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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 75:109-118 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/dao075109

Contribution to the DAO Special 'Welfare of Aquatic Organisms'

Expanding the moral circle: farmed fish as objects of moral concern

Vonne Lund1,*, Cecilie M. Mejdell1, Helena Röcklinsberg2, Ray Anthony3, Tore Håstein1

1National Veterinary Institute, PO Box 8156 Dep., 0033 Oslo, Norway
2Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University, Allhelgona Kyrkogata 8, 223 62 Lund, Sweden
3Department of Philosophy, University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211 Providence Drive, Alaska 99508, USA

ABSTRACT: Until recently fish welfare attracted little attention, but international and national legislation and standards of fish welfare are now emerging and an overview of these developments is presented in this study). Whereas animal welfare legislation is based on public morality, animal ethics does not automatically accept public morality as normative elaborates arguments regarding the way humans should treat animals (referred to as moral standards). In this study we present the most common animal ethics theories. For most of these, sentience is considered a demarcation line for moral concern: if an animal is sentient, then it should be included in the moral circle, i.e. receive moral consideration in its own right and some basic welfare should be ensured. As for fish, research has revealed that the sensory system of teleosts can detect noxious stimuli, and that some kind of phenomenal consciousness, allowing the fish to feel pain, seems to be present. This raises the ethical question as to how much evidence we need in order to act on such indications of fish sentience. A simple risk analysis shows that the probability that fishes can feel pain is not negligible and that if they do indeed experience pain the consequences in terms of the number of suffering individuals are great. We conclude that farmed fish should be given the benefit of the doubt and we should make efforts that their welfare needs are met as well as possible. Finally, the way forward is briefly discussed: efforts must be made to understand what fish welfare means in practical fish farming. This will involve the development of research and education, greater accountability and transparency, compliance with and control of policies, and quality assurance schemes.

KEY WORDS: Fish welfare · Animal welfare · Fish sentience · Animal ethics · Moral circle · Fish welfare legislation · Aquaculture

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