8:19 am, August 17, Wednesday

Project objectives

Welfare problem is for nowadays human society not just a goal or a contemporary perspective, but more and more acute, a necessity.

The importance of animal welfare issue is demonstrated by the fact that it is within the interests of non-governmental organizations and governmental bodies, in the political, economic, social, technical and professional fields: United Nations Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Trade Organization, Council of Europe, European Union, Office International des Epizooties – World Organisation for Animal Health, the Codex Alimentarius, the World Veterinary Association, World Society for the Protection of Animals, Eurogroup for Animal Welfare.

Regarding inferior verterbrata, although there are still scientists who dispute the existence of pain or suffering to fish (Rose, 2002), EU law requires stunning them, recognizing their ability to express negative emotions. Recent British research (Kirby, 2003) refuted Rose’s theory, stating that, of the 58 cutaneous receptors found in the cephalic area of fish, 22 are definitely nociceptors and are stimulated by changes in pressure and by temperature rises above 40 Celsius degrees.

As for other animals of economic interest, in fish welfare assessment can be done by one of the following methods: based on behavioral indicators, based on systems and management practices, by integrative numerical systems and by H.A.C.C.P. system.

In terms of behavioral indicators, they are more difficult to apply to fish because these particulars species do not express voice, facial or postural responses. An increased incidence of agonistic behavior in fish (proactive) is a sign of poor welfare. Aggressive behavior at the individual level can be measured using the dominance index (number of aggressive manifestations of individuals / number of aggressive events in group x 100) or the average consumption level of food (individual average consumption of feed pellets / consumption of pellets in group x 100). For fish welfare interpretation may be used following behavioral indicators: swimming hieratic (ataxia) or swimming on the surface, mouth and opercula opening or fish grouping near the water aeration devices (secondary to gill diseases or water deficit in oxygen content), loss of appetite, swimming in circles or increased incidence of jumps outside the water (which reveals parasitoses or low water quality), color changes.

In terms of color changes, generalized hypermelanosis reveals, regardless of species, that fish are subject of chronic stress, while a lighter (pale) color of the skin usually reveals discomfort due to viral or bacterial diseases.

To assess fish ethogram, with special reference to their mobility in tanks or transport containers may be used last generation non-invasive methods, such as video recording or telemetry. In addition, behavioral indicators fully prove their usefulness in situations of assessing the influence of different internal/external environmental factors upon welfare in the form of preference and aversion studies.

Fisheries management systems are welfare indicators easy to define and measure, including: method of feeding, ration composition, existing programs of prevention and control of nutritional and metabolic diseases, stocking density in tanks or containers for transport, the existence, relevance and timeliness of control programs for contagious infectious and parasitic diseases in the farm (infectious necrotic pancreatitis, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, furunculosis, infectious dropsy, branchiomicosis, saprolegniasis, coccidiosis, ligulosis, argulosis etc.). Factors related to management practices (e.g. professional and practical skills of stockmen) are harder to measure, almost impossible in a single visit in the farm.

Welfare assessment based on numerical systems is the most common method of integrative assessment of welfare for mammals and birds farm animals species. Their integrative nature that derives from their feature of joining factors related to housing conditions and management systems and practices (engineering-based parameters) with behavioral and pathological factors (animal-based parameters). Because of the essential differences of fish in comparison with higher vertebrates: physiological differences (body temperature and its dynamics, since they are poikilothermic species), environmental (vulnerability to poor water quality and water pollution) and ethological (behavioral patterns completely different from mammals), the factors or areas of influence belonging to the welfare assessment sheets for mammals or birds can not be extrapolated to fish.

Therefore, a potential integrative numerical system for fish welfare assessment may take from previous experience offered by these systems applied to mammals and birds only the methodology for determining the indicators describing quality of life (preference studies) and the results interpretation model in order to rate the level of welfare.

