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Aquatic animals encompass all animals that live fully or partially in fresh or salt water habitats. They include fresh and salt water fish, sharks and crustaceans (e.g. lobsters and prawns).

Many aquatic animals are valuable sources of nutrition for humans, contribute significantly to Australia’s primary industry output and have cultural and economic importance to our recreational industries and Indigenous groups.

There are four main aquatic animal sectors: farmed fish, fish captured commercially (‘wildcapture’), fish captured recreationally, and ornamental fish (commercial and retail).

Animal welfare is an emerging issue with respect to fishing and aquaculture. Although not formally acknowledged, there are many existing general practices applied within the product handling processes of the four sectors (designed to ensure food safety and quality of end product) that double to ensure animal welfare.

There is general acceptance by both commercial and recreational sectors that careful and controlled capture, holding and processing procedures should be welfare oriented.

Aquatic Animal Welfare – Overarching Principles

In 2013, a set of Overarching Principles for aquatic animal welfare were established against which the various sectors could assess and review the existing best practice guidelines applied by their stakeholders.

The overall aim was to minimise suffering within the constraint of practices inherent to a sector.

In establishing the overarching principles, a series of research projects were identified to bridge the gap between theory and practice within the community including impacts of stress from capture to slaughter, product quality and fish welfare in aquaculture. An initial stocktake in 2006 highlighted the aquatic sector animal welfare rules at the time, what practices were already in place, where there were gaps, and how might those gaps be filled.

The main gaps identified from this project included the absence of specific animal welfare guidelines in some sectors (e.g. commercial wild capture) and the extent to which existing sector Codes of Practices and guidelines are disseminated and used.

Projects included benchmarking harvest methodologies in the Australian Barramundi aquaculture industry, Iki Jimi dispatch method, and a range of materials for restaurants on handling seafood in aquaria.

Animal welfare codes of practice were developed for each commercial fishing method (i.e. rod and line, trawl, mesh nets, beach seine, purse seine, pots and traps) for download and use within the industry as a guide.

A report on the aquatic animal welfare journey to date is available here: Aquatic Animal Welfare in Perspective Final Report.