Fish

Fish do feel pain

Fish have a nervous system and pain receptors like all other animals. Back in 1980 the RSPCA’s Medway Report concluded that fish are capable of suffering and feeling pain, yet slaughter regulations which offer some level of protection to other farmed animals do not apply to fish (4). Scientific evidence of sentience (the ability to feel or perceive subjectively) in farmed fish concludes that pain, fear and psychological stress are likely to be experienced by fish. This implies, like other vertebrates, that fish have the capacity to suffer and that fish welfare considerations need to take this into account (5).

Fish have nociceptors (receptors that respond to noxious stimuli) and their forebrain and midbrain become active during noxious stimuli. Rainbow trout display adverse behavioural and physiological responses during potentially painful procedures which are similar to responses shown by higher vertebrates (6). Studies of shellfish, such as crabs, have shown that they are also capable of experiencing pain (7).  
The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 state that no person engaged in the movement, lairaging, restraint, stunning, slaughter or killing of animals shall  (a) cause any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering to any animalor and (b) permit any animal to sustain any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering. There are specific rules on handling, stunning, slaughter or killing of animals (8). The basic act of removing a fish from water causes severe pain and distress, even before killing begins. 

Farmed fish (aquaculture) are not endangered but they are caged in cramped and unhealthy conditions causing great stress and susceptibility to disease. Farmed salmon can grow up to 2.5 feet long but are only given space equivalent to a bathtub of water. Sea lice pose a huge problem to the welfare of farmed fish. They feed on blood and underlying tissues causing skin and scale loss. Lice damage around the head can be so severe that the skull of live fish can be exposed, a condition known as the "death crown" (9). Aquaculture relies on the artificial breeding of fish. Females have their eggs extracted on several occasions under anaesthetic. Most of them are eventually killed as their recovery process from the anaesthetic is considered to be uneconomic. Males are milked several times for their semen before slaughter (10). Farmed fish are normally starved for 7-10 days before slaughter by a number of methods outlined below.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) stunning

Fish are placed in a bath saturated with CO2. This causes changes to behaviour, with fish observed shaking their heads and tails vigorously trying to escape (11). Movement stops after 30 seconds, but sensibility may not be lost for 4 to 9 minutes. Bleeding after CO2 stunning is essential to avoid fish recovering. If fish are removed early from the stunning tank, they are likely to have their gills cut when immobile but still conscious (12).
Suffocation on air or ice

Fish may be removed from water to suffocate. Alternatively, fish are removed from water onto ice. This prolongs suffering as the cooling effect of the ice can lengthen the time to unconsciousness to 15 minutes from being out of the water. The Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that this method should be prohibited years ago (9). Fish farmers have admitted that ‘letting tens of millions of fish die of suffocation each year as unacceptable' (12).
Gill Cutting and Percussive Stunning

Gill cutting without prior stunning has shown that certain responses of fish are not immediately lost and vigorous movements occurred. Percussive stunning involves hitting a fish on the head with a club. When sufficient force is applied the concussion can be irrecoverable, however the stun is often not immediate and fish are hit more than once (13).  

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The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham WA14 4QG
Registered Charity No. 259358, Registered Company No. 959115 (England and Wales)

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