Are fish deserving of protections under the law’s animal welfare legislation? For many people, the very concept of fish welfare results in surprise.
But the welfare of fish is a topic for that’s recently being debated in the European Parliament – and has resulted in the Commissioner affirming that animal welfare has to be integrated into the long-term development of EU aquaculture.
39 MEPs from across the spectrum of political groups were asked why, in spite of calls from industry and Parliament to do more, the Commission has not taken any action to improve fish welfare. They called for a legislative proposal that harmonises standards across EU aquaculture, and for support into research concerning the needs of fish at different stages of the farming process. The importance of these measures for the fish, for meeting the expectations of consumers, and for supporting European aquaculture were repeatedly highlighted.
The question of fish sentience was raised in questions in relation to “broken industry practices”. The oral question that initiated debate – and the Commissioner’s response – followed a study by the Commission on the welfare of farmed fish during transport and slaughter. The study identified shortcomings in the achievement of the international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for the transport of common carp, and concluded that in the case of slaughter, only a minority of the EU’s aquaculture sectors achieve the international standards established by the OIE.
Other studies and discoveries back this up. Mass mortality, sea lice infestations and disease are ‘endemic’ on Scotland’s salmon farms, according to a 2018 report by OneKind. In the same year a shocking investigation by Essere Animali uncovered terrible conditions on Italian ‘factory farms’ for fish, and Compassion in World Farming and L214 revealed similar cases in several Mediterranean countries.
The Commission’s report that followed their own study concluded that standards are failing across Europe, but didn’t make any of the proposals necessary for change. In passing up the opportunity to introduce regulations, the Commission maintains that improvements in fish slaughter practices can equally be achieved by voluntary measures, and that any rules would be best made at Member State level.
The Director at Eurogroup for Animals stated: ”for farmed fish we want to see, at the very least, binding guidelines for keeping and handling fish, species-specific rules on slaughter and transport, reports on the number of fish being farmed, and more research on their welfare needs.”