Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is aiming to put fish welfare on the sustainability agenda of consumers and businesses with the launch of a new campaign.
The #RethinkFish campaign plans to raise general awareness of fish as sentient beings and tackle issues of welfare such as overcrowding and disease on intensive fish farms, and what CIWF describes as widespread inhumane slaughter methods.
Sentience is defined as the ability to feel pain, stress and fear as well as exhibit positive emotions, social bonds and advanced intelligence. While the welfare of land animals is governed by law, but the same level of protection is not afforded to fish.
It is estimated that globally up to 3 trillion fish are killed annually for human consumption, and for the production of fish meal and fish oil, compared to 74 billion land animals.
CIWF highlighted problems with intensive farming of fish such as salmon where barren conditions and high stocking densities provide ideal conditions for parasites such as sea lice to propagate.
It added that inhumane methods of fish slaughter, for example, by submersion in a mixture of ice and water; suffocation in air; exposure to carbon dioxide; and bleeding without pre-stunning, cause considerable pain, fear and suffering which can be prolonged.
The charity said that more humane methods of fish slaughter do exist and noted that certain businesses are already adopting better practices. It praised Tesco for the retailer’s pioneering work to introduce a humane slaughter system for sea bass and sea bream into commercial practice. Rather than live chilling conscious fish in ice slurry, which can take up to 40 minutes before unconsciousness occurs, fish are pumped onto the harvest vessel from their pens where they are electrically stunned and rendered unconscious which lasts to death following immersion in ice-slurry.
“Much needs to change to address the welfare issues for the vast numbers of fish that are farmed for our food,” said Dr Tracey Jones, director of food business at CIWF. “The first step is to ensure good welfare at slaughter and we’ve seen some industry progress in this area for certain species such as salmon and trout. Now is the time for food companies to be abreast of the growing consumer concern and to ensure that all finfish farmed for food are humanely slaughtered and that they have supplier policies in place to ensure good welfare throughout life.”