Our fish-farming investigations presented to members of the European Parliament

Martina Scalini

On October 21, during the plenary session of the European Parliament, the meeting of the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals took place. We were invited to present the investigations we have carried out in recent years on fish farms in Europe.

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, composed of MEPs of different nationalities and political backgrounds, was formed with the specific aim of promoting the debate on animal welfare and, above all, taking concrete action to defend them.

The monthly meeting in October focused mainly on the welfare of farmed fish, in particular their suffering during transport and slaughter. In the light of the numerous investigations that we have carried out on European fish farms – especially in Italy and Greecewe were invited to participate in the event.

Our fish-farming investigations at the European Parliament

Our scientific specialist, Luca Melotti, described in detail the serious animal welfare issues that we documented during the transport and slaughter operations, highlighting the inadequacy and shortcomings of the current EU legislation on the subject. 

In fact, both Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing and Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport do not guarantee the comprehensive protection of fish at these stages of farming.

Stress during transport

The images that we presented show the violent loading of trout onto a truck, the filming of which took place on an Italian farm. The equipment used and the operations carried out are clearly not adequate for the purpose and have obvious negative implications for the welfare of the fishes. 

For the first time in Europe, one of our undercover investigators filmed how fish are transported.
© Essere Animali

The animals, in fact, are subjected to stress and dangers such as exposure to air and the possibility of injury due to the excessive speed of movement operations and the presence of sharp edges and corners in the pumps used.

Painful slaughter

During our presentation, we illustrated various slaughtering practices that cause proven suffering for animals: immersion in water and ice, asphyxiation and percussive blows performed inappropriately.

As our investigations of sea bass and sea bream farms in Italy and Greece show, the method of killing most commonly used for these two species is the immersion of live fish in a slurry of water and ice.

The loss of consciousness is not at all immediate: in these conditions, the average time that sea bass and sea bream take to die is about 20-35 minutes, with maximum values that even indicate 40 minutes.

This photo was taken during our latest investigation on sea bream and sea bass farms in Greece.
© Selene Magnolia / WeAnimals Media

Our footage shows how it is just as common for fish to die of asphyxiation because they are simply removed from the water and exposed to the air. Also in these circumstances, the fish endure a prolonged period of agony and physiological stress, as the loss of consciousness and death only come after many interminable minutes.

The footage that we filmed in a trout slaughterhouse in Italy reveals the clear animal welfare issues when manual percussion is carried out incorrectly and using inadequate instruments. The fish are struck in a random manner without the use of a uniform percussive method, causing avoidable pain. In addition, there are no control procedures to ascertain the actual loss of consciousness in the animals, which may still be alive for several minutes.

The importance of protecting the welfare of farmed fish

We concluded our speech by addressing two calls to action to the MEPs:

  1. to support the development and implementation of the animal welfare guidelines outlined by the European Commission in the new strategic guidelines for the development of EU aquaculture;
  2. to support the ongoing revision of EU legislation to include specific provisions to protect fish at all stages of farming, as also highlighted in the No Animal Left Behind campaign coordinated by Eurogroup for Animals, in which we have actively participated in recent months.

Our #AncheiPesci (#FishToo) campaign

In recent years our commitment to fish has been constant and divided into various activities: from undercover investigations to corporate awareness work, and from political-institutional pressure initiatives to online and offline communication projects. 

Over the years, we have carried out various demonstrations and awareness events under the banner of the #AncheiPesci (#FishToo) campaign.
© Essere Animali

Our #AncheiPesci campaign clearly shows the strong support of more and more people in the defence of fish and the imperative urgency to intervene not only at the legislative level, but also by means of the development of company policies that reduce the suffering of these animals in the production chains of companies and major retailers.