Integrating fish welfare into EU aquaculture development

13 Feb 2020
This morning, the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals met to discuss fish welfare in the EU aquaculture. The number of farmed fish is higher than any other farmed animals and the fish farming sector is still quickly growing. Science demonstrated that fish are sentient beings and that they express complex behaviours. However, the welfare of fish has not been translated into existing legislation in terms of specific or implementable provisions. As most of European aquaculture is relatively young, it would be possible to integrate welfare in the early stage of the development of the sector.

Doug Waley, Fish Welfare Programme Leader at Eurogroup for Animals, opened the floor to explain the added value of higher animal welfare in aquaculture. Currently, the General Farming Directive 98/58, the Slaughter Regulation 1099/2009, and Transport Regulation 1/2005 explicitly mention the welfare of farmed fish but they do not provide any specific and implementable provision. Among other issues, Doug Waley stressed the current welfare problems related to hatcheries and egg collection, handling, the lack of appropriate equipment, and the limited environment in which fish are confined. As fish immune systems do not function well under stress, low welfare has a clear impact on their health, in contradiction with the citizens’ and consumers’ demand for higher quality and welfare products. 

He then presented some policy opportunities to improve the welfare of fish in the EU. The Commission is currently drafting the Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of Aquaculture. This document will establish the priorities and the access for subsidies for the period 2021-2027. The full inclusion of fish welfare in the Guidelines would be required to ensure that appropriate resources and instruments are available to deliver effective change, such as the development of species-specific welfare indicators or the establishment of a fish welfare reference centre. In the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, it would also be important that the call for an increase in seafood consumption follows the recommendation from the Commission's Food from the Oceans report that low trophic levels like algae must be the focus of any increase in production. 

Michiel Fransen, Head of Standards & Science at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), then explained how a welfare based approach in private standards can lead to a more sustainable and responsible aquaculture. The ASC develops market-based mechanisms that help to guide the fish industry towards more sustainability through a third-party certification. The standards are transparent, developed with all stakeholders, and science-based. They are currently covering fish farming and feed. Michiel Fransen stressed the gap in scientific information available depending on the species. However, as science is developing fast, new data will continue to create opportunities for new standards or for new assessment methods. He also mentioned the need to increase education and awareness on fish welfare among fish farmers and consumers. 

The presentations were followed by a lively debate between the Members addressing, among other, slaughter, stress-level, social indicators, scientific assessment and evidence on sentience, fisheries, and energy and protein feed-to-food conversion efficiency. They debated priorities and potential actions from the Parliament. The Integroup also welcomed a new Vice-President, Sarah Wiener (AT, Greens/EfA).

The livestream recording and the presentation are available here.

Andrew Skowron / Otwarte Klatki