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Ecology and welfare of aquatic animals in wild capture fisheries

Abstract

The expansion of commercial aquaculture production has raised awareness of issues relating to the welfare of aquatic animals. The “Five Freedoms” approach to animal welfare was originally devised for farmed terrestrial animals, and has been applied in some countries to aquatic animals reared in aquaculture due to several commonalities inherent within food production systems. There are now moves towards assessing and addressing aquatic animal welfare issues that may arise in wild capture fisheries. However, all “five freedoms” are regularly contradicted in the natural environment, meaning this concept is inappropriate when considering the welfare of aquatic animals in their natural environments. The feelings-based approach to welfare relies on a suffering centered view that, when applied to the natural aquatic environment, requires use of value judgements, cannot encompass scientific uncertainty regarding awareness in fish, elasmobranchs and invertebrates (despite their unquestioned welfare needs), and cannot resolve the welfare conundrums posed by predator–prey interactions or anthropocentrically mediated environmental degradation. For these reasons, the feelings-based approach to welfare is inadequate, inappropriate and must be rejected if applied to aquatic animals in wild capture fisheries, because it demonstrably ignores empirical evidence and several realities apparent within the natural aquatic environment. Furthermore, application of the feelings-based approach is counterproductive as it can alienate key fisheries stakeholders, many of whom are working to address environmental issues of critical importance to the welfare, management and conservation of aquatic animal populations in their natural environment. In contrast, the function-based and nature-based approaches for defining animal welfare appear appropriate for application to the broad range of welfare issues (including emerging environmental issues such as endocrine disruption) that affect aquatic animals in their natural environment, without the need to selectively ignore groups such as elasmobranchs and invertebrates. We consider that the welfare needs of aquatic animals are inextricably entwined with the need for conservation of their populations, communities and their environment, an approach that is entirely consistent with the concept of ecosystem-based management.

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Acknowledgments

SJC was supported by the Canada Research Chairs program and the NSERC Strategic Grant program. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Diggles, B.K., Cooke, S.J., Rose, J.D. et al. Ecology and welfare of aquatic animals in wild capture fisheries. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries 21, 739–765 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11160-011-9206-x

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Keywords

  • Welfare
  • Suffering
  • Fisheries
  • Fish
  • Elasmobranch
  • Crustacean
  • Mollusc