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A First for Fish in EU guidelines

News Section Icon Published 5/18/2021

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This week, the European Commission published its new guidelines for fish and seafood farms, which set out standard priorities and targets to ensure the sector is run and developed sustainably. This is the first time that a special section on fish welfare has been included in such guidelines.

Hugely encouraging

In this new section focusing on fish welfare, the Commission calls for the development of codes of practice for the welfare of fish during farming, transport and slaughter; the creation of species-specific welfare indicators; and more research on the welfare of farmed fish, as well as training producers on fish welfare.

Krzysztof Wojtas, our Head of Fish Policy, says, “We have been lobbying for the inclusion of animal welfare in the sustainability fish farming agenda so it is hugely encouraging to see the European Commission including a dedicated section on fish welfare in the new guidelines for fish and seafood.”

The sustainability debate

We are also pleased that the new guidelines support the cultivation of seaweed and molluscs, and that they promote extensive methods of production such as ponds or wetlands, as these can provide climate-mitigation services, such as carbon sequestration.

With an additional focus on sustainability, the guidelines also encourage producers to limit reliance on fishmeal and fish oil taken from wild-caught fish. However, for EU aquaculture to become sustainable, we must move away from the intensive farming of carnivorous species (like salmon, or sea bass and bream) that require feed which is mostly based on wild-caught fish.

The use of wild fish in feed is highly unsustainable; it removes a vital part of the oceanic food. Every year, up to a trillion wild fish are caught and killed inhumanely, only to be reduced in fishmeal and fish oil.

Just the beginning

However, the Commission’s work is far from over.

Fish are covered only very generally by legislation regarding farmed animals, and this lack of protection means that slaughter methods for fish are often inhumane. Fish are frequently killed by asphyxiation in air or ice slurry, or exposure to carbon dioxide gas; loss of consciousness and death by these methods is not quick, and suffering is unacceptably prolonged. Alternative stunning methods, such as electrical or percussive stunning, are available and can allow for a more humane death for many species.

“The new guidelines on fish welfare are certainly a step in the right direction,” says Krzysztof. “But they are just the beginning. In order to ensure both improved welfare and humane slaughter methods, the Commission must now implement species-specific legislation for farmed fish.”

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