fish farming

Fish farming

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Fish welfare in fisheries and fish farming

Fish comprise 16% of the animal protein consumed by the world’s population. As wild fishing stocks continue be depleted, fish farming has steadily increased. In total, over one trillion fish are caught or farmed every year.

Fish are kept on farms in closed, pen-like systems in the ocean or they are captured from the wild. Each has its own unique welfare concerns.

Fish sentience

Despite the progress made in understanding fish pain and consciousness, there is still a common misconception that fish do not experience pain as mammals and birds do. However, fish are vertebrates with a brain and central nervous system. Scientific research has proven fish suffer like other animals. They possess nociceptors, respond to noxious/painful events, react positively to analgesics and other behaviours indicative of pain or the avoidance of pain.

Fish farming

By weight, over one million metric tons of fish and shellfish were caught or farmed for consumption in Canada in 2015. The most common farmed species in Canada are Atlantic salmon, mussels, trout, oysters and clams.

Fish farms subject fish to conditions not unlike factory farming of land animals, where fish live in crowded, intensive conditions. Overcrowding results in injuries and diseases that are controlled with chemicals and antibiotics. They may be starved up to two weeks prior to slaughter to empty their stomachs to make them easier to clean.

These conditions are totally at odds with those that fish experience in the wild. Under natural conditions, wild salmon, for example, migrate up to hundreds of kilometres and end their lives after leaping upstream to spawn in the rivers where they were born.

Each fish farm is a system of cages. Each cage can contain thousands of fish and there is no legislation governing maximum stocking density.

The unnatural crowding of intensive confinement causes fish to suffer from several problems, including bullying from bigger fish, abrasions on fins, gills, skin and tails from rubbing against each other and the nets, abnormal behaviours, infestations of sea lice, diseases, oxygen starvation due to hot weather and/or waste build-up, and deformities. Caged fish must sometimes be handled to redistribute for size grading, medical treatments and salmon lice removal. This handling causes enormous stress and can result in death.

Capture fisheries

Their wild-caught cousins are subject to suffering caused during capture, landing and processing. The number of animals affected is very high: estimated in the order of 1 trillion fish caught each year, according to www.fishcount.org.uk.

Fish are pursued to exhaustion by nets. When raised from deep water, they suffer decompression effects, e.g. burst swim bladders. They may be spiked with hooks (gaffed) to bring them aboard, or caught on hooks, often for hours or days, or impaled live on hooks as bait.

In many types of commercial fishing, the duration of capture can be very long, lasting hours or even days. Once landed, most fish are either left to asphyxiate or die during further processing which may included gutting, filleting and/or freezing while alive and conscious.

Pertinent op-ed article about cruelty in the commercial fishing industry:

Free fish from their pain and suffering

by Peter Singer, published September 14, 2010 in The Globe and Mail