News from fair-fish: November 2020

A warm welcome to our winter newsletter.

Despite the pandemic hurdles which have delaid some of our tasks as well, summer and fall has seen our team busy and reaching some new goals about which we will briefly inform you here, as well as about upcoming activities and events.

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 second wave which we all will hopefully overcome so we can meet again in person at events next year.

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

Fish Welfare Course II online

The welfare of fish is growing to be an essential topic in present day aquaculture, fisheries, and academia. The promotion of best practices towards good welfare must rely on a) solid scientific knowledge of the biology of fish and b) appropriate design and use of technical solutions. We are proud to present the second edition of our Fish Welfare Course, where once again top international experts in their fields will lecture each module.

This second edition of the course will be held online on the 1st to 4th of February 2021, and it is co-organised by our FishEthoGroup association and the Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR, Portugal). The intensive 4-day training programme will cover: sentience, pain, and mental aspects of fish welfare; ethology, biology and physiology of stress, and sensory systems in fish; operational welfare indicators and improvement tools; policy, law, and welfare certifications.

The course will be lectured online, and the speakers were carefully selected to be the top international experts in their field. Each lecturer will be free to organise their subject as they deem appropriate, considering the audience and contents in their field of expertise. There will be a focus on practical application of the knowledge acquired during the course, either by thought exercises, problem solving or case-studies. Participants are expected to have at least some background in fish science, aquaculture, fisheries or related disciplines. In addition, we offer five “fair-fish” fellowships to attend our online course, aiming to cover situations of unemployment and residency in developing countries. 

Pablo Arechavala-Lopez

More info and registration here  

New staff members––farewell to Maria Filipa Castanheira

Life is change. Regardless of the cliché it holds true even for a young team such as ours, so it is with a mix of feelings that we say farewell to our friend and colleague Maria Filipa Castanheira who is leaving the FishEthoGroup to pursue another step in her excellent career.

Maria Filipa was part of the fair-fish international team since 2016 and was one of the founding members of the FishEthoGroup Association. During her years with us, she applied her wide expertise both in fish welfare and industry protocols to help develop, among others, the CAREFISH requirements for Friend Of the Sea standards, many profiles for the FishEthoBase and the Fish Welfare Course. In the meantime, she also continued to produce scientific literature with co-authorships in groundbreaking papers in the field of fish welfare. But more than that she was a true friend that gave her heart to the projects she participated in. We wish you the best of luck in your future job and look forward to further opportunities to collaborate!

We also have the pleasure to welcome two new team members: Maria Cabrera, who will join our team as a researcher at CCMAR (Faro, Portugal), and Caroline Marques Maia who will work with us from São Paulo (Brazil).

María J. Cabrera-Álvarez is a biologist with a specialty in fish behaviour and neuroscience. She did a MSc in Animal Behaviour and Neuroscience at Utrecht University (The Netherlands), a PhD in Fish Social Behaviour and Neuroscience at McGill University (Canada), and worked at a Comparative Cognition laboratory at University of Cambridge (UK). María is interested in the underlying mechanisms of animal cognition and social behaviour and in how we can use this information to improve the life and welfare of farmed fish. She is part of the team behind FishEthoBase, where she is responsible for creating and updating fish profiles, and also performs research on farmed fish species and participates in the organisation of FishEthoGroup events.

Caroline Marques Maia is a biologist specialised in animal behaviour and welfare. She did a MSc and a PhD in Zoology at UNESP University (Brazil) by investigating choices, preferences, and motivations of different fish species for environmental colours, shelters, and substrate. Part of her PhD was developed at Pennsylvania State University (USA). In 2016, Caroline proposed the Preference Index to evaluate animal preference and motivation responses, including fish, in a more reliable and objective way. She is now graduating also as a scientific journalist and maintains a blog about animal behaviour and welfare. Living in Brazil, she works as an independent researcher and is interested in fish preference and motivation to access environmental resources and how to use this to improve their welfare under restricted conditions. Caroline is part of the team behind FishEthoBase, being responsible for creating and updating fish profiles.

As expected, we are super excited to boost our work with this fantastic team!

João L. Saraiva

 From left: Maria Filipa Castanheira, Maria Cabrera-Alvarez, Carol Marques Maia


New projects have been carried out during the last months, ranging from the use of innovative tools to monitor fish swimming activity to the effects of structural environmental enrichment on welfare of farmed fish. During March 2020, we worked in close collaboration with colleagues from the Wageningen University and Research (WUR, The Netherlands) on the AccelBream project, funded by AquaExcel2020 and the European Tracking Network Cost Action – STSM. In this project, we have validated accelerometer transmitters in swim tunnels on gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) in order to better understand the swimming activity of this species and its relationship with fish motion and active metabolic rate. This project improved the existing knowledge about the use of accelerometers as potential tools to monitor fish welfare in aquaculture.

