Editorial: Aquatic animal welfare?
Updated: Jan 22
Imagen: shutterstock.com / Tosaphon C
Although several pieces of research have concluded that aquatic animals are sentient beings, many of them are still being confined, cultivated, and executed by aquaculture companies to satisfy human needs. This reality, comparable to that experienced by land animals that are victims of the farming industry, differs from the latter in the absence of clearly defined welfare standards.
However, at the end of last year, the Aquatic Life Institute (ALI), together with a group of world experts, created a comprehensive guide, the first of its kind, on the welfare of wild and farmed aquatic animals. This milestone could be considered a significant step forward since aquatic animal welfare has not been a topic of particular interest in our predominant moral and legal discourses.
For example, in Chile, article 13 F of Law No. 18,892 on Fishing and Aquaculture states that "Aquaculture must contemplate norms that safeguard animal welfare and procedures that avoid unnecessary suffering." However, it does not expressly establish what such welfare would consist of, which is not a priority within the context of a law and an institutional framework aimed at exploiting these animals as resources. Moreover, this law preempts Law No. 20,380 on the Protection of Animals.
In the above context, the importance -and rawness- of the milestone marked by the ALI's recommendations does not lie in the supposed advance of the frontiers of human moral consideration, nor in a vindication of that dignity and liberty that we have taken away from many of the non-human inhabitants of this planet.
What is relevant and overwhelming about this milestone is the fact that we have exploited for centuries countless numbers of these sentient individuals in circumstances that are dangerous for them, for human beings and ecosystems, without even the slightest cultural questioning of this practice or its conditions, at least regarding the inherent value that each sentient being has. Until now.
Today, we can talk about concrete criteria that would define the "welfare" of aquatic animals in those previously described contexts. However, does not the genuine welfare of these non-human animals lie in their liberation from humans and the suppression of all forms of exploitation?
Center for Chilean Animal Law Studies
According to FAO's official numbers, around 82,000,000 tons of aquatic animals were cultivated in the world in 2018. Although it is difficult to estimate how many lives this figure would represent, we can make the following calculation: A fish like the Atlantic salmon can be harvested between 3 and 5 kg in weight. If we estimate that a farmed fish of another species would have proportions similar to those of an Atlantic salmon, and if we ignore the existence of other animals than fish that are also victims of this industry (such as shellfish), we could conclude that, based on an average weight of 4 kg per farmed animal, about 20,500,000,000 animals died during the year 2018. This would be more than double the human population of the planet.