Those who care about the welfare of fish and shellfish should opt for clams, mussels or seaweed, according to a new report, which says popular fish, including farmed salmon and Atlantic trout, have welfare needs more complex and more likely to experience pain and suffering.
There is no scientific evidence for the environmental and behavioral needs of nearly 80% of aquatic species, based on an analysis of more than 400 cultured species worldwide.
The “huge” lack of information “will translate into extreme suffering for individual animals,” said report co-author Becca Franks, a research scientist at New York University.
The report, published in the magazine Science Advances, found that not providing the proper environment and handling aquatic animals correctly can lead to birth defects, restricted mobility, aggressive behavior, and extreme pain during slaughter.
It recommends that the aquaculture industry focus on the cultivation of simpler species with fewer risks to welfare and the environment: algae and bivalves such as oysters, mussels and clams.
Highly intelligent animals like the octopus shouldn’t be raised at all, Franks said.
The global aquaculture industry, valued at $ 250 billion (£ 182bn), has skyrocketed in recent decades. While it has been framed as a response to the exploitation of wild fish populations, aquaculture has been criticized for its negative impacts, including pollution, reliance on wild fish for food, and overuse of antibiotics.
The study says wellness should also be considered. Fish have long-term memory, can solve problems, cooperate between species and, contrary to previously common beliefs, feel pain. Cephalopods, like octopuses, can solve puzzles, navigate mazes, and open jars. Spiny lobsters have sophisticated navigation skills and crayfish display emotional behavior, including anxiety and stress.
While there are legally enshrined welfare standards for terrestrial farm livestock, the report says the standards are often weak or non-existent for aquatic animals. Many of the cultivated species are often not biologically suitable for life in captivity, the report says. “We are really participating in this massive experiment with almost no information about who these animals are,” Franks said.
Rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon, for example, are heavily farmed, but “they are very aggressive and don’t like being around others,” said Lynne Sneddon, a biologist at the University of Gothenburg and fish pain expert. However, species like tilapia are better suited for farming as they are much more sociable and happy at higher densities, he added.
Some aquatic farms in countries like Norway and the UK have welfare standards, but have come under fire for tight sea cages, sea lice infestations, which cause painful injuries, and high mortality rates.
Waitrose and the Co-op stopped the supply of farmed salmon from a facility owned by the Scottish Salmon Company in February, after a video emerged from fish left on the ground to suffocate and they cut their gills while they were still conscious.
“These animals are sentient beings,” Sneddon said, “they are capable of experiencing pain, fear, stress, and yet we grow them in conditions that would not be acceptable to mammals or birds.”
Janneke Aelen, standards coordinator at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, a science-based certification body for fish farming, agrees that the science behind wellness is less than ideal, “but things are rapidly improving in terms of research. that is being done and available, and there is a great opportunity to further address wellness ”.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism