World aquaculture production has broken the all-time production record with a total of 214 million tons, of which 178 million tons are aquatic organisms and 36 million tons are algae. Human consumption of seafood products has increased from 9.9 kg in the 1960s to 20.2 kg today. Considering the world population growth rate, aquaculture products contribute to human food as a great source of protein. Especially with increasing post-harvest food processes, income growth, urbanization, climate crises and changes in dietary trends, the average per capita consumption is expected to be 21.4 kg in 2030 (FAO 2022). Fish farming in Turkey was 79,031 tons in 2000, this amount reached 421,411 tons in 2020, an increase of more than 5 times. In Türkiye, 69.6% of this production, i.e. 293,175 tons, takes place as gilthead seabream (S. aurata) and European seabass (D. labrax) production. While the number of gilthead sea bream and European sea bass fry in Türkiye was 29 million in 2000, this figure was approximately 450-480 million fry of gilthead sea bream and European sea bass in 2022. Today, there are 265 licensed net cage enterprises engaged in marine fish farming in Türkiye. The number of enterprises with a capacity of 1000 tons is 93 (BSGM 2023).
The rapidly growing aquaculture sector in the world and in Türkiye has led to an increased awareness of environmental problems and fish welfare (Çoban et. al., 2020). Although there are many scientific studies on environmental problems, studies on animal welfare and fish suffering are very few. Although some improvements to fish welfare during harvesting are gradually being made, the vast majority of the world’s farmed fish are currently harvested using inhumane methods. More welfare-friendly alternatives exist for some species, but much work remains to be done before they are widely adopted in the industry. Humane slaughter methods for other fish species are still under development and research should be prioritized. A report prepared for the European Commission in 2017 stated that member states are not fully complying with various directives on fish slaughter. The report also highlighted a major problem that stunning systems are not formally assessed and controlled in practice.
Percussive stunning or electric stunning is recommended for some species. These systems are important as long as they do not kill the fish. These systems should be followed by an appropriate killing method, such as gill cutting, decapitation or destruction of the brain, the important thing here is to ensure that the fish is killed before it regains consciousness (OIE, 2010).
Retailers and consumers are undoubtedly the most important influencing forces in promoting and investing in fish welfare. Therefore, the present study examines producers’ awareness and perspectives on fish welfare in Türkiye, the second - largest fish producer in continental Europe and the largest producer of gilthead sea bream and European sea bass in the world.
Material and Methods
In the study, a face-to-face/online survey was conducted with fish producers. The questionnaire consists of about 50 questions in two parts including production methods and approach to animal welfare. The survey questions were open-ended or based on a 4-point Likert scale. In the study, producer companies corresponding to 75% of the total production capacity were interviewed. The SPSS package program was used to evaluate the data.
All of the producer companies participating in the study attach importance to fish welfare and declared that they carry out studies (training, meetings, etc.) on this subject. They reported that they apply the most important elements of fish welfare such as stock density, feeding time and amount, cage maintenance etc. according to the fish species and geographical location. So much so that the survival rate during aquaculture in all net cages is between 10-15% and the FCR varies between 1:1 and 1:1.5 depending on the cultured fish species. The companies use either the ice slurry method or electric stunning systems (ESS) for the harvesting of gilthead sea bream, European sea bass and rainbow trout. All of the companies have an ESS (Figure 1). However, in line with the demand from the market, the preference for using ESS during harvesting varies. However, they also reported that the selling price of fish harvested using ESS is not higher than other harvesting methods both in the domestic and foreign markets. Of the companies using this impacting machine, 40% prefer domestic production. They stated that spare parts, maintenance-repair, etc. cannot be done in imported machines or that this process takes a lot of time. They reported that the most important problem faced by the companies during the ESS was the installation of this machine on the harvesting boat. Likewise, they also reported that when the wave height is high, sufficient amounts of fish from the fish pump cannot reach the electric impactor system sufficiently.
BSGM 2023. https://www.tarimorman.gov.tr/BSGM/Menu/32/Bilgi-Dokumanlari
Çoban, D., Demircan, M.D., Tosun, D.D. (Eds.) 2020. Marine Aquaculture in Turkey: Advancements and Management. Turkish Marine Research Foundation (TUDAV) Publication No: 59, İstanbul, Turkey, 430 p.
FAO 2022. https://www.fao.org/3/cc2211en/cc2211en.pdf
OIE. (2010). Welfare Aspects of Stunning and Killing of Fish for Human Consumption. Health (San Francisco), 1–5. Retrieved from http://web.oie.int/eng/normes/fcode/en_chapitre_1.7.3.pdf