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The scale of fish farming exposed

News Section Icon Published 2/7/2023

Sea bass in vats of ice slurry on a Greek fish farm

Phil Brooke, Dr Elena Lara and Dr Natasha Boyland who are part of our Rethink Fish team, have co-authored a fascinating new research paper, with lead author Alison Mood. The study, published in Animal Welfare, estimates the global number of individual farmed fish slaughtered between 1990 and 2019.

Alison Mood, runs – a website to increase understanding of fish sentience and raise awareness of the welfare issues in fish farming and commercial fisheries.

Staggering numbers

Although fish are now widely recognised as sentient beings, production is still being quantified by mass, rather than numbers of individual animals slaughtered as with farmed mammals and birds.

Global farmed fish production has increased hugely, from 9 million tonnes in 1990 to 56 million tonnes in 2019. Using this data, authors of the study calculated individual figures from estimates of individual weights at slaughter.

The study reveals that since 1990, the number of farmed fish killed annually for food have increased 9-fold, to a staggering 78-171 billion (estimate midpoint 124 billion) in 2019. However, the actual figure is likely to be higher still, as it does not represent the total number farmed due to mortalities during rearing.

These estimates indicate that farmed fish – the majority of which are produced in Asia – are now likely to outnumber the 80 billion farmed birds and mammals killed globally each year for food.

Insufficient legal protection

Inhumane slaughter practices cause immense suffering for farmed fish. Yet, despite being sentient – capable of feeling pain and experiencing a range of emotions – less than 1% of fish have any species-specific legal protection at slaughter. In practice, most suffer long and agonising deaths.  

Phil Brooke, Compassion in World Farming’s Research Manager, who co-authored the report with lead author, Alison Mood, of Fishcount, said: “This new study reveals a massive increase in the number of farmed fish slaughtered over a 30 year period and highlights the urgent need for legislation to protect their welfare.

“It shows that around 124 billion individual fish are now slaughtered each year. These are sentient creatures who not only feel pain and experience fear but also experience a range of emotions. There are now more farmed fishes than farmed birds and mammals yet most farmed fish have no species-specific legal protection at all and this must be addressed.

“Fish welfare legislation is now urgently needed across the world to ensure all fish farmed have lives worth living and experience a humane death and we call on the EU and other legislative bodies to introduce new welfare laws at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Read more about our Rethink Fish campaign.


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