With hidden camera and drones. This has been documented Franz Weber Foundation (FFW) “unnecessary suffering” during the breeding process of the fish species that are most produced in Spain in fish farms. Sea bream, sea bass, turbot or trout are subjected, according to the foundation, to slaughter methods “disadvised” by the scientific community and by the European Union.
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It is the first video that shows the usual practices of handling farmed fish in the Spanish aquaculture sector. It was produced between 2020 and 2022 in a dozen national fish farms, including several in Castilla-La Mancha.
In some fish farms, the slaughter on ice was recorded, a widespread practice in most Spanish fish farms that also dispenses with prior stunning. It consists of immersing live fish in a mixture of ice with water, or in ice directly, which causes the death of the animals due to hypothermia or suffocation. Because cooling reduces metabolic rate and oxygen needs, it can prolong dying, with some cold-adapted species taking more than an hour to die.
These fish farms have the characteristics of an industrial farm: the concentration of a large number of animals of the same species in a small space. Something that the Franz Weber Foundation describes as “low standards of animal welfare”.
“Far from being isolated cases, they constitute standardized practices in fish farms, as was seen during the time the video was made,” explains the entity.
“It takes an hour and a half to die”
When asked how long it takes for the fish to die by slaughtering on ice, one of the workers at a trout fish farm replied that “it takes an hour and a half.”
In the images, it is also possible to observe the overcrowding of fish in the tanks, the premature deaths due to the production conditions and the “improper” handling of the fish by the personnel of the fish farms. In one of the fish farms, a worker reported that 1,823 trout had died that day alone. The next day there were another 1,300 casualties.
Another practice shown in the investigative report is the process of forced spawning, where the animal is anesthetized and forcefully pressed in the stomach to extract the eggs. The manager of one of the farms filmed explains that the spawning process can lead to injuries or even death of the fish. The spawning process takes place every 7 months.
In some cases, the animals must be transported to other facilities where they will be treated with ozone, an oxidizing agent, to adapt their flavor to the demands of other international markets. This practice entails crowding the fish, suction with an industrial pump, transportation, and deposition back into tanks. After three days, they will be sacrificed, which will lead them to have to go through overcrowding and suction again, affects the foundation.
Farms on land, in the sea or in fresh water: “There is an exponential development of the sector”
In Spain, fish farms are distributed both in the marine environment and in fresh water (lakes and rivers), or in farms on land, dividing them into land facilities and marine facilities. The video was carried out in 12 fish farms, both on land and in the sea.
In 2016, the production in Spain of farmed fish and shellfish amounted to 287,281 tons. Of these, marine aquaculture (fish and shellfish) contributed 269,656 tons (94%), and some 17,625 tons corresponded to freshwater aquaculture.
As for land farms, eight trout farms were filmed. Generally, trout farms can have a capacity of between 380,000 and 3.5 million animals. In one of the largest farms, located in Albacete, its manager claimed to have up to 3.5 million fish of all sizes.
Rubén Pérez, head of FFW campaigns, describes the development of the aquaculture sector as “exponential”. In his opinion, the latest scientific advances in fish physiology and behavior “underscore the need to address the animal welfare of aquaculture fish.”