Finfish Aquaculture: Animal Welfare, the Environment, and Ethical Implications

Abstract

The aim of this review is to assess the ethical implications of finfish aquaculture, regarding fish welfare and environmental aspects. The finfish aquaculture industry has grown substantially the last decades, both as a result of the over-fishing of wild fish populations, and because of the increasing consumer demand for fish meat. As the industry is growing, a significant amount of research on the subject is being conducted, monitoring the effects of aquaculture on the environment and on animal welfare. The areas of concern when it comes to animal welfare have here been divided into four different stages: breeding period; growth period; capturing and handling; and slaughter. Besides these stages, this report includes a chapter on the current evidence of fish sentience, since this issue is still being debated among biologists. However, most biologists are at present acknowledging the probability of fish being sentient creatures. Current aquaculture practices are affecting fish welfare during all four of the cited stages, both on physical and mental levels, as well as on the ability of fish to carry out natural behaviors. The effect fish farming has on the environment is here separated into five different categories: the decline of wild fish populations; waste and chemical discharge; loss of habitat; spreading of diseases; and invasion of exotic organisms. There is evidence of severe negative effects on the environment when looking at these five categories, even when considering the difficulty of studying environmental effects, due to the closely interacting variables. The ethical arguments and scientific evidences here reviewed have not all come to the same conclusions. Nevertheless, the general agreement is that current aquaculture practices are neither meeting the needs of fish nor environment. Thus, the obvious environmental and animal welfare aspects of finfish aquaculture make it hard to ethically defend a fish diet.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Jenny Bergqvist.

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Bergqvist, J., Gunnarsson, S. Finfish Aquaculture: Animal Welfare, the Environment, and Ethical Implications. J Agric Environ Ethics 26, 75–99 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-011-9346-y

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Keywords

  • Aspects of animal welfare in fish
  • Ethics and animal welfare
  • Aquaculture
  • Fish sentience
  • Environmental impact of aquaculture
  • Humane slaughter