A significant new report by researchers Alison Mood and Phil Brooke Estimating the Number of Farmed Fish Killed in Global Aquaculture Each Year has calculated that between 37 billion and 120 billion farmed fish - with a midpoint around 80 billion - were killed for food in 2010.
The report is the first systematic attempt at estimating the numbers of farmed fish on a global scale. The figures were calculated from the UN Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) data for tonnages of fish produced in 2010 and online figures for harvest weights. For the EU, the figure works out at 460-1,700 million (midpoint 1.1 billion). By comparison, 63 billion birds and mammals were slaughtered for food in the same year.
OneKind believes that showing the global extent of fish farming in terms of numbers, rather than consistently describing the “harvest” in terms of tonnage, is an essential reminder of the fact that each one of these billions of animals is an individual. Each one is sentient, and has welfare needs.
There is now widespread acceptance that fish can experience pain and distress and that their use in farming entails a responsibility for their welfare. Most of the world’s farmed fish are produced in Asia where the transport, handling and killing of fish usually do not conform to internationally agreed fish welfare guidelines. Even in Europe, where some attention is paid to issues such as stocking densities, basic behavioural needs such as the need to find cover and places to hide, to be solitary or to migrate are ignored.
Attention has also been paid in Europe to the stunning and killing of commercial species. However, EU scientists have concluded that many existing commercial killing methods expose fish to substantial suffering over a prolonged period of time. For many species, there is no commercially acceptable method that can kill fish humanely, and in many parts of the world the traditional method of allowing farmed fish to asphyxiate slowly in air, or on ice, is still the norm.
Here in Europe we associate fish farming with the production of trout and salmon, with an occasional foray into turbot and sea bass – but on a global scale the most extensively exploited species are members of the carp family, tilapias and catfish, followed by the salmonids, then by milkfish, sea breams and sea basses. Some of these farmed fish live far longer than other intensively reared species, such as poultry, yet the conditions in which they live receive far less attention.
This new report, with its astonishing calculations, aims to support the development of welfare rules for fish farming in the EU and beyond.
Two years ago, Alison Mood estimated the numbers of wild fish caught globally each year (around 1.0-2.7 trillion), and pointed to the massive consequences for animal welfare. The latest fish numbers (including the number of wild fish (450-1000 billion) caught to produce fishmeal and oil, and the number of these fish which are used in aquaculture or to feed farmed fish) are published on the website www.fishcount.org.uk