News from fair-fish: May 2020

A warm welcome to our first newsletter in 2020.

The past year and the first four months of this year have been full of achievements about which we will briefly inform you here, as well as about upcoming activities and events.

We are sorry to inform you that the fourth Summer Shoal—planned again for September at the Algarve—will not take place, due to the still too uncertain situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Same is unfortunately true also for our second Fish Welfare Course in November; we will however try to replace this classroom format by an online alternative.

We hope that these lines find you in good health and mood, and we wish you the confidence to overcome the negative effects of the lockdown. As our team has been mainly working from home offices already before, we were able to continue an important part of our tasks, however, without visits on farms, conferences, and meetings in person our work has been delayed, too.


Please do not hesitate to contact us with any question, critique or idea that might struck your mind while reading. 

We proudly present our Scientific Advisory Board

We are proud to present our scientific advisory board. The Fish Ethology and Welfare Group is honoured to work with some of the most respected and brilliant scientists in the field of fish welfare, who dedicate some of their time to advise on our activities. Here they are:

Becca Franks
Becca Franks, Culum Brown, Lluis Tort

Becca Franks
Becca received her PhD in Psychology from Columbia University (USA) and completed a Killiam Postdoctoral Research Fellowship with the Animal Welfare Program at The University of British Columbia (Canada). Throughout her career, Becca has been interested in uncovering fundamental patterns of well-being that apply across species, working with walruses, chimpanzees, salmon, rats, cows, humans, mice, and zebrafish. She is aiming to explore issues related to fish and aquatic animal welfare. Becca is presently an assistant professor at New York University, USA.

Culum Brown
Culum is an Associate Professor at Macquarie University and Assistant Editor of the Journal of Fish Biology. For years, he has studied the behavioural ecology of fishes with a special interest in learning and memory. Culum did his undergraduate degree at Melbourne University. Throughout his academic career, Culum performed research at the University of Queensland (Australia), Cambridge University, and University of Edinburgh (UK). Culum won a young researcher award from Australian Academy of Science in 2007 and Young Tall Poppy Award in 2008. He is one of the most renowned experts in fish behaviour, cognition and welfare in the world.

Lluis Tort
Lluis is a Full Professor in Physiology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Dpt. of Cell Biology, Physiology and Immunology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and had performed research at the Univ. of Bristol (UK) and Aberdeen (Scotland, UK). He specialised in fish physiology and comparative physiology and is interested in stress, immune suppression, and welfare in fish. He is the author of nearly 200 scientific publications, leader of a prolific research group, and responsible for many international projects.

João L. Saraiva

A look back on the Summer Shoal 2019

Two full days of oral presentations, with text books on the participants' knees, followed by animated discussions in the circle under a big pine tree—and many opportunities to further discuss fish welfare issues in small groups during the breaks: This is the Summer Shoal, a unique diaogue setting among experts with different backgrounds and interests—thus encouraging cooperation beween science, practice, and advocacy.

Text book and videos of all presentations and discussions

Our first successful Fish Welfare Course

Fish welfare was the trending topic at the training course at the University of Algarve held in Faro last November. The course was organised by a joint venture between fair-fish international, Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), and the Fish Ethology and Welfare Group. The course was attended by 50 people from eight countries, representing industry, academia, non-governmental organisations, public aquariums and oceanariums, veterinarians, and government institutions.

The three days course message was focused on the importance of fish welfare in aquaculture, fisheries, and academia. Thus, everyone had a role to play promoting better fish welfare. The course contents relied on five sessions: 1) cognition and sentience, 2) sensory systems and stress, 3) applications of research, 4) health and pathology, and 5) welfare assessment, certifications, and policy. During this advanced training, the participants were able to discuss further advances in fish welfare with renowned experts and pairs from distinct research centres.

Lynne Sneddon from the University of Liverpool (UK), Michail Pavlidis from the University of Crete (Greece), Francesc Padrós from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain), and Jeff Lines from Silsoe Systems (UK) were some of the renowned experts who came to this unique event. 

The course's integrative approach stimulated the time for round table discussions in parallel to the holistic and practical perspective to the welfare of captive fish. During the course, the ultimate benefits of the dialogue between researchers, industry, and consumers became clear: Fish are reared in better conditions, scientists have better research models, the industry has better fish with higher market value, and consumers eat a better product.

One of the take home messages was the importance of education as a basis for fish welfare improvement. Welfare is not a matter of imposing behaviours but a matter of education! 

Given the success of the previous edition, we are considering alternative methods of conducting the Fish Welfare Course 2020, taking into account the current COVID-19 situation. More information will come soon!

Maria Filipa Castanheira

CareFish project: 50 farms consulted

The fair-fish international association has been entrusted by Friend of the Sea (FOS), one of the leading international certification schemes for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, with the task of developing fish welfare criteria for the FOS standard that make a difference to the fish, can be implemented in practice, and are auditable. The work—enabled by a grant from Open Philanthropy, USA—is in the hands of the Fish Ethology and Welfare Group, a research and advice centre founded by fair-fish based on an agreement with the Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR) in Faro, Portugal.