In addition, final results have been obtained from a second experiment carried out last year at the Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR, Portugal). The experiment consisted of covering the rearing tanks of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) to assess the potential effects on behaviour and physiological stress responses. The study reveals the importance of testing fish preferences when some type of enrichment is applied, as it can cause undesirable effects or maladaptive responses. In the case of covers, fully covered treatments had no effects, but if applied partially (50%), it can increase stressful conditions and reduce the welfare of Nile tilapia in the tanks. All these works will be soon published and available online in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Pablo Arechavala-Lopez

New species in the FishEthoBase

Since our last newsletter in May 2020, we added three new short profiles to the FishEthoBase , our free open access online database to collect ethological behaviour of the most commonly farmed species wordwide. The Brown trout (Salmo trutta) extends our species of the Salmonidae family. Although not farmed extensively, the lack of knowledge on conditions and behaviour in the wild as well as conditions of farming facilities is striking. From the little information we found, need for substrate, unsuccessful reproduction in captivity, and susceptibility to all kinds of husbandry stressors give the impression of an aquaculture candidate that is hard to provide high welfare in captivity for.

With Mangrove red snapper (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) and Crimson snapper (Lutjanus erythropterus), we ventured into the family of snappers native to and reared in the Indo-West Pacific. Reproduction without manipulation is possible in L. argentimaculatus, and substrate is used either as covers above or as shelters within cages. Still, the need for deep water makes it unlikely to become a promising aquaculture candidate. Data on further criteria is lacking. In L. erythropterus, the plasticity in depth use seems to be larger and thus the adaptability to captivity potentially higher, but in almost all other criteria, research on natural features or behaviour on the one hand and farming conditions on the other hand is urgently missing to have an informed picture of the species' fit to aquaculture.

We also used the time to update the profile of Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) to include even more literature. The research status of R. canadum is much better than that of the previously mentioned three new species. The gathered knowledge paints the picture of a species, though, whose preference for deep water, need to migrate, solitary life style, potential for aggressiveness, and proneness to stress and malformations question the suitability as a promising aquaculture candidate.

You have proposals for new species profiles, literature recommendations or personal observations from wild or farm you would like to share? Get in touch!

Jenny Volstorf

Fish welfare criteria delivered to Friend of the Sea

Within the frame of an agreement between fair-fish international, the international seafood certification scheme Friend of the Sea (FOS), and the foundation Open Philanthropy, closed in 2017, we were able to hand over the fish welfare criteria and indicators for 24 species by September 2020. The FOS staff is currently at work in order to integrate fish welfare into its standards which then will be submitted to stakeholder dialogues. 

The criteria and indicators are based (1) on the findings gathered and presented in our FishEthoBase and (2) on our visits at a total of 51 fish farms belonging to 33 companies in 12 countries (8 EU member states, Turkey, 2 Latin America states). The survey covered the husbandry of 24 fish species, including hatchery and/or slaughter, depending on the company.

The farms were visited twice. During the first visit, we carried out a gap analysis based on which we provided the farmer with suggestions how to improve the welfare of his fishes. Main issues encountered referred to fish welfare training of the staff, humane slaughter, stress, environmental enrichment, and monitoring fish welfare indicators. After about six months, in our second visits, we observed the improvements accomplished meanwhile. 14% of all proposed measures had already been implemented, whereas 29% were in the planning stage. 

The definition of fish welfare criteria, which are to become a binding component of the FOS standard, faces the problem that many of the issues identified cannot yet be solved by copying existing examples on a similarly equipped farm of the same fish species. It is therefore planned to make criteria mandatory after a realistic transition period. This corresponds to the current situation of the long neglected fish welfare in aquaculture which has grown extremely rapidly in terms of quantity since the 1950s and continues to grow, while the number of species exceeds terrestrial livestock farming by eighteen times. The aim to improve the welfare of as many farms as possible will only be achieved step by step through smart developments in practice.

Billo Heinzpeter Studer

Find the project report here


Consulting provided by the FishEthoGroup

During the last months, our FishEthoGroup has been focused on bridging some gaps between academia, industry, and NGOs.

On the one hand, we did a consultancy work requested by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) to develop species profiles on fish welfare for its Fish Welfare project. ASC is an independent non-profit organisation that manages a stringent certification and labelling programme for responsible aquaculture based on species-specific standards. We developed a set of profiles on welfare in the most commonly farmed aquatic species: Atlantic salmon, Rainbow trout, Nile tilapia, Pangasius, Cobia, Seriola, European seabass, Gilthead sea bream, Meagre, Whiteleg shrimp, and Giant tiger prawn. These species profiles provide the experts of its Technical Working Group with accurate, updated, and user-friendly information about the status of fish welfare knowledge and promotion in the most commonly farmed aquatic species, which might be considered to assess how to expand comprehensively the list of fish welfare-related indicators and requirements in ASC standards.
ASC webpage:

On the other hand, we are collaborating with the fish farming company Culmarex S.A.U. (Cooke Group) and the University of Alicante (Spain) to enhance protocols to assess fish welfare status in their facilities. This project consists of reinforcing and updating current practices and standards in place in the Company. The work also consists of identifying additional sets of fish welfare indicators which may be operationally applied. This supports the company to maintain a science-based monitoring program for a long-term evaluation of the fish welfare conditions both in hatchery and on-growing facilities of Gilthead seabream and European seabass in Spain.
Culmarex webpage:

These two consultation initiatives demonstrate the high interest of the industry, stakeholders, and overall the society in improving welfare conditions in farmed fish but also how we can help to make this happen.

