Animal welfare group targeting aquaculture industry with new campaign

Published on
February 9, 2018

The U.S.-based animal welfare group Mercy for Animals is laying the groundwork for a campaign targeting the aquaculture industry’s treatment of fish, according to National Public Radio.

Mercy for Animals Executive Vice President Nick Cooney told NPR his organization’s campaign would be consumer-focused. [Editor's note: Cooney no longer works for Mercy for Animals, according to representative of the organization].

“For individual consumers, our goal is simply to educate them on the way these animals are being treated. Our research studies have found that when people learn about these things – that half the fish being used in the food industry are coming from factory farms, or are confined in tanks with dirty water; that sea lice eats away the flesh and faces of fish – that educating them leads to more compassionate choices,” Conney said. “And for large companies, our hope in the coming years is that if we show them their customers care, they'll eliminate the worst practices in their supply chains."

However, the NPR story acknowledges that concern for fish welfare may not capture the public imagination the way “warm-blooded, furry animals have.” 

Further, “defining what constitutes humane treatment of fish may be a tricky proposition of its own. For one thing, the debate over whether fish are sentient and feel pain is far from settled,” the NPR story noted. [SeafoodSource investigated this issue with a two-part series in January]

Craig Watson, who runs the Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory at the University of Florida, said fish do not feel pain.

"The science is clear that fish lack the neurophysiology to feel pain. They don't have the brain structure – a developed neocortex where pain occurs in higher vertebrates,” he said.

But at the same time, Watson, who is also chair of the aquatic animal welfare committee for the seafood growers group, National Aquaculture Association (NAA), said the debate should be about animal welfare, not pain.

“It's not an argument of whether fish are emotional and conscious, that's a personal belief in many ways,” he said. “What's important is the welfare of the animal."  

Seafood industry conferences, including the SeaWeb Seafood Summit, are beginning to reflect public concern over the issue by increasingly “including sessions focused on welfare issues for farm-raised fish,” NPR reported.

In addition, at least one supermarket, Whole Foods, requires suppliers to ensure their operating conditions “should minimize stress to fish during harvesting, transport, and slaughter.”  

Reporting from the Caribbean

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