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Ten practical realities for institutional animal care and use committees when evaluating protocols dealing with fish in the field

Abstract

Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee’s (IACUCs) serve an important role in ensuring that ethical practices are used by researchers working with vertebrate taxa including fish. With a growing number of researchers working on fish in the field and expanding mandates of IACUCs to regulate field work, there is potential for interactions between aquatic biologists and IACUCs to result in unexpected challenges and misunderstandings. Here we raise a number of issues often encountered by researchers and suggest that they should be taken into consideration by IACUCs when dealing with projects that entail the examination of fish in their natural environment or other field settings. We present these perspectives as ten practical realities along with their implications for establishing IACUC protocols. The ten realities are: (1) fish are diverse; (2) scientific collection permit regulations may conflict with IACUC policies; (3) stakeholder credibility and engagement may constrain what is possible; (4) more (sample size) is sometimes better; (5) anesthesia is not always needed or possible; (6) drugs such as analgesics and antibiotics should be prescribed with care; (7) field work is inherently dynamic; (8) wild fish are wild; (9) individuals are different, and (10) fish capture, handling, and retention are often constrained by logistics. These realities do not imply ignorance on the part of IACUCs, but simply different training and experiences that make it difficult for one to understand what happens outside of the lab where fish are captured and not ordered/purchased/reared, where there are engaged stakeholders, and where there is immense diversity (in size, morphology, behaviour, life-history, physiological tolerances) such that development of rigid protocols or extrapolation from one species (or life-stage, sex, size class, etc.) to another is difficult. We recognize that underlying these issues is a need for greater collaboration between IACUC members (including veterinary professionals) and field researchers which would provide more reasoned, rational and useful guidance to improve or maintain the welfare status of fishes used in field research while enabling researchers to pursue fundamental and applied questions related to the biology of fish in the field. As such, we hope that these considerations will be widely shared with the IACUCs of concerned researchers.

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Acknowledgments

S.J. Cooke is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Ocean Tracking Network Canada, and the Canada Research Chairs program. We thank and appreciate the comments and assistance we have gained from our experiences with IACUCs at our home institutions. It is those interactions and our mutual appreciation of the challenges of working on wild animals that inspired us to produce this manuscript. We also thank three referees for providing useful input on the manuscript.

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Cooke, S.J., Wilson, A.D.M., Elvidge, C.K. et al. Ten practical realities for institutional animal care and use committees when evaluating protocols dealing with fish in the field. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries 26, 123–133 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11160-015-9413-y

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Keywords

  • Animal care
  • Ethics
  • Field research
  • Welfare