Pablo Arechavala-Lopez

Talks and congresses

We had the opportunity to share our ideas in the following events:

Sciaena webinar cycle on sustainable aquaculture (June 2):
João Saraiva: Fish have minds but who minds the fish

Sciaena webinar cycle on sustainable aquaculture (June 18):
Pablo Arechavala-Lopez: Escapees and carrying capacity

Aquaculture Advisory Council Fish Welfare Seminar (October 2):
João Saraiva: FishEthoBase - an open access database on fish ethology and welfare

Aquatic Animal Welfare Conference (November 2):
João Saraiva: Driving Mr Tinbergen – Ethology and welfare in fish farming 

Aquatic Animal Welfare Conference (November 3):
Maria Filipa Castanheira: How to ensure good welfare practices in the aquaculture industry
Pablo Arechavala-Lopez: Environmental Enrichment And Fish Welfare In Aquaculture

Portuguese Ethological Society annual congress SPE2020 (November 6)
Pablo Arechavala-Lopez: Influence of captive environments on fish ethology and welfare

New scientific publications

The scientific output of the FishEthoGroup was prolific in 2020:

Arechavala-Lopez P, Caballero-Froilán JC, Jiménez-García M, et al. Enriched environments enhance cognition, exploratory behaviour and brain physiological functions of Sparus aurata. Scientific Reports. 2020;10(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-68306-6

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

Follana-Berná G, Palmer M, Lekanda-Guarrotxena A, Grau A, Arechavala-Lopez P. Fish density estimation using unbaited cameras: Accounting for environmental-dependent detectability. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 2020;527. doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2020.151376

Muñoz L, Aspillaga E, Palmer M, Saraiva JL, Arechavala-Lopez P. Acoustic telemetry: a tool to monitor fish swimming behaviour in sea-cage aquaculture. Frontiers in Marine Science. 2020. doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.00645

Baduy F, Saraiva JL, Ribeiro F, Canario AVM, Guerreiro PM. Distribution and Risk Assessment of Potential Invasiveness of Australoheros facetus (Jenyns, 1842) in Portugal. Fishes. 2020;5(1). doi:10.3390/fishes5010003

Candela MGimenez, Saraiva JL, Bauer H. The legal protection of farmed fish in Europe – analysing the range of EU legislation and the impact of international animal welfare standards for the fishes in European aquaculture. dA. Derecho Animal (Forum of Animal Law Studies). 2020;11(1). doi:10.5565/rev/da.460

Höglund E, Moltesen M, Castanheira MF, et al. Contrasting neurochemical and behavioural profiles reflects stress coping styles but not stress responsiveness in farmed gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata). Physiology and Behavior. 2020. doi:

Oliveira C, McStay E, Cabrita E, Castanheira MF et al. Investigating the kisspeptin system in the hermaphrodite teleost gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata). Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2019.110624

Castro-Fernández Julia, Castejón-Silvo Inés, Arechavala-Lopez P, Terrados Jorge, Morales-Nin B. Feeding ecology of pipefish species inhabiting Mediterranean seagrasses. Mediterranean Marine Science. 2020. doi:10.12681/mms.22455

Diaz-Gil C, Alós J, Arechavala-Lopez P, et al. Reversible morphological changes in a juvenile marine fish after exposure to predatory alarm cues. Royal Society Open Science. 2020;7(5):191945. doi:10.1098/rsos.191945

Book about fair-fish

As founder and president of fair-fish international, I had been invited by the publisher rüffer&rub in Zurich to write a book for their "visionary" series about the more than 20 years of experience in fostering fish welfare and fair trade in fisheries and aquaculture, from a personal approach.

The book talks about the first achievements in Switzerland where fair-fish played a major role in improving the welfare of fishes in the Swiss Animal Protection law; it goes on with the story of our project with artisanal fisher(wo)men on Senegal, and it ends with the achievements of the FishEthoBase and the FishEthoGroup.

So far, the book is available in German––for more, see:
An English version will be out soon, as e-book.

Billo Heinzpeter Studer

German journal on fish welfare

The International Society of Animal Husbandry (Internationale Gesellschaft für Nutztierhaltung IGN) invited me to edit the latest issue of its journal "Tierhaltung im Fokus" which for the first time in the IGN history delves entirely into fish welfare in aquaculture.
This issue combines articles from Becca Franks, Lynne Sneddon, Lluis Tort, Culum Brown, and many other authors, including members of our team.

The journal is available online, in German :
on top of the page, click "NUTZTIERHALTUNG IM FOKUS Winter 2020"
An English version may be available later.

Billo Heinzpeter Studer

Thank you for your interest in our news. We will be happy to keep you posted on coming news.

Best wishes for the end of year holidays, and above all: Stay safe!

Kind regards,

Billo Heinzpeter Studer
fair-fish international association