Grant helps investigate welfare of wild-caught fish at slaughter

Published on
August 4, 2020

The Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) has announced a major grant to facilitate a review of the humane capture and slaughter methods used for commercially-caught fish. This work is part of an ongoing program of research to improve the welfare of fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods at slaughter, the organization said.

The GBP 166,000 (USD 218,000) grant goes to Nicola Randall, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Agriculture at Harper Adams University, in the U.K. Randall and her team will carry out a global, systematic review into the feasibility of developing and using methods of humane stunning or stun/killing for wild-caught fish, in order to minimize pain or distress in wild-capture commercial fisheries. The work, which has been made possible by a donation to the HSA, is expected to take two years to complete.

According to the HSA, billions of fish are caught for food every year, and the vast majority are not stunned before they are killed. There is also good evidence that many, if not most wild-caught fish, may experience significant suffering between the time they are captured and their death.

Randall, who is a specialist in the use of scientific evidence to support and underpin policy and decision making, will oversee the collation and analysis of a broad spectrum of existing information and data, including methods of capture and killing, and the location and number of fish caught. Through her research, the HSA hopes to uncover the true picture of what happens to fish on commercial fishing boats.

The evaluated results will inform a feasibility analysis of the sustainability of introducing and using humane stunning and stun/kill methods in terms of practicality, as well as economic, environmental, ethical, and social considerations. The organization hopes to pinpoint which fishing system, species of fish, geographical fishing area, etc., would be the most suitable to adopt commercially-viable stunning methods for wild-caught fish.

“We will use a systematic mapping technique to provide an overview of available evidence, identify gaps in knowledge and build a holistic picture. The findings will enable the HSA and other users to easily use the research to inform their decision making, and prioritise areas for future research,” Randall said.

According to a consumer video on the HSA’s website, research into fish anatomy and behavior indicates that fish can experience fear and pain, so scientific consensus is that finfish may be able to suffer. As a result, fish farms are encouraged to use welfare-friendly methods of slaughter, but little has been done for the welfare of commercially-caught fish.

“The sheer scale of the wild-capture fishing industry, combined with an almost complete absence of humane stunning, makes this one of the major animal welfare issues globally. This research forms a crucial part of our plan to explore the possibility that wild-caught fish might be humanely stunned in a similar, commercially-viable way to many farmed fish,” HSA CEO and Scientific Director Huw Golledge said.

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