Compassion has launched its #RethinkFish campaign to raise awareness of the sentience of fish and to address issues such as overcrowding on intensive fish farms, where disease and parasites can thrive, and the inhumane slaughter methods that are widely used.
Fish are sentient beings that lead complex lives and are able to feel pain, stress and fear, as well as exhibit positive emotions, social bonds and advanced intelligence.
Today, it is estimated that globally up to 3 trillion fish are killed annually for human consumption (and for the production of fish meal and fish oil), compared to 74 billion land animals.
Fish deserve a good quality of life and ensuring their wellbeing when they are caught and slaughtered is equally important and something that the food industry should be addressing in their fish welfare policies.
Intensively farmed fish are reared in highly stocked, barren pens and cages where disease, parasite infestation, fin, skin and scale damage, vertebral deformities, eye cataracts and heart problems are all prevalent.
Inhumane methods of fish slaughter are also widespread and include: submersion in a mixture of ice and water; suffocation in air; exposure to carbon dioxide; and bleeding without pre-stunning, which all cause considerable pain, fear and suffering, and which can be prolonged. For example, many fish remain conscious for hours during catching and processing and can suffer for several minutes after having their gills cut and left to bleed out.
In addition, key species of fish such as salmon and trout are carnivorous and are fed on diets high in fish meal made from wild caught fish; there is no humane slaughter of these fish and wild stocks are under severe pressure, making fish farming unsustainable.
Fortunately, more humane methods of fish slaughter do exist and are being developed and adopted across the industry.
For example, in 2017, Tesco was awarded the Best Innovation Award at Compassion’s Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards for their leading work to introduce a humane slaughter system for sea bass and sea bream into commercial practice. Find out more here.
As more consumers become aware of how fish are farmed and the associated sustainability issues, we expect to see a rise in demand for more humane farming and slaughter methods.
In a recent survey of 9,000 people across Europe by the polling agency ComRes, 79% of adults across the European markets tested said that the welfare of fish should be protected to the same extent as other animals eaten by humans, and that fish welfare should be protected better than it is currently.
The majority of respondents also reported that they would be willing to pay more for higher welfare products and that they would like information about fish welfare to be visible on the packaging of all fish products.
Eating less and better
With the consumption of fish on the rise due to the popularity of healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet advocating eating oily fish, or with people decreasing their red meat consumption and turning to eating more fish, we are witnessing the aggressive expansion of fish farming which is unsustainable.
Compassion has long been urging consumers to turn to more plant-based diets, where less meat and fish are eaten or where consumed, comes from higher welfare sources.
More and more people are turning towards ‘flexitarian’ and vegetarian diets, so there is a clear opportunity for industry to increase its plant-based offerings, as well as improve fish welfare and sustainability issues across the supply chain.
We urge food companies to be abreast of the growing consumer concerns and to ensure that all finfish farmed for food are humanely slaughtered and that they have supplier policies in place to ensure good welfare throughout life.
Compassion has developed a number of resources to help companies develop their policies on fish – find out more here.