The criteria are based on the one hand on the scientific findings presented in our FishEthoBase, and on the other hand on the real life examination in FOS-certified fish farms during two visits. The first visit served as a gap analysis, providing the farmer with a report and recommendations for improvements. In the second visit, half a year later, we determined which of the suggestions could be implemented and which could not, and for what reasons.

A total of 51 fish farms belonging to 33 companies were visited in 12 countries (8 EU member states, Turkey, 2 Latin America states). The survey covered the husbandry of 25 fish species, including hatchery and/or slaughter, depending on the company.

Evaluation of the visits

Next steps in the CareFish project

The successful experience and knowledge generated towards welfare in fish farms during the first part of the CareFish project are already proved through consulting activities, advanced training courses and feasible and auditable requirements to be included in the Friend of the Sea (FOS) certification scheme in the near future. Thus, funded again by Open Philanthropy, FishEthoGroup is extending services and promoting the CareFish project to an advanced level advocating better conditions to as much fish as possible.

Currently, we are completing the set of species-specific fish welfare requirements for FOS, but looking forward to the next steps. For the next level of the CareFish programme, which aims to establish science-based guidelines to the rearing of aquatic animals, we propose a solid strategy to perform research on the welfare of fish and effectively disseminate the knowledge through 1) our open-access database on fish ethology and welfare FishEthoBase , 2) high-level contacts with policymakers, 3) advanced training courses, and 4) organisation of scientific events. We are using fundamental and applied research to strengthen our understanding in the core of fish welfare. We are increasing our network running collaborative projects, providing advanced welfare training and consultancy packages to help farmers to design and develop on-site dedicated fish welfare solutions. This part of the project will be developed beyond the European context, making it a global effort. We will provide support to FOS and non-certified farms worldwide. Currently, we have links for expansion providing consultancy in farms in Brazil and in Cuba.

As you know we are a small, but very dedicated and effective team and COVID-19 outbreak is not decreasing our motivation or stop the second phase of CareFish.

Maria Filipa Castanheira

Fish welfare experiments carried out

The Fish Ethology and Welfare Group has released new results regarding four experiments on the effects of structural environmental enrichment (EE) on farmed fish, demonstrating for the very first time the potential use of structures as a tool to improve the welfare of certain cultured fish.

Distribution of seabream juvenile in experimental tanks.

Our first experiment demonstrated the positive effects of adding structural EE on rearing environments of juvenile seabream (Sparus aurata). Fish reared for 35 days in enriched environments (with hanging ropes) showed less aggression and interactions with the net pen and lower erosion of pectoral and caudal fins, compared to fish kept in bare conditions; but also, EE modified the horizontal distribution of fish, increasing the use of the inner areas of the experimental cage. (For more details see: Arechavala-Lopez et al. 2019 – check publications section).

Acoustic tracking to monitor fish welfare in sea cages.

Secondly, we exposed juvenile seabream in higher densities to structural EE during 60 days and demonstrated that after being exposed, fish showed an enhanced spatial cognition, better learning capabilities, and higher swimming activity than those fish reared in bare environments. Physiological analyses (antioxidant enzyme and monoaminergic activities) also showed that structural EE induces a hormetic response, enhancing positive welfare (physical and mental states) of seabream. Third, similar enrichment structures were later applied in a seabream commercial-size sea cage. Thanks to the use of advanced acoustic telemetry techniques, we demonstrated that such structures can modify the distribution of fish inside the netpen, increasing the spatial use by captive fish and decreasing the overlapping among individuals. Finally, we developed a fourth experiment on juvenile seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), implementing structural EE on some tanks with high densities. Results showed that those individuals reared under enriched conditions enhanced their bold behaviour and learning capabilities under stress conditions.

All these experiments have been designed, coordinated, and supervised by members of FishEthoGroup and carried out in close collaboration with Spanish institutions: the University of Balearic Islands (UIB), the Laboratory of Marine Reseach and Aquaculture (LIMIA, Balearic Government), and the Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies (IMEDEA – CSIC/UIB). Apart from demonstrating the potential positive effects of EE on captive fish, three Master students (Samira Nuñez, Lidia Muñoz, and Juan Carlos Caballero) got the maximum qualification in their thesis, a satisfactory reward for their hard and professional work. All these works will be soon published and available on-line in peer-review scientific journals.

Pablo Arechavala-Lopez

Newest species entries in the FishEthoBase

In August 2019, we added the full profile of Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) to the FishEthoBase. Among the 10 most frequently farmed species (by quantity) and farmed by 78 countries worldwide, there is still a lack of laboratory research and farm surveys - for example on substrate and shelter which is not only asked for because C. carpio uses substrate in the wild, but also given personality research pointing to the importance of shelter for passive individuals. Another example is daily rhythm which seems to differ between individuals but point toward a nocturnal rhythm and calls for research on photoperiod and stress and light intensity preference.

