Australian Aquatic Animal Welfare in Perspective

The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) was an agreed blueprint for animal welfare in Australia that commenced in 2005 and aimed to enhance welfare outcomes for all animals. This strategy continued until the withdrawal of operational funding by the incoming government in 2013.

Six broad working groups were established as part of the strategy, including the Aquatic Animal Welfare Working Group.

The Aquatic Animal Welfare Working Group (AAWWG) identified four sectors under the ‘aquatic’ heading:

  • Commercial fishing
  • Recreational fishing
  • Aquaculture
  • Ornamental / Aquarium

Nominees from each sector national peak body joined with representatives from Animals Australia, RSPCA, state governments and independent animal health science to make up the Working Group.


What Did We Do?

A Stocktake of Existing Aquatic Animal Welfare Rules and Practices

An initial stocktake of existing the aquatic sector animal welfare rules and applied practices was identified as the logical starting point for the AAWWG so as to understand;

  • what was already available within the various sector groups;
  • where there were gaps; and,
  • how might those gaps be filled.

The first stage of this project was to compile an inventory of current relevant animal welfare documentation with respect to finfish in Australia through a stocktake.

The gaps identified from this project included:

  • The absence of specific animal welfare guidelines in some of the individual sectors (eg commercial wild capture); 
  • The extent to which existing sector Codes of Practices and guidelines are disseminated and subsequently used;
  • Availability of guidelines or specific operating procedures for restaurant owners that assists then to address fish welfare issues; and,
  • The lack of audit concerning the welfare of fish.

A copy of the final project report is available at:


Research Projects

During the initial stages of the process the AAWWG identified several priority research project areas that would add immediate value in support of the ‘Overarching Principles’ and bridge the gap between theory and practice within the community:

  • Impacts of stress from capture to slaughter;
  • Product quality; and,
  • Fish welfare in aquaculture.

Completed research output and reports  

  • Overarching Principles for Aquatic Animal Welfare
  • A Review of Current Welfare Arrangements for Finfish in Australia (Stocktake)
  • Benchmarking harvest methodologies in the Australian barramundi aquaculture industry – impacts on stress, product quality and fish welfare
  • Iki Jimi project + a range of materials for download by public
  • Development of Commercial fishing guidelines +  a set of guidelines for each of rod & line, trawl, mesh nets, beach seine, purse seine, pots & traps that can be downloaded
  • Roadtest Guidelines in Commercial wild catch sector
  • Roadtest Guidelines in Recreational sector + materials for download
  • Development of welfare guidelines for restaurants and retail outlets holding live fish and shellfish in aquaria + materials for download
  • A review of the use of ice slurry and refrigerated seawater for the killing and holding of finish + materials to download
  • Humane Euthanasia Techniques for Ornamental Fish
  • National Aquaculture Animal Welfare Guidelines
  • Pet Industry Association Code of Practice for Handling Animals
  • A National Code of Practice for Recreational Fishing
  • Aquatic Animal Welfare in Perspective (Summary of aquatic animal welfare process + project outlines and links to projects and materials) 

About the Aquatics Working Group

Aquatic animals encompass all animals that live fully or partially in fresh or salt water habitats. They include fresh and salt water fish, sharks, crustaceans (e.g. lobsters and yabbies), mammals (e.g. dugongs, seals, whales, dolphins and platypus), and amphibian reptiles (e.g. crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and frogs).

Particular species of birds (e.g. penguins, pelicans) can also be considered aquatic animals given their habitats are always near water, usually coastal, and they have a natural ability to wade, swim or dive for their food.

Many aquatic animals are valuable sources of nutrition for humans and other animals and contribute significantly to Australia’s primary industry in both domestic and international trade. Other aquatic animals have cultural and economic importance to our tourism and recreational industries. Aquatic animals, like all animals, play an important role in maintaining a healthy environment.

Animal welfare principles have emerged mainly with respect to terrestrial animals and have captured greater community awareness than aquatic animal welfare. Although not formally acknowledged, there are some general practices of animal welfare within quality assurance requirements of commercial aquatic industries that are designed to ensure food safety and quality end product.

There is general acceptance by both commercial and recreational sectors that careful and controlled capture procedures should be welfare oriented, thereby contributing to a healthier environment and stable aquatic ecosystems.

The Aquatic Animals Working Group provided an animal welfare framework to meet the challenges faced by those managing aquatic systems or using them for commerce or recreation. The sector is comprised of four main fish industries: farmed fish, fish captured commercially (‘wild capture’), fish captured recreationally, and ornamental fish (commercial and retail).


The challenges to improving the welfare of aquatic animals include:

  • the need to provide formal acknowledgement that animal welfare issues are relevant to all aquatic animals
  • the need to review existing state and territory legislative arrangements pertaining to aquatic animal welfare, and to address the lack of or variations in the definition of fish as animals