Ethics – different attitudes to fish welfare depending on the situation?


Cecilie M. Mejdell, Norwegian Council on Animal Ethics



Fishing and fisheries have been an important part of Norwegian culture and economic life for centuries. Fish farming has become big industry and expands to new species. Angling is popular, and the excitement may be just as an important outcome as fresh fish for dinner. Ornamental fish are kept for esthetical reasons in public buildings and in private homes. And, we make use of fish in research.


Most scientists today conclude that it is probable that fish have a perception of pain, and may experience stress and suffering. Fish are protected by animal welfare legislation in many countries, and the public concern for the welfare of fish is growing. Nevertheless, attitudes to fish welfare vary with the situation. In commercial fisheries, methods which are legal and widely used may cause significant suffering. In fish farming, welfare has become an issue, and stunning and killing methods at slaughter are criticized of welfare reasons. The ethics of “catch and release” is discussed. Mortality of ornamental fish is estimated to be high. In Norway, more that 90 % of the experimental animals are fish, and the total number is approaching 1 million individuals a year.


In the presentation, some factors which may affect human attitudes to fish, and the moral relevance, are discussed. These include fish sentience, the number of fish and severity of pain and suffering, human obligation depending on whether the fish is wild or cultured, human benefit, if the harm is intended or not, and prospects of improvements (the 3Rs).