Welfare Concerns of Fish Farms

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Brief Summary of Welfare Concerns of Fish Farms
Bradley Varner (2022)

Farm fisheries, like the rest of the agricultural industry, continue to expand to meet the needs of the American consumer. The economic argument is that as demand increases, so must supply. With these domestic fish farms continually growing, the fish are exposed to a number of issues that include improper facilities, unethical feedings, and inhumane killings. When observing the history of fish farm developments, alongside an outline of how the facilities are built to maximize production, the threat to the fish Americans consume on a daily basis is apparent.

An analysis of the anatomy of fish is a prime way to frame the issue of how the fish are treated on a fishery farm. There are certain needs that must be met in order to best care for the fish. This includes looking at specific features of a fish such as protection of the gill structure, fins, and the outer layer of scales. When exposed to certain conditions, like overcrowding and concrete flooring in the tanks, those important anatomical features are threatened.

An animal welfare understanding of how to treat animals applies to companion animals, like dogs, and should also be applied to agricultural animals like cows and fish. The baseline standard is looking at the “Five Freedoms,” which establish welfare principles. When each of these freedoms are met, the animal is treated humanely, which respects their welfare needs. However, when looking at the Five Freedoms and what conditions these fish are exposed to, violation of fish welfare occurs in many fish farms.

When looked at holistically, the fish on these farms are reared without any notion of those Five Freedoms. Advocates suggest that there needs to be a thorough overhaul of how farm fisheries currently operate to lessen the pain and suffering the fish deal with on a daily basis. Significant steps have been taken over the years to improve the welfare of agricultural animals, but the welfare of fish has been sitting on the sideline with little concern.

Overview of Welfare Concerns of Fish Farms
Bradley Varner (2022)

The Animal Welfare Act is the primary example of a law that states the standards for which each animal must be treated. Certain requirements must be met, or harsh punishments may be levied to the parties responsible. Over the last decade, much attention has been paid to the treatment of agricultural animals. However, agricultural animals are excluded from protection under the AWA. Despite this, cows and swine have seen some of the more favorable changes in the past decade. The same is not true for another source of animal production: fish raised in farm fisheries. In fact, very little is known to the public of how these fish are treated. The average consumption by an American is roughly 16 pounds per year. Where the consumer is more than willing to eat the fish provided, the public has very little awareness of how these fish are raised.

Domestic fish farms harvest over 114.5 metric tons of fish per year such that raising fish from spawn to maturity is the most profitable practice. There can be tens of thousands of fish per farm spanning the entire life cycle. This technique raises a host of concerns for the ethical treatment of fish. Each step on the life cycle welcomes new issues that ignore any level of respect for the fish through avoiding unnecessary pain and suffering.

Current fishery farm practices endanger the anatomy of the fish. For instance, gills must have ample room to expand and be exposed to clean, moving water to function properly. The fish also rely on a series of sensors along the lateral portion of their body in order to sense its location in the water and what is around it, including predacious fish. Sufficient space for the fins to expand can be hindered when there are too many fish in a small area, leading to atrophy and preventing that fish from being able to move freely. There is a pattern here: to remain profitable, there must be a high concentration of fish in a single tank. Exceeding a healthy population affects each biological need of the fish to remain physically fit.

Beyond a lack of space, fish are exposed to contaminated water and do not get the proper nutrition due to that overcrowding. The concrete tanks do not meet the habitat needs of the fish and can damage parts of those fish like that lateral line, meaning infection may run rampant through a single tank. Overcrowding fish and lack of food increases competition within the tanks, leading to more fighting, causing disease and injuries leading to mass fish death.

Related articles

Legislation to Protect the Welfare of Fish, Kelly Levenda, 20 Animal L. 119 (2013).

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Related Links

Web Center Links:

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Topic Area

External Links:

Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC): Fish Farms: What Is Fish Farming and Why Is It Bad? (2022)

OIE (World Organization for Animal Health), Ch. 7.1, Introduction to the Recommendations for Animal Welfare, Terrestrial Animal Health Code (2010), available at https://www.oie.int/fileadmin/Home/eng/Health_standards/tahc/2018/en_chapitre_aw_introduction.htm.

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