Cyprinus carpio (Glerl, NOOA, Wikimedia Commons)

The latest full profile is that of Pangasius (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus). Although farmed for at least 60 years, we were surprised to find so many natural behaviours underexplored like substrate and shelter preference, foraging mode, daily rhythm and home range, reproduction, spatial and social organisation. In the light of this realisation it was no wonder that we could not find any research on cognitive abilities, personality differences, or emotion-like states. Even the studies on stress factors were limited.

Octopus vulgaris 
(Comingio Merculiano, in Jatta Giuseppe, Wikipedia Commons)

The latest additions to the short profiles are on the Giant gourami (Osphronemus goramy) and the Striped bass (Morone saxatilis). And with the Common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), Mexican four-eyed octopus (Octopus maya), and the Common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), FishEthoBase ventured into Cephalopods. A similar picture emerges as in the full profiles in that crucial information is missing to ensure welfare under farming conditions. Additionally, in O. vulgaris and O. maya, the solitary life style in the wild and aggression under high stocking densities result in a low FishEthoScore. In S. officinalis, extensive swimming (home range, depth, migration) seems to be incompatible with captivity. Swimming range is also partly responsible for the low FishEthoScore in M. saxatilis, although lowering densities and adding substrate could increase welfare. In O. goramy, the body of literature is even slimmer. Rearing in ponds provides natural photoperiod and substrate, but moving production inside could prove advantageous by increasing protection from predators, adverse weather conditions, and stress.

If you are interested in filling some of these knowledge gaps, explore the new profiles to find the topic(s) of your choice and let us know your results so that we may colour in the white spots!

Jenny Volstorf

Conferences where we presented our work

6 March 2019, Brussels, "Rethink Fish", European Parliament:
Joâo L. Saraiva: Science-based evidence and directions for humane fish farming.

14 May 2019, Swansea, 1st Symposium on Welfare in Aquaculture:
Maria Filipa Castanheira: Fish Welfare Criteria in Worldwide Aquaculture: the CareFish Project

11 June 2019, Brussels, Eurogroup and Open Phlinathropy grantees:
Joâo L. Saraiva: and Billo Heinzpeter Studer: The Carefish project for FOS

3 Oct 2019, Vienna, Nachhaltige Beschaffung von Fisch der Stadt Wien:
Billo Heinzpeter Studer: Welchen Fisch kauf ich denn nun?

15 Oct 2019, Brussles, Aquaculture Advisory Council:
Joâo L. Saraiva: Driving Mr. Tinbergen, Ethology and welfare in fish farming

18 Nov. 2019, Freiburg, 51. Intl. Tagung Angewandte Ethologie, Freiburg:  
Billo Heinzpeter Studer: Erarbeitung von praxistauglichen Fischwohl-Kriterien für die Aquakultur (Keynote on the CareFish project for Friend of the Sea)

New papers authored by our team

Selected publications:

Arechavala-Lopez PA, Nazzaro-Alvarez J, Jardí-Pons A, et al. Linking stocking densities and feeding strategies with social and individual stress responses on gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) . Physiology & Behavior. 2020;213. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112723

Saraiva JL, Arechavala-Lopez PA, Castanheira MF, Volstorf J, Studer B HPS. A Global Assessment of Welfare in Farmed Fishes: The Fishethobase . Fishes. 2019. doi:10.3390/fishes4020030

Saraiva JL, Arechavala-Lopez P. Welfare of Fish—No Longer the Elephant in the Room . Fishes. 2019;4:39–0. doi:10.3390/fishes4030039

Arechavala-Lopez PA, Diaz-Gil C, Saraiva JL, et al. Effects of structural environmental enrichment on welfare of juvenile seabream (Sparus aurata) . Aquaculture Reports. 2019;15. doi:10.1016/j.aqrep.2019.100224

More publications by our team

Senegalese fishermen call for help against looting by foreign trawlers


The Fisheries Minister of the West African Republic of Senegal plans to issue 56 new fishing licences for Chinese trawlers. (1) This would be a sell-out of fish stocks which are already dangerously over-exploited. The domestic fishing industry is countering this with a nationwide campaign aimed at getting the President of the Republic to stop issuing licences. Senegalese fishermen and journalists are working on a video documentation of the problem, which is to be distributed through channels at home and abroad. fair-fish international supports this work with a starting contribution and asks for additional donations.

More here  

Annual report of the fair-fish international association

Due to various unforseen hurdles, fair-fish international association has finally concluded its annual report for the long year July 2017 to December 2018. The highlight in the period reported was the beginning of our research and consulting on fish welfare for the international certification scheme "Friend of the Sea (FOS)" and the FOS-certified farms, an initiative enabled by a grant form Open Philanthropy.
The annual report for 2019 is under revision and will be published in summer.

Find the report 2017/2018 here

Thank you for your interest in our news. We will be happy to keep you posted on coming news, and we look forward to meeting you in person when improved circumstances will permit it again. Stay safe.

Kind regards,

Billo Heinzpeter Studer
fair-fish international association