- A recent investigative report claims to reveal for the first time the poor conditions, including the mistreatment of fish, at some Indonesian fish farms.
- While activists and industry figures disagree on the scale of the problem, both agree that aquaculture across Asia needs to be better managed while helping smallholder farmers solve the welfare problem. be a Piscean.
- Production of farmed fish increased by 527% globally between 1990 and 2018; production of wild fish over the same period increased by only 14%.
A new report documents poor animal welfare conditions at fish farms in Indonesia, one of the world’s leading producers of fish products.
Produced by Act for Farmed Animals (AFFA), a coalition of animal rights groups, the report features undercover footage showing fish in unsanitary conditions, living in crowded and overcrowded enclosures, and being skinned and filleted while that they are still alive.
The coalition has also found live fish left on ice during transport to markets and grocery stores, which it says exposes them to heat shock, a process that keeps fish conscious and stressed for long periods of time.
“Any time you have a large number of animals raised under intensive, industrial conditions, you can expect their welfare to be seriously compromised,” said Carolina Galvani, executive director of the international animal welfare organization. Sinergia Animal, one of the groups that produced the report. The others were Indonesia-based Animal Friends Jogja and photojournalism agency We Animals Media.
“We’ve seen it with chickens, cattle and pigs, and now we also know that fish farming, harvesting and slaughtering can cause a lot of suffering,” Galvani said.
The report comes like the United Nations recently found that global aquaculture production increased by 527% between 1990 and 2018. In contrast, global capture fisheries, the capture of wild fish, grew by only 14% over the same period.
The majority of global aquaculture, the cultivation of aquatic plants and animals, takes place in Asia, with the booming Chinese market accounting for more than a third of the global industry. In Indonesia, aquaculture today provides almost 60% fish consumed across the archipelago nation.
Fish species identified by animal rights groups in their survey include the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Catfish (Pangasius spp. and Clarias spp.) and milkfish (milkfish milkfish), three of the most popular types of farmed fish in the world.
Galvani said the report “proves that large-scale fish farming can have many adverse environmental consequences.”
“When tons of fish are farmed together, they create a lot of waste, which can pollute lakes, dams and the ocean,” she told Mongabay. “Fish farms can also be breeding grounds for diseases and significant amounts of antibiotics can be used to treat them.”
But some criticized the report, saying it was not representative of aquaculture in the region.
Among them, Wing-Keong Ng, a former professor of aquaculture at various Asian universities and now a consultant for aquaculture feed producers.
Ng says modern industrial-scale fish farmers are important players in the aquaculture industry in Asia and export the product internationally. As such, the raising and harvesting of fish on these farms must adhere to various national and international certification systems, which include fish welfare as part of the certification process.
“The science of fish welfare is evolving and as new information emerges, many fish farming techniques practiced by modern aquaculture farms here in Asia are simultaneously evolving,” he told Mongabay. “It is very unfortunate that biased reporting by animal rights groups only presents one side of the story to suit their agenda without taking into account the great strides that have been made in fish welfare improvements in modern aquaculture practices.”
Ng said the Asian fish farming industry is dominated by small farmers who reside in rural areas and who do not have access to the latest information or technological advances in fish farming, including those that address fish welfare. .
“These small and medium fish farmers are more concerned with their livelihoods and providing food, security and education for their families and communities,” he said. “In my view, in any talk of the ‘mistreatment’ of farmed fish in Asia, the welfare of these resource-poor farmer groups should always be considered.”
As the demand for seafood increases, aquaculture production is expected to continue to increase. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has already required the national fisheries sector focuses more on fish farming while applying restrictions to fishing trawlers, thus suggesting that aquaculture is better for the environment than capture fishing because it does not disturb an established ecosystem.
Galvani and AFFA dispute this, saying that wild ecosystems are still being disrupted because much of the fishmeal used to feed farmed fish is produced from fish caught at sea. AFFA investigators had observed that this processed fishmeal was fed to all fish, even herbivorous species such as tilapia.
“According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the use of this type of feed in aquaculture contributes to overfishing and poses a significant threat to ocean biodiversity,” she said. .
Ng confirmed that marine ingredients used in fish feed often come from pelagic fish, such as sardines (Clupeidae spp.) and anchovies (Engraulidae spp.), which are processed into powder for fishmeal and oil for the production of fish oil.
However, Ng said the industry could change due to environmental concerns over the depletion of pelagic fish in the oceans and the reliance of poorer communities in Asia who rely on the species as an affordable food source. He said there are now commercially available alternatives to fishmeal and fish oil, including vegetable protein, insect meal and seaweed meal and oil, which are particularly suitable for both herbivorous and omnivorous farmed fish species.
“Our oceans, lakes and rivers are no longer able to provide the wild seafood needed [for sustenance] and many of these capture fisheries have collapsed, stagnated or are heavily managed by fishing quotas to maintain sustainability,” Ng said. “So aquaculture is the only way to meet current and future demand for seafood, so in that sense fish farming ‘protects’ even more wild fish from being unsustainably caught and disrupting the aquatic ecosystem.
Galvani said AFFA intends to work with Indonesian fish farmers to improve the conditions filmed in the report by identifying steps to achieve more humane and sustainable aquaculture management. These include space requirements and stocking density, water quality monitoring, and effective and humane stunning and killing techniques.
Ultimately, Galvani said, “As consumers, the most important action we can take is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products, including fish, if we are to protect our planet”.
Asia is still dealing with elements of the broader aquaculture sector, Ng said, and many countries are still struggling to address the issue of fish welfare. “Some countries have animal welfare and animal cruelty laws, although coverage of farmed fish may be limited or non-existent,” he said. “Even where these national laws exist, their application can be difficult in Asia. [It is] is a very large and diverse continent.
While the AFFA report and others by activist groups detail the negative elements of the aquaculture industry, Ng said such exposes have “forced” the global aquaculture industry to counter any “false narratives”. and thus create better environmental outcomes and more humane treatment of farmed aquatic animals, which he says is a positive outcome for the industry as a whole.
“In my view, despite the biased reporting, myths, half-truths and sometimes outright misinformation perpetuated by some environmental, food safety and animal rights groups regarding the aquaculture industry, they play a ‘check and balance’ role in curbing some of the excesses of the aquaculture industry,” Ng said.
See related reports: Indonesia plans to have a network of 136 dedicated aquaculture villages by the end of this year:
Indonesia aims for sustainable fish farming with ‘aquaculture villages’