Time to stand up for fish

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Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Compassion investigates welfare credentials of fish certification labels

Shoppers looking to well-known fish certification labels for higher standards of animal welfare are likely to be disappointed, according to the findings of a new investigation carried out by my team here at Compassion.

In analysis published today, fish certified by the five largest schemes: Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Best Aquaculture Practices, Friend of the Sea, Global G.A.P., and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are all too often likely to suffer miserable lives in overcrowded tanks and cages or experience prolonged, painful deaths.

Marksmen are hired to kill seals that are reputed to prey on factory farmed fish | Credit: DejaVu

Practices permitted by some of these schemes include:

  • Starving fish for up to 14 days.
  • Overcrowding fish into small tanks or sea cages.
  • Inflicting a slow, painful death without adequate stunning.
  • Shooting wild seals and harming dolphins.

Please do read our full analysis at

Fish Certification schemes would say that their primary focus has been sustainability and the environment, which of course is hugely laudable.

However, the time to address animal welfare as a central pillar of sustainability is long overdue.

Animal welfare science has shown that fish feel pain and suffer, being complex and emotional creatures. Studies have shown that when in pain, fish will pay a high price to gain access to painkillers. In one learning test, cleaner wrasse were shown to outperform chimpanzees, orangutans and capuchin monkeys in a complex task.

Yet every day the suffering of millions of farmed and wild-caught fish is ignored around the world. This has gone on for far too long.

I’ve been working on fish welfare issues for thirty years now and find it ever more difficult to understand why fish welfare isn’t given the weight now thankfully afforded to land-based animals.

Sick and dying farmed rainbow trout | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Twenty years ago, I remember visiting a trout factory farm in Germany with government officials, vets and other welfare experts: I was incredulous at how they watched fish in obvious distress without a word of criticism or alarm. Lots of the fish had worn tails from rubbing the sides of the tanks and each other. Some had raw red flesh exposed above their tails; others had no tails at all. They were crowding round the water inlets, desperate for oxygen. Ten years on, the memories of that day remain vivid. I can still see the fish swimming in appalling conditions and the huddle of legislators and vets, looking down at them and saying nothing.

Since that time fish farming has boomed with aquaculture now the fastest growing area of factory farming. In terms of numbers of animals concerned it is also the largest area of factory farming.

It is beyond time for urgent action to improve the welfare of all fish, farmed and wild.

Fish deserve and warrant our protection and respect. In my view all fish certification schemes should and must use their power to help to advance and protect fish welfare.


Please support fish welfare by acting today and emailing the CEOs of the five largest certification schemes.

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