News from fair-fish: March 2022
Welcome to this year’s first newsletter from fair-fish international and the FishEthoGroup.
Should you come across this newsletter by chance and want to make sure not to miss future editions, we kindly invite you to register here.
Summer Shoal is back!
Invited speaker: Felicity Huntingford, one of the pioneers in the field of fish welfare.
After a forced halt in the last two years, 2022 marks the return of the pioneer event gathering stakeholders in constructive dialogue around the welfare of fish. fair-fish international, the FishEthoGroup, and CCMAR are pleased to announce the IV Summer Shoal in Fish Ethology and Welfare.
The 2022 edition will take place from 28 June to 1 July,lonce again in the Algarve in southern Portugal, in the lovely small resort of Pedras d'el Rei at the Atlantic coast, half an hour by car east of the Faro airport. The meetings will be organised by the sea, in the heart of the Ria Formosa nature park and its marvellous barrier islands.
As stakeholder dialogue is our premise and the distinctive feature of our unique event, it is exclusive to 30 participants to allow the discussions to take place sitting in one big circle, in the open air, to stimulate the exchange of knowledge and ideas among scientists, industry, NGOs and policy makers. Make sure to have a seat by registering asap.
Information and registration
Carefish/catch project: Call for PhD candidates
Purse seining, Puget Sound, ca. 1920 (unknown author/Wikimedia)
We are looking for highly motivated and competitive candidates to apply to the coming 2022 Call for PhD Research Studentships promoted by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) to pursue a PhD thesis in the frame of a research project on fish welfare in commercial fisheries.
The project Carefish/catch is carried out by a multinational and multidisciplinary consortium. The research to be proposed is to be carried out within CCMAR-Centre of Marine Sciences at University of Algarve (www.ccmar.ualg.pt) and in partnership with FishEthoGroup Association and the remaining members of the consortium.
New species in the FishEthoBase
Beluga sturgeon (Photo: Максим Яковлєв/Wikimedia)
The Beluga (Huso huso) finalises our selection of sturgeon species in the FishEthoBase. Well-known for its caviar, the farming is consequently intensive. Among the welfare-related issues in captivity that stand out is the highly invasive reproduction, the stocking densities considering that it lives solitary for most of its life, and the proneness to stress.
In contrast to the sturgeons, the list of cyprinids to cover is still long. Recently, we added Silver barb (Barbonymus gonionotus), Crucian carp (Carassius carassius), and Wuchang bream (Megalobrama amblycephala). They are praised for their resistance to detrimental rearing conditions as well as easiness to rear including fast growth. Despite their commercial importance, many aspects of living in the wild are still unclear and demand further research.
This has become a familiar issue in the FishEthoBase, and it applies also to Pond loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus): high in plasticity towards hypoxia, thermal variations, and high stocking densities and therefore highly demanded, but in 6 of our 10 criteria, there was no or too little data to score properly.
Amur catfish (Silurus asotus), on the other hand, appears less suitable for farming given that reproduction in captivity is not possible without hormonal induction, given aggression and cannibalism, and given their sensitivity to handling, vibrations, and noise.
New species in the FishTest
Mallotus villosus (Barton Warren Evermann and Edmund Lee Goldsborough / Wikimedia)
Our FishTest has grown by three species, the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson), the Capelin (Mallotus villosus), and the Yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera). The reason for choosing these species was to finally fully cover the wild caught assortment of the two biggest retailers in Switzerland, Coop and Migros.
Both retailers claim that their entire assortment is fished or farmed in a sustainable way and that consumers can purchase fish products with a good conscience. A recent study, however, conducted by a student of the University of Berne, Larissa Puma, has pointed out that a mere three percent of the wild caught assortment of these two retailers could really be considered to be sustainable. The reason being that either the respective fish stocks were overfished or that harmful catch methods had been used. Several certification schemes and consumer guides had been studied and compared, and our FishTest turned out to be the most conservative and most realistic, hence it was the one to define the baseline for Larissa Puma’s study.
The FishTest is a step by step decision guide, where a species is assessed on different levels, including the state of fish stocks, the catching methods being used, and last but not least the consumption behaviour. The three new species do not even pass the first hurdle, as all of them are heavily overfished in many places. Whereas the Capelin and the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel would potentially make it to the list of recommended fishes, given that stocks get the chance to recover, the Yellowfin sole will never make it to the short list. Like other flatfishes it lives on the sea floor and there is being caught by bottom trawls that generate too much bycatch for this method to be considered not harmful. So three more species to avoid, but still many alternatives left! Check out the FishTest before you plan your next fish dinner.
We are proud to announce that FishEthoGroup is starting to enter in the universe of podcasts! Fish Talk is the new scientific dissemination podcast of FishEthoGroup. It is focused on episodes presenting important characteristics of fishes related to their natural needs, behaviours, abilities, and environmental conditions—also in farms, both considering the fish species individually or general aspects relevant for any species.
By now, Fish Talk is structured as a spots series, that is, ‘mini’ podcasts that show information related to the natural behaviours or farming conditions that are relevant to take into account to assess and improve the welfare of farmed fishes; all this in a few words, usually for less than 3 minutes! This spots programme is a kind of ‘radio FishEthoBase’, as the idea is to talk about fish species with profiles already published in our FishEthoBase, the first online and open access database to assemble ethological knowledge of farmed fishes. Our first spots series of FishEthoBase was just released .
Other possible structures for different kinds of programs for FishTalk are also on the table! Let’s see what Fish Talk brings to us in 2022!Caroline Marques Maia
Do fishes pass the mirror experiment?
Labroides dimidiatus (Photo: Frédéric Ducarme/Wikimedia)
For years, the debate has raged about whether fishes consciously perceive pain. In the meantime, scientific evidence has accumulated that fishes of various species have this ability. This finding will have consequences: concerned consumers are asking questions, forward-thinking fish farmers are seeing fish welfare as a strategic factor, alert retail chains are anticipating the expected change in demand, and soon even the fishing industry will have to confront its practice of killing trillions of animals in agony every year.
But now a new debate seems to be emerging: Are fishes self-aware? For a long time, it has been considered a foregone conclusion that only "higher animals" like primates, elephants or dolphins can recognise themselves in a mirror, regarded as evidence for self-awareness. However, scientists from Japan, Germany, and Switzerland recently published a follow-up to their earlier study pointing to mirror self-recognition in blue-striped cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus). The authors are careful enough in the interpretation of their findings, concluding that “either self-awareness in animals or the validity of the mirror test needs to be revised”. However, if one day it turned out that many aquatic species are self-aware, how are fisheries and retailers going to sell fishes that have been crushed en masse in the net and processed on board without anaesthesia or simply left to suffocate?
Yet the fundamental question is quite different: Why is it necessary at all to prove that fishes are self-aware and consciously perceive pain? Are they not already entitled to our consideration by virtue of their existence as living beings?
Billo Heinzpeter Studer
So far our news for today; there’s more to come soon. Thank you for your interest. Should you have any idea, question or comment, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Peace and health!
The team of fair-fish international and the FishEthoGroup