Operationalizing stunning of marine fish: ensuring and safeguarding better animal welfare

Our goal is to: 1) operationalize stunning of captured plaice and turbot prior to killing them; 2) ensure that the product originates from a vessel that has put stunning of the fish species into practice by quality assurance of the supply chain; 3) assist consumers to make an informed choice with regard to fish that were stunned prior to killing on board and a regular sea fish product by the use of for instance the VISwijzer (Fish Guide) App on a mobile phone; 4) perform an inventory study to assess possibilities to valorize sea fish products that originate from a fishing vessel that stuns fish on board prior to killing them; and 5) contribute to support by stakeholders regarding fish welfare at slaughter and to disseminate our results for use in education and utilization on board of a fishing vessel.

Vision of the project

In the view of the project consortium it is essential that our proposed project contributes to support by stakeholders with regard to stunning of captured fish prior to killing them on board of a fishing vessel and transfer of knowledge obtained in the project for utilization on board. We envisage that our contribution to support by stakeholders together with the dissemination are needed to make our project a blue print for fishing companies that are not part of our consortium. The fact that on board approx. more than 50% of fishing vessels used by Dutch fishermen for capture of demersal fish species, the processing line is similar to the one installed on board of the vessel MDV-2 endorses our view. The vessel MDV-2 is owned by the applicant of the project proposal. Hence, we foresee that when it is possible to put stunning into practice on board the vessel MDV-2, this can be accomplished as well on board of other fishing vessels.

Due to societal developments there is a need for the fishing industry to become more sustainable with regard to technologies used on-board to process captured fish. Animal welfare is one of the themes of sustainability. Discomfort caused by processing of live fish on-board can be minimized by stunning fish prior to killing them. Stunning is rendering fish unconscious and insensible without avoidable discomfort. Insensibility is required to ensure that unconscious fish cannot be aroused. Contrary to publications in various media in the Netherlands, electrical stunning of captured sea fish, such as plaice, it not ready for use on board a fishing vessel.

An inventory study in 2018 among Dutch consumers suggests that 72% of the respondents believe that the welfare of fish should be safeguarded in the same vein as other food animals. The inventory study also showed a possible
willingness to pay 20% more as a premium price for such a fish product.
Given the fact that demersal fish are the major target species of the Netherlands fishing cutters, we decided to focus our research on this type of fishery. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) and turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) are economically important species and, therefore, these species have been selected for our proposed project.