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It’s time to step up the regulation of fish farms in the UK


3 min read

Ensuring farmed animals experience minimal pain and suffering at the time of death is a key principle behind our laws and regulations on animal slaughter.

We require mandatory pre-stunning before slaughter, and in recent years we have required CCTV in slaughterhouses. This piece of regulation, capitalising on recent technological advancements, affords important protection to farm animals at their most vulnerable time.

Yet, millions of sentient animals slaughtered in the United Kingdom every year still don’t receive the mandatory protection of CCTV or pre-stun slaughter. That’s no small number – this represents the second largest farmed animal group in the UK after chicken. Somehow, these sentient animals have slipped through the net – literally and metaphorically.

I’m talking about fish – farmed in their millions across the UK.

There remains a significant disparity between the legal protection afforded to farmed fish versus that afforded to terrestrial farmed animals

Almost three decades ago in 1996, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s Report on the Welfare of Farmed Fish argued that the commitment to humane slaughter, which was applied to farmed terrestrial animals, should also be applied to farmed fish. Some years later, in 2014, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee stated “all fish should be stunned prior to killing or reach unconsciousness without distress or delay”.

Ultimately, the report called for us to address the double standard at play whereby farmed fish received far less detailed welfare protection than other farmed terrestrial animals. This is what I am calling for today as we await the Animal Welfare Committee updated opinion on the Welfare of Fish at the Time of Killing.

It is critical that the committee builds on their past recommendations, to ensure that the UK government has the strongest possible case for introducing meaningful legal protections for farmed fish at the time of killing. With the industry openly intending to grow rapidly in coming years, it has never been more important to ensure farmed fish are not forgotten in our endeavours to secure high animal welfare standards.

We hope that the government’s opinion will include mandatory pre-stunning before slaughter and CCTV in fish slaughterhouses, applying to all farmed fish.

The UK has been at the forefront of progress in implementing some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, but aquatic animals have been excluded from much of this legislation. Much of the industry has taken voluntary measures to protect farmed fish welfare at slaughter which we must commend, but there remains a significant disparity between the legal protection afforded to farmed fish versus that afforded to terrestrial farmed animals.

With fish now recognised as sentient beings in law, it is only right that they should be afforded the same legal protections as other farmed animals. This sentiment is strongly reflected within the British public, where 71 per cent believe the welfare of fish should be safeguarded to the same extent as other species.

We do not rely on industry codes for any other farmed animal welfare standards. It is time we stopped turning a blind eye to the largely unregulated slaughter of millions of farmed fish every year in the UK and introduce regulations that afford farmed fish equivalent legal protection to that of terrestrial farmed animals.


Lord Trees, crossbench peer. 

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Trees - The government must ensure that animal testing of cosmetics is banned for good