A numerical integrative fish welfare assessment system may have comprised the following factors: the percentage of mortality, the existence and severity of skin lesions, gain of weight, incidence of external parasitosis (skin, gill), concentrations of dissolved oxygen in water (over or below the acceptable admitted limits – see national legislation in force, namely Law 458/2002, supplemented and amended by Law 311/2004 – 5 mg / l), water temperature, the ammonia content, the degree of training and practical skills of stockmen, existing action plans for crisis situations, general programs of fish wellness monitoring, diseases control programs, the procedures of fish restraining.

Welfare assessment based on the HACCP system was proposed by Grandin (1998) and adopted widely in the United States. Currently, in Europe (Netherlands, Germany) are great efforts to introduce welfare assessment systems based on HACCP principles. For fish, the critical control points which could  be included in an welfare evaluation system based on HACCP are the following: general state of the individual in terms of mucocutaneous surface, the ammonia content of water, oxygen dissolved in water, salinity; storage density. Both for salmonids in fisheries or angled may be used as an indicator of welfare the body condition factor (K), which reflect the fish feed consumption. The factor shows large variations, under the influence numerous physiological factors, which fluctuate throughout the development stages (fry, youth, adult breeders). Similar parameters referring to the length / weight of  fish were proposed by Anderson and Neumann (1996) to monitor the condition at a population level in fish ponds or in natural water. Body condition factor is calculated as (10N x W) / L3 (where W is fish weight in grams, L is fish length in mm from cephalic extremity to caudal fin posterior limit, N is a coefficient determined by repeated trials on a large number of fish and has a value of 5). Depending on this factor, the welfare of fish could be rated as: excellent – k over 1.6 value, good – K is more than 1.4 , acceptable – k over 1.2, Poor – k over 1, very poor – K is between 1 and 0.8.

Difficulty of applying HACCP strategies for evaluating welfare in fish farms and to use the results in order to continuosly optimize it lies in the fact that each critical point impact upon welfare as an outcome can not be determined accurately. Various factors – such as stocking density – exerts its effect by others – such as water quality and fish behavior (Ellis and others, 2002, Turnbull and others, 2005, named in the Welfare of Fish in European Aquaculture from 162 Meeting of the CSO: 14 to 15 June 2005).

Evaluation of animal welfare during transport are made based on: behavioral indicators, physiological indicators, biochemical indicators, mortality during transportation, injuries and lesions of carcasses (The Welfare of Animals During Transport-Details for horses, pigs, sheep and Cattle, Report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, March 11, 2002).

Among the behavioral indicators, in order to determine fish welfare during transport are likely to use: the level of intraspecific aggression and determination  of the intensity of reactions to avoid stressful situations.

In terms of physiological indicators, in literature there was presented the possibility to determine the welfare of fish based on cardiovascular activity,  on respiratory frequency (LE Barreto, GL Volpato, 2004), on haematological parameters which reveal osmotic pressure maintaining  and isohydria: osmotic pressure, blood pH (analysis proposed in the COST meeting in La Rochelle 1999). Of these, more affordable  and thus desirable in terms of ensuring good fish welfare are determining of respiratory and heart rate, non-invasive methods. Increased heart rate /respiratory frequency  reveal stress, which leads to poor welfare of fish.

The most commonly used in determining the welfare of animals during transport, biochemical indicators meet a wide range of laboratory tests, namely: determining glucose, cholesterol, enzyme analysis (serum creatinekinase, aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase), hormonal determinations ( ACTH, vasopressin, oxytocin, catecholamines, cortisol), determinations of endogenous opioids to highlight the state of autonarcosis (quantitative determination of beta-endorphins in plasma or tissue, establishing the brain endorphin receptors density). From the spectrum of biochemical indicators, so far are being used to assess the level of stress in fish (so as poor welfare indicators) the dosage of: ACTH, cortisol and plasma cholesterol (Dutta T, Acharya S, Das MK., 2005; Veiseth E., Fjaera OS., Bjerkeng B., Skjervold OP., 2006).

Assessment of welfare of animals before slaughter / killing is usually achieved by HACCP, monitoring the following critical control points: the effectiveness of animals stunning, the proportion of conscious animals after stunning, the vocal manifestations of animals,  the number of animals which slipping and falling, the percentage of animals routed through electrical pulse (with electric batons). Due to peculiarities of fish, could be keep as applicable only the first two critical control points, then could be add more.

