Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 843-860

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The Moral Status of Fish. The Importance and Limitations of a Fundamental Discussion for Practical Ethical Questions in Fish Farming

  • Bernice BovenkerkAffiliated withEthics Institute Email author 
  • , Franck L. B. MeijboomAffiliated withEthics Institute


As the world population is growing and government directives tell us to consume more fatty acids, the demand for fish is increasing. Due to declines in wild fish populations, we have come to rely more and more on aquaculture. Despite rapid expansion of aquaculture, this sector is still in a relatively early developmental stage. This means that this sector can still be steered in a favorable direction, which requires discussion about sustainability. If we want to avoid similar problems to the ones we have experienced with livestock farming, we need to generate knowledge of the biology, profitability, environmental aspects, consumer awareness, and product appreciation of particular fish species. However, the discussion about a sustainable aquaculture also raises the question how we should treat fish. This moral question is regularly addressed as a problem of applied ethics with a focus on tailoring ethical principles to practical questions. In this article we do not deny the importance of the practical accounts, but we start from the fundamental question whether and why fish matter in our moral deliberations, i.e., from the discussion on moral status. We elaborate the distinction between moral considerability and moral significance in order to show both the importance and the limitations of the discussion about moral status for practical problems in aquaculture. We illustrate these points with a case-study about the farming of a specific fish species, the African catfish.


Moral status Moral significance Moral considerability African catfish Aquaculture