As Muslims Dairy products and Fish/ water inhabitant animals are Halal for us with the exception of crocodile, alligator and frogs. Some Muslims also view crab and prawns as haram to consume (ICV 2019, M. Ibn Adam 2017), but just like meat products supply and demand is extremely high within these industries which compromises Animal Welfare and Tayyib standards.
Fish Farming and Tayyib concerns:
Within Fish farms Tayyib standards are compromised by the fish experiencing, overcrowding, habitats with poor unhygienic conditions, water temperature manipulation to speed up growth, long periods of starvation and inhumane slaughter methods being used such as suffocation (Ashley. P et al 2007). Even though it is permissible for us to consume fish we should still consider the health and welfare of the fish during farming, fishing and slaughter as any cruelty inflicted upon Allah (SWT) creations is a sin.
Just the same as mammals fish also exhibit certain natural behaviours which will be prohibited or made difficult if the fish are reared in farms. For example, Salmon are migratory fish, they perform what is known as the “Salmon run”. This is when the salmon make a length journey from the Atlantic all the way back to the river where they were born to spawn before returning again to sea (Kope R.G, 2001).
Salmon being reared in a fish farm will not have the means to perform this behaviour, instead they will often swim in circles around the cage or nets they are kept within causing damage not only mentally but physically to themselves by rubbing against the enclosure or against each other.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 cover fish that are commonly domesticated in the UK which gives farmed fish protection against unnecessary suffering and places a duty on a person responsible for the fish to ensure their needs are met. However Council Directive 98/58/EC explicitly excludes fish. Farmed fish are, therefore, not offered the more detailed welfare protection during production compared to most terrestrial farm animals.
Fish farming will most likely cause a large number of fish to be kept within a much smaller area than they would live in within the wild, much the same as livestock stocking densities, Fish will experience the same welfare issues; less freedom to swim around causing mental and physical damage, stress, aggression and poor habitat hygiene/ water quality which leads to an increase in disease and lower oxygen levels for the fish (Poli. B, 2009). Health and Welfare are two separate things but can often go hand in hand as repeated bouts of poor health may indicate a welfare issue. For example, stress can suppress immune function, Overcrowding of farmed fish causing stress will therefore play a huge factor in the health of the fish (FSBI 2002). Although health and welfare are two separate areas, illness is not always caused by environment conditions. Fish in high rearing densities have shown to have suppressed immunoglobulin, a higher mortality rate was also observed within a more stressed, higher density experimental group (Iguchi et al, 2003). Poor health among the fish can affect other behaviours such as reduced feed intake and negative social interaction.
Why do the fish experience Starvation?