To monitor critical control points of potential fish welfare, respectively stunning efficiency and percentage of fish aware after stunning, need to be take into consideration that a proper fish stunning is characterized by: cessation of respiration (opercula movement), loss of visual evoked reflex (electrical response of brain stimulation occurred after visual stimuli, measured with electrodes placed in the cephalic extremity), immediate loss of vestibulo-ocular reflex (with appearance of rotary nystagmus); lack of caudal reflex and other signs of muscle activity (AAH March 2006 Report).

In the context of present knowledge on the welfare of fish in farms, during transport or slaughter units, this project has the following objectives:

1) Provide technical and material basis for training veterinary officials, producers, processors and transporters concerning the fish welfare issues in fish farms,  during transport and slaughter, in accordance with the provisions of European legislation;

2) Implementation of fish welfare control and assessment methodologies. Disseminating this methodology will require:

– Training the official veterinarians on the inspection and control in terms of fish welfare and protection;

– Training the producers and processors to implement the EU acquis requirements in terms of fish welfare and protection.

3) Adaptation of international guidelines for assessing and monitoring fish welfare on farms, during the slaughter and transport to the field conditions in Romania.

4) Adaptation of international guidelines for determining in the laboratory conditions the welfare of fish both in farms and and especially during transportation or slaughter, depending on the specific climatic and hydrological conditions. Fish welfare indicators which we will address are: cardio-vascular activity, hormonal dosage (ACTH, cortisol), hematological parameters which reveal maintain osmotic pressure and isohydria (osmotic pressure, blood pH).

5) Establish procedures and conduct audits to check how to implement the methodologies developed in terms of evaluation and control fish welfare according to the EU.

6) Establish procedures and requirements under the EU acquis for approval of construction projects and assemblies in fishery units.

7) Certification of conditions to ensure the welfare of fish in farms related to veterinary authorization and other legal provisions.

The proposed project has a character of absolute originality, because until now the animal welfare problem in Romania, especially fish and its assessment has not been addressed by any research group.

In order to establish the methodology for assessing fish welfare, this project will appeal to an interdisciplinary approach, linking data on: fish rearing systems, fish transport, fish slaughter, environmental protection, food safety and last but not least elements of physiology and ethology.

Therefore, we consider that research results will make an important contribution in supporting our country’s efforts to align with EU standards for the fish welfare and protection in farms, during transport and slaughter.

It is estimated that by carrying out the provisions of the project will provide technical requirements for increasing fish welfare in our country to the parameters set out in the acquis communautaire, creating the basis for increase the competitiveness of Romanian animal foodstuffs on the common European market.

Project results will serve to develop methodologies for assessing and monitoring the fish welfare and protection in farms, during transport and slaughter, development of assessment methods, indicators of fish welfare assessment in laboratory,  to develop educational materials and training documentation necessary for medical students or official veterinarians, producers and processors.


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***- Http://www.feap.info/consumer/codes/Conduct/FChusbandry_en.asp

***- 20pain/Welfare.htm http://www.vet.ed.ac.uk/animalwelfare/Fish%

***- Http://www.imr.no/__data/page/4998/No_9_What_is_Life_Like_for_a_Farmed_Fish.pdf

***- Http://www.fawc.org.uk/reports/fish/fishrtoc.htm

*** – Http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/publications/farmedfish_en.pdf # search =% 20fish 22farmed% ur% 22% 20behavi

*** – Http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/dpi/nreninf.nsf/fid/3419551954B49B13CA256E7200220896

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*** – Aah March 2006 Report: Guidelines for the slaughter of farmed fish for human consumption

*** – The Welfare of Animals During Transport (details for horses, Pigs, Sheep and Cattle), Report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Healt and Animal Welfare Adopted on 11 March, 2002

*** – Report Welfare of Fish in European Aquaculture, 162nd CSO Meeting, 14-15 June 2005