New shocking investigations reveal the problems of intensive fish farming

© Essere Animali

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New shocking investigations reveal the problems of intensive fish farming



Francesco Ceccarelli
Head of investigations

Shocking footage documents serious animal suffering and irregularities in veterinary checks on a trout, sturgeon and eel farm, located in the province of Treviso.

The videos, shot by a former employee, show irregular killing practices, multiple acts of violence against the animals and veterinarians who fail to challenge various illegal practices and who warn the company before carrying out the checks.

Watch the investigation

By disseminating this investigation, we are asking the Ministry of Agriculture to integrate the changes required to address in a clear and transparent manner the most relevant critical issues with regard to farmed fishes and for the Ministry of Health to begin actively working to protect the welfare of fishes, in particular starting from the introduction of appropriate stunning methods also in Italy.

In Italy, there is already a tool that could be used to ensure the reduction of fish suffering: the “Sustainable Aquaculture” specification developed by the API and AMA associations and validated in the National Quality System for Zootechnics (SQNZ) of the Ministry of Agriculture in which we expect the obligation of stunning and other key aspects for the welfare of fishes to be included.

What the footage shows

The killings are particularly problematic: a sturgeon that is still conscious is violently knocked against the ground by a worker and in some cases the workers place the electrical cable clamps directly on the gills of the animals, a particularly sensitive part of the body.

Violent killings
One sturgeon is stunned on the ground by a worker, while others are killed with a cruel and ineffective electric discharge system.

Even more seriously, the production manager explains that about 80% of the trout raised on the farm are not stunned by an electric current in accordance with the recommendations of the European Commission, but are killed by asphyxiation. This choice is dictated by the desire to avoid the formation of blood stains on the fillets, which occurs when inappropriate electrical parameters are used and has negative consequences on the aesthetics and therefore on the ability to sell the flesh.

Unloading of fishes
On this farm, about 10,000 kg of trout are fished per day.

During the unloading phase, the fish are thrown directly from the tank of the truck into the storage tanks at very high speed and from a considerable height: not only does this cause acute stress but also the risk of serious injury, so much so that some animals have even been observed broken in half.

When the nets are dragged in their enclosure, the trout hit against each other violently or against the metal walls, leading to serious suffering as evidenced by the presence of blood on the skin of the animals, in the water or on the ground.

Fishing of trouts
The fish are left to die by asphyxiation and as they suffocate, they writhe around and injure each other.

The fish that fall to the ground are hooked in the mouth and thrown into the baskets. In other cases, workers use their hands or feet to grab or kick the animals.

The mortality rate inside the farm is very high and many animals have deep wounds, infections, parasites or are even missing some parts of their body.
© Essere Animali

Unsanctioned irregularities

According to the statements made by the production manager, the veterinarians in charge of inspections at the company were aware that electrical current was not used in the stages of killing the trout intended to be sold as fillets. As if that were not enough, the company would have been warned in advance of ASL checks at the farm and would have acted accordingly to avoid or hide any irregularities during inspections.

We reported the farm to the authorities for mistreatment of animals (art. 544 ter of the Italian Criminal Code), abandonment of animals (art. 727, paragraph 2 of the Italian Criminal Code), various violations in the field of work and hypotheses of environmental crime.

Our UNsustainable Aquaculture campaign

As stated by the Italian Fish Farmers Association (API), aquaculture is one of the fastest growing sectors for protein production and the EU is the fifth largest fish producer in the world.

This means that Italian consumers are much more likely than in the past to buy farmed fishes, rather than fishes caught in the open sea, and can even choose products from “Sustainable Aquaculture”, a label developed in 2020 by the Ministry of Agriculture together with API and shellfish producers (AMA). However, this does not present clear criteria for eliminating the main causes of suffering for fishes on farms.

The concept of sustainability cannot be separated from that of animal welfare.
Chiara Caprio – Institutional Relations manager of Essere Animali

The “Sustainable Aquaculture” label does not guarantee that what we documented on the fish farm involved in this investigation does not occur. This is because the specification does not present a clear definition of animal welfare, nor does it oblige effective stunning before slaughter in order to avoid prolonged pain and suffering for the animals.

We have therefore launched the “UNsustainable Aquaculture” campaign, calling for greater protection for farmed fishes and the integration of some essential changes to the regulations in order to deal transparently and clearly with the most relevant critical issues for these animals.

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