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Fish welfare: an emerging business sustainability risk

Author: Øistein Thorsen, FAI FArms

Throughout the last decade, the issue of farmed fish welfare has raised increasing public and scientific concern and has become a key focus for animal welfare campaign groups.

Animal welfare is both a science-based and a value-based concept — drawing on animal’s physical and behavioural needs as well as social acceptability. Considerable work has been carried out to understand the welfare requirements of farmed mammals and birds, however much less is understood about the welfare requirements of individual fish and the crustacean species commonly farmed in aquaculture. Whilst the focus on improving health and productivity outcomes has given us understanding of the myriad physiological needs of fish, we are only now beginning to realise the behavioural requirements necessary for good fish welfare.

A 2019 survey of over 9,000 consumers across nine major European markets confirmed that fish welfare is of interest to consumers. 79% of respondents stated that fish welfare should be protected at the same level as other food animals and indicated they would like to see information on fish welfare on the label of all fish products.

Ensuring good fish welfare not only improves economic outcomes for food businesses through mitigation of brand risk and improved brand perception, it also delivers financial returns linked to improved health and growth potential achieved through better production practices. As such, fish welfare represents a growing risk area to aquaculture businesses, with improvement opportunities across the entire production value chain.

Aside from ethical concerns, recent studies show a link between strong company performance on welfare and financial out-performance, indicating the risk of poor fish welfare to company performance.

Aquaculture Awards

The leading UK food retailer, Marks and Spencer, received the 2019 Aquaculture Award for animal welfare in recognition of their Welfare Outcome Measure Programme, developed and delivered by FAI.

"A focus on outcomes is an effective way to move beyond standard supply chain assessment, assurance and certification. We are increasingly using this approach to better understand and act upon the issues faced in our supply chains and to deliver the increased food transparency that our customers demand."
Steve McLean Head of Agriculture and Fisheries Sourcing Marks and Spencer