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News Section Icon Published 7/15/2020

When shopping for higher welfare fish, many people turn to labels for guidance. Compassion in World Farming has investigated the welfare standards of the five most prominent fish certifications and exposed a shocking truth: both farmed and wild-caught fish reared and certified under these standards experience unimaginable suffering and are killed in cruel fashion by the millions. Many live miserable lives in overcrowded tanks and cages, while others endure prolonged and painful deaths.

Today, leading farmed animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming launches its campaign targeting key global fish certification programs. The certifications that Compassion is demanding to introduce or improve on their welfare standards, are: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), Friend of the Sea (FOS) and GLOBALG.A.P. 

These certification programs primarily focus on environmental impact and the sustainability of fish stocks, which is important work. However, some currently have no welfare protections in place at all. Practices that are allowed by some of these schemes include:

  • Starving fish for up to 14 days;
  • Overcrowding fish into barren tanks or sea cages;
  • Inflicting a slow, painful death without adequate stunning; and
  • Shooting wild seals and harming dolphins.

 Key findings from a May 2020 poll carried out by Compassion and YouGov include:

  • 63% of US participants on average do not know whether the certifications protect fish welfare.
  • 55% and 48% of US participants believe the long and painful slaughter of wild-caught fish and farmed fish, respectively, is unacceptable.
  • 60% of US participants believe it is unacceptable that harming wildlife, like seals, is allowed under fish certification programs.
  • 59% believe it is unacceptable that the process of starving fish for longer than necessary is allowed under fish certification programs.
  • 63% of the participants think certifications should take steps to strengthen fish welfare standards or introduce them where they are not present in their requirements.

Compassion is calling for a host of welfare standards to be implemented or improved within these certification programs. These baseline standards include allowing the fish enough space to carry out their natural behaviors; reducing the number of days the fish are starved; fast and painless slaughter methods; and the prohibition of killing wildlife such as seals and dolphins.

“The polling is clear: Americans find it unacceptable that the very fish certification labels they rely on to make more compassionate choices allow such horrifying practices to take place,” says Rachel Dreskin, US Executive Director of Compassion in World Farming. “Whether they’re raised in tanks and nets on factory farms or caught in the wild, fish are suffering by the billions—and during slaughter, they are often fully conscious as they thrash out of water, fighting for their lives. These intelligent, emotional animals are capable of great suffering and pain, and yet, fish face one of the cruellest fates of any animal on Earth. It’s long past time for fish certifications to meet consumer expectations and improve their welfare standards.

Every year, fish are killed in the hundreds of billions—possibly trillions—globally for food production. To put this in perspective, 60 billion land animals are farmed for food annually. Alarmingly, fish farming is the fastest growing type of food production in the world, which means we must act now to ensure that the welfare of fish is guaranteed.




For more information please email alison.spasser@ciwf.org.

The full results can be found here.

Country ranking in relation to how much participants valued fish welfare, from highest to lowest:

  1. France
  2. UK & Netherlands
  3. Italy & Spain
  4. USA

 Notes to editors:

  1. Compassion in World Farming was founded in 1967 by a British dairy farmer who became horrified at the development of intensive factory farming. Today, Compassion is the leading farmed animal welfare organization dedicated to ending factory farming and achieving a humane and sustainable food supply. With headquarters in the UK, we have offices across Europe, in the US, China, and South Africa.
  2. Compassion’s Rethink Fish Campaign aims to protect the world’s fish.
    Compassion is calling on governments to introduce new legislation to ensure that fish are treated humanely during slaughter and ultimately, to bring in new legislation and better business practices that protect fish throughout their lives. Compassion is working hard behind the scenes to help fish: In addition to public campaigning and raising awareness on the issue, the team is directly lobbying European governments and the EU Parliament itself to have new laws introduced to protect fish.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1302 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th - 28th May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+). All calculations produced the Compassion in World Farming team.


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