at sea. Instead, they swim in circles around the cage, rubbing against the mesh and each other.
Food is often withheld from farmed fish before a stressful procedure, such as transport or grading (sorting into groups of similar size), and slaughter. No more than two or three days are normally needed to empty the gut, but some fish may be starved for two weeks or more.
Death by suffocation
Farmed fish are slaughtered by a range of methods. Some methods cause immense suffering, such as gassing with carbon dioxide or cutting the gills without stunning. Some fish are simply left to suffocate in air or on ice, or may be processed while still alive. Other methods are more humane, such as electrical stunning or a strike to the head.
There are alternatives to intensive farming of fish with much higher welfare potential.
Higher welfare alternatives for fish
Higher welfare farmed fish
Fish can be farmed more humanely than conventional intensive farming. Organic standards, such as those set by the Soil Association, improve the welfare of farmed fish.
Contrary to organic standards for other animals, fish may still be confined in cages. However organic farmed fish benefit from more space and are slaughtered using more humane methods. In addition, Soil Association organic standards limit starvation periods and only allow wild fish to be used as feed for farmed fish if they were sustainably caught.
Wild-caught fish do not experience the welfare problems of being reared in cages, but are still largely slaughtered by inhumane methods - see www.fishcount.org.uk.
The sustainability of wild fish stocks is also under serious threat. Wild fish from sustainable stocks are available - for more information visit www.msc.org.
Millions of fish are silently suffering in vast underwater factory farms across Europe. And out of sight, fish fight for their lives when being killed in ways so painful they are illegal according to European Law. These fish need your help.
For just £6 a month you can help end the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet
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