When we think of farmed animals, fishes are often not who comes to mind. However, billions (and more) of fishes are exploited every year between overfishing and aquaculture operations. While fishes are not currently among the resident populations at farmed animal sanctuaries, they certainly deserve our consideration. This resource provides information on the plight of farmed fishes, the welfare issues, and discusses fish sentience.
The Fish Farming Industry
In this form of aquaculture, fishes are raised in enclosures to be sold later as food. These water farms may be mesh cages that are submerged in the ocean or in other natural bodies of water or they may be enclosures made from concrete on land. In either situation, fishes are often overcrowded, causing a host of welfare issues.
The most commonly farmed fish species are salmon, tuna, cod, trout, and halibut. While the majority of intensively farmed fishes are salmon and trout, other commonly farmed species include catfish, sea bass, carp, and tilapia. Aquaculture is often touted as the solution to the over-fishing of the ocean’s fishes. However, many species that are intensively farmed are fed diets of wild caught fishes! It can take as much as five pounds of smaller fishes to produce one pound of a fish like salmon or sea bass. Obviously, over-fishing of these smaller species can have a profoundly negative effect on ecosystems.
Some fishes are being genetically altered in an attempt to reduce the incidence of disease and encourage more rapid growth. One study revealed that salmon who are bred and raised in fish factory farms grew at an accelerated rate, causing more than half to go deaf. Other studies have found that salmon raised in intensive farming operations suffer from severe depression, floating lifelessly in their cages.
As you might imagine, overcrowding leads to a lot of poop and uneaten food, which results in water that is high in ammonia and low in oxygen. While the diets of their wild counterparts are varied, intensively farmed fishes receive formulated diets that are simply not as ideal. As in all cases of slaughter, some methods cause terrible suffering. Farmed fishes may be slaughtered by suffocation, cutting gills without stunning, gassing, freezing, and if they are “lucky” may be stunned first using electricity or blunt strikes to the head.
While more and more people are recognizing that mammals are sentient beings, the same consideration has not been given to fishes. Many people still think of fishes as cold, unfeeling automatons, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Many studies have now shown evidence that fishes are capable of feeling discomfort and pain, in spite of the fact that their bodies are different from mammals. We now know that fishes exhibit a wide variety of sophisticated behaviors. Fishes can develop complex traditions, cooperation with one another and recognition of one another, and many are capable of tool use! They also have excellent long-term memories and have exhibited signs of Machiavellian intelligence (deception). In spite of our differences in brain structure, new evidence suggests that we have more in common than previously thought. Fishes have both a high degree of behavioral plasticity and have compared favorably to other terrestrial vertebrates, including human animals across a range of intelligence tests.
The Future Of Fish Sanctuaries
While there are a few “pet” fish resources out there, we are not aware of any sanctuaries taking in farmed fishes at this time. If that changes, we will develop resources to share with the sanctuary community. For now, you may be able to find information on best practices for above and below ground ponds, transport options, and care practices from The Ohio Fish Rescue.
For more information on the plight of fishes, check out FishFeel.