Aquatic Animal Welfare Defined for the First Time

Every year, approximately two to three trillion aquatic animals are killed in the wild and 100 billion are farmed in high suffering conditions, with aquaculture being the fastest growing food sector. But there is still a major gap in the public’s understanding of aquatic animal welfare. The Aquatic Life Institute (ALI) is leading a new effort to define what aquatic animal welfare looks like by spearheading research and forming the first-ever coalition for aquatic animal welfare.

ALI’s work comes at a critical juncture. Researchers have found that aquatic animals are sentient beings and deserve the same welfare protections as terrestrial animals. Together with global experts, ALI has created a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive guide to welfare for wild and farmed aquatic animals. Below is a brief overview of the five pillars while more details are available here:  

  1. Enriched Environment: Create an environment that meets species-specific ethological needs analogous to their ideal habitat.
  2. Feed Composition & Feeding: Reduce the amount of wild-caught animals required for aquaculture feed by researching alternative feed sources, improving feed conversion ratios, and substituting carnivorous farmed species with herbivorous species. Strive for the most optimal feeding times and quantities and avoid starvation periods exceeding 72 hours. 
  3. Space Requirements & Stocking Density: Maintain appropriate space by species and life stage to avoid negative physical, psychological, and behavioral impacts.
  4. Water Quality: Monitor key water quality indicators continuously or at least once a day.
  5. Stunning & Slaughter: Effectively stun all animals before slaughter, minimize the time elapsed between stunning and slaughter to lower the risk of consciousness being recovered.

This groundbreaking research has formed the basis of ALI’s advocacy work, focused on some of the largest product certification programs in the world because the majority of the world’s “sustainable” fish labels do not cover animal welfare. In fact, ALI created the Aquatic Animal Alliance (AAA)—a coalition made up of leading animal protection organizations—to do just that: advocate for change with a collective voice and to ensure that industry follows through. 

“We want all labeling schemes to take into account the welfare of aquatic animals required in the entire chain of aquaculture production, including cleaner fish, feeder animals, and broodstock, as well as the process of catching fish in the wild used for aquaculture and livestock feed,” said Becky Jenkins, Executive Director of ALI.

This year, the AAA has already submitted joint feedback to some of the most widely used labeling schemes in the world, urging them to incorporate aquatic animal welfare into their standards. The schemes include GlobalG.A.P., Best Aquaculture Practices, and Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

“This is just the beginning of a coordinated movement to draw attention to and improve existing fish product certification standards,” said Jenkins.