European Parliament recognises fish are sentient

Whether they are cold or wet blooded, small and cute, or big and ugly, Compassion campaigns for all farm animals, regardless of how much public sympathy is associated with them. This is why we care about fish as well as chickens, cows, sheep, turkeys and all animals reared for food on land or in water.

I started looking into aquaculture, or fish farming, in the early 1990s. My initial forays culminated in a report being published by Compassion in 1992 which showed how tens of thousands of fish are often crammed at high stocking densities into barren cages or pens.

Ten years later I reassessed the industry in a follow-up called, In Too Deep – Why Fish Farming Needs Urgent Welfare Reform. It was whilst debating issues with the fish farming industry in Edinburgh some years later that I realised that, though the debate within this area was fast moving, serious concerns about the welfare and environmental impact of fish farming remained. That is why I asked my close colleague and fish welfare expert, Peter Stevenson, to look deeper into what seemed to me to be the murky waters of this subject in 2007. Closed Waters was the result.

Nearly 20 years of study have reaffirmed our opposition to intensively farmed fish. Why? Because fish in these waterborne factory farms suffer serious problems, including frustration often of natural behaviours, physical injuries, increased susceptibility to disease, high mortality rates and, in some countries, inhumane slaughter methods. Compassion believes the transportation, confinement and slaughter of fish as well as the environmental impact of aquaculture, including on wild fish, birds and other wildlife, is an important issue in our campaign to end factory farming.

This is why I’m excited about recent developments in the European Union. A Report by the European Parliament has called for significant changes in aquaculture and the way fish are farmed. I’m proud to say that colleagues at Compassion have played an important role in making sure the welfare of fish is taken into account more seriously than ever before. And it’s progress that would not have been possible without you and your support. Thank you!

On June 17 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a Report to improve things in fish farming. The Report, ‘A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’, in the words of its proponent, Italian Socialist MEP Guido Milana, aims to improve “farming quality standards” and calls for improvements in the welfare of farmed fish.

The Report stresses that the new Lisbon Treaty “recognises fish as sentient beings” and commits the EU to paying “full regard to the welfare requirements of the animals”. The Report stresses the “need to reduce to a minimum the stress levels caused by farm density or transport and to search for more humane slaughter techniques, and the well-being of fish in general”. Also, the Report recommends that the European Fisheries Fund should focus support on farms which follow good practices thereby making them more economically viable for farmers to implement.

It is also too easy to forget about fish. To also think they don’t suffer. There is increasing scientific evidence that they are capable, in their own way, to experience the world in which they live. Scientists increasingly document how fish feel fear, distress and pain.

Even though there is hope for fish in the EU, we must be ever vigilant on their behalf throughout the world. For example, ‘super salmon’ – genetically modified fish that grow to adult size in half the time – could be available for human consumption in the US in two years if they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. What concerns me is that, if this happens, the company will then seek approval from the EU to market ‘super salmon’ here. We cannot let this happen! Fish need all the help we can give them. Please help us to turn back the tide on factory farming in our waters.

One Response to “European Parliament recognises fish are sentient”

  1. Dear Phil

    I understand that you are enthusiastic about the European Parliaments resolution to improve living conditions in aquaculture and I share this emotion partially while being rather sceptical about the outcome of it. The fish farming industry is just growing too fast; there is no tome to think it all over…

    May I take the opportunity to draw your attention to what ist to be found by the link you post in your own entry above:
    I have always been astonished and am still that CIWF makes a reference to MSC which is but al label for industrial fishing trying not to deplete its own resources but without any regard to the suffering of the animals concerned.

    Kind regards


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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.