Shannon Noelle Rivera AW 7002: Animal Welfare Issues I
As many modern consumers move away from traditional meat-based diets, seafood is oftentimes viewed as a healthy alternative. Fish consumption has reached an all-time high in recent years (2), in large part due to what people are calling the ‘Blue Revolution’. The Blue Revolution describes the booming aquaculture industry that, like the preceding Green Revolution, promises to “rapidly increase productivity through technology-driven aquatic animal and plant production” (1, pp.1). Aquaculture refers to the farming of aquatic organisms including mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic plants and fish (1) and because it is a controlled and planned production it has been viewed as a sustainable and more humane alternative to overfishing in the oceans. Unfortunately, this is not an accurate depiction of this multibillion dollar industry. The aquaculture or fish farming industry is closely interconnected with open water fisheries and brings about similar ecological and animal welfare concerns. With attention focused on ethical responsibility and refining existing practices it could move towards becoming more sustainable.
A common misconception with regard to aquaculture is that if more fish are made available from these controlled caged farms, then fewer fish would need to be extracted from the ocean, lessening the impact on the ecosystem. In actuality, aquaculture does not take the strain off of wild fish populations or the environment at all; nearly 40 percent of all global wild-caught fish and other seafood is used to make food for the farmed fish (3). Since four kilograms of wild-caught fish are needed to produce one kilogram of farmed fish (6), this makes the conservation claims of the industry questionable. This also does not exclude aquaculture’s use of wild-caught fish means they must share in the responsibility for the ecological damage and welfare abuses that are associated with open water fisheries. In fact, aquaculture adds to the environmental problems by introducing exotic species to surrounding environments which can create invasive problems and threaten ecological balance and the welfare and survival of many native species (7).
Animal welfare abuse becomes apparent when the fish being raised for food are examined. In comparison to other species that are raised for food, fish are unprotected because there are no laws directly related to fish welfare (4). Despite convincing research indicating that fish do experience suffering and pain (4), legislative bodies have been slow to grant them the same protections as other production animals. Unfortunately, from rearing to slaughter, aquaculture imposes stressful and inhumane living conditions at every stage and the larger the operation, the more welfare impacts there seems to be. There are small scale aquaculture facilities that put more consideration into the care of the fish and incorporate humane methods for killing fish. Stunning and spiking are the two fast and humane methods for killing fish, both involving a blow or spike to the head rendering the fish unconscious until dead (5). These methods are labor intensive because the fish need to be stunned or spiked individually so it is not practical for large scale fishing operations. The current common slaughter methods do not minimize fear and pain and do not kill the fish quickly (4).
With the global human population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 (2), aquaculture will remain an essential industry and economic models have proven that a focus on increasing fish welfare leads to better production levels and better-quality fish products. Change needs to come from the entire chain of stakeholders; the owners, consumers, producers and legislators all need to take responsibility for their part in a sustainable reformation. By restructuring this technologically-advanced industry to becomes an ecologically-based model that lessens environmental degradation and animal welfare concerns it could become a sustainable food supplier for the future.
1. Culver, K. Castle, D (eds.) 2008. Aquaculture, Innovation and Social Transformation. Springer Science and Business Media B.V. pp 1-13
2. FAO. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome. pp 1-200. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf [accessed 4 Dec 2017]
3. Gibson, D., Sumaila, U.R. 2017. How Small-Scale Are Fisheries in British Columbia? Ocean Canada UBC Fisheries Centre. Working Paper #2017-03
4. Levenda, K., 2013. Legislation to protect the welfare of fish. Animal Law, 20, p.119.
5. Mood, A. 2010. Worse things happen at sea: the welfare of wild-caught fish. FishCount UK Report. pp 4-5.
6. Reuters. 2003. Fish farming is 'devastating stocks'. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/feb/18/food.fish [accessed 4 Dec 2017]
7. Shwartz, M. 2000. Fish farming: the downside of shrimp cocktails. Stanford Report.