Fishermen, scientists and Animal Protection Denmark make a first study of animal welfare in the fishing industry
A new research project will make a first study of the way fish die in fishery. The aim is to examine how billions of fish living in mid waters die in trawling, and whether fishing methods can be developed to support a more humane killing of the sentient animals. Animal Protection Denmark and the Danish Pelagic Producers Organization are the architects behind the multi-year project. Scientists from the Swedish University of Agriculture, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU Aqua) and the Danish Institute of Technology will carry out the research. The project is funded by Open Philanthropy, an American research and grantmaking organization
What do fish feel?
Fish have the necessary anatomical basis for being able to feel pain: pain receptors (Nociceptors) that can detect pain, nerves that can transport the pain signal and a brain that can process it. Laboratory experiments with fish have shown that fish avoid situations they associate with pain and that they actively seek out pain-relieving medications when in pain. Other experiments have shown that fish display abnormal behavior when exposed to pain and that this behavior stops when they are given pain-relieving medication again. The European Food Safety Authority concluded in 2009 that it is most likely that some fish may feel pain and that some fish have a consciousness.
Every year, Danish fishing trawlers catch approx. 30 billion shoal fish – the so-called pelagic fish. But no one knows how fish like herring and mackerel in fact die in the process. This is a concern as fish feel pain and therefore may suffer when they die. Therefore, a team of Danish and Swedish scientists are now going to examine the killing in what will be the the first study of its kind.
Animal Protection Denmark has initiated cooperation with the Danish Pelagic Producers Organization (DPPO) to launch the project with the overarching aim of better understanding how pelagic fish die during the journey from the trawl to the cargo.
- Fish are sentient animals and deserve to be killed in a decent manner. We suspect this is not the case today, and since pelagic fishery catches such an incredible number of fish every year, the animal welfare potential is enormous, states Nicolaj Lindeborgh, biologist and consultant for fish and fish welfare at Animal Protection Denmark.
The fishermen in DPPO are also interested to ensure as gentle a killing as possible.
- As fishermen we reap from the bounty of nature. With this comes a responsibility to make sure that every aspect of our activities takes place as responsibly and gently as possible. At DPPO we have pioneered work on reducing the climate impact of fishing, on protecting marine mammals and on ensuring long-term sustainable management of the fish resources. In this light, a new focus on animal welfare is a natural continuation of our strategic work towards a better and more sustainable fishing industry, says DPPO Director Esben Sverdrup–Jensen.
The Director of Animal Protection Denmark, Britta Riis, also sees the cooperation resulting from the increasing focus on fish welfare.
- Fish welfare has really appeared on the radar of the Danes, also among the fishermen. That is the starting point for us to be able to launch this joint study with a unique collaboration between the fishermen of the Danish Pelagic Producers Organization and Animal Protection Denmark, says Britta Riis.
Scientists and fishermen together at sea
The first part of the project will examine the welfare of fish in pelagic fisheries today. Scientists from the Swedish University of Agriculture, DTU Aqua and the Institute of Technology will study herring during expeditions with trawlers in the North Sea where the fish live in large shoals in the middle of the water column in the high seas. They will examine the condition of the fish when they reach the boat, for example as a result of the injuries that have occurred during the catch itself. Subsequently it will be examined how and how quickly the fish die aboard the boat.
The project has received funding from the American research and grantmaking organization Open Philanthropy, and the first research team is going to sea as early as this summer. The scientists expect to have the results of the studies ready by 2022.
The parties behind the project agree that the results should be able to be used to develop new, gentler methods of killing in the near future.
- We are running the project to achieve tangible improvements in fish welfare in pelagic fishery. Our hope is, of course, to develop technology and methods down the line so that Denmark can become a model for the rest of the EU, says Nicolaj Lindeborgh.
- We see the cooperation with Animal Protection Denmark as an important step towards achieving a better understanding of how fish die in our fishing processes as well as towards the development of possible measures to improve our fishing methods. It is important to us as food producers that we optimize animal welfare in our production. We owe this both to nature and to the consumer, Esben Sverdrup-Jensen adds.
Danish pelagic fishery is a good place to start. Danish trawlers catch 60 percent of the total number of pelagic fish that end up in European nets. The Danish part consists primarily of herring, mackerel and horse mackerel for the consumer market, as well as sand eels, sprat, blue whiting, sperling and sea galate, which are used for the production of fish meal and fish oil.