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News Section Icon Published 01/04/2021

Positive change regarding the welfare of European fish might be coming our way: the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee has decided to conduct a Parliamentary Policy Department study on fish welfare.

MEP Francisco Guerreiro, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Portugal (Greens/EFA), has championed this issue. The study is certainly a step in the right direction and highlights the need for the European Union (EU) to adopt legislation, setting out minimum standards for the protection of farmed fish.

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MEP Guerreiro, 2019

Legislation needed

Fish welfare legislation is urgently needed. Around 70 species of finfish are currently farmed in EU countries, and the industry is rapidly evolving and growing. This is happening without proper consideration of the welfare needs of the fish and the quality of life that they experience.  

There is a vast amount of scientific evidence to show that fish are sentient and therefore have welfare needs. It tells us that fish are capable of affective states of pain, fear and psychological stress and it gives us many examples of impressive cognitive abilities and complex social behaviors expressed by these animals. European legislation also acknowledges fish as sentient beings.

Nevertheless, fish are insufficiently protected by EU law. The protection of farmed fish currently relies on voluntary guidelines being used by member states and taken up by producers. But the farmed fish in Europe experience unacceptable levels of suffering and the number of individuals affected is enormous. In the European Union alone, an estimated 500 million to 1.2 billion farmed fish were killed for human consumption in 2017. A joined-up approach is needed to ensure adequate legislation specific to fish across all member states and to position the EU as a world leader in fish welfare.

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The role of the policy study

It is essential to know the current state of play for farmed fish welfare and for the environmental consequences of this production. How well does current EU and member state legislation control the significant risks of aquaculture to the environment? How well are the current voluntary guidelines translated into good practices in various member states?

The approved study is needed to assess if the welfare of farmed fish, the antibiotic use, the environmental impact of fish farms and the sustainability of source of the fishmeal and fish oil used in carnivorous fish farming. We also need to know at what extent the above topics are covered by member states’ national legislation and compare these levels of guidance and control with the EU legislation and how well the welfare and environmental guidelines or legislation are currently being applied by industry in each of the EU member states. Such a study should address all these important issues in order to start the process for much required detailed legislation, setting out minimum standards for the protection of farmed fish.

“We are pleased that the Parliament’s fisheries committee has agreed to conduct the study,” said Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU. “This might be the steppingstone for the EU Parliament to take up this issue seriously. We must now make sure that it is properly used. I hope that we see legislative change soon.”

Exhibition From Above
#RethinkFish exhibition in the EU Parliament, 2019

What else is happening?

Compassion will continue working at several policy levels to achieve a better protection for fish in the EU. We are closely following the debate on the EU food strategy, Farm to Fork. We are also calling for a Revision of the General Farm Animal Directive 98/58 in order to incorporate new articles on species for whom there is no specific legislation, including fish.

We also participate in the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, organised by the European Commission to bring together the expertise of professional organisations, civil society and independent experts. There, we successfully campaigned for the EU Strategic guidelines for aquaculture to include fish welfare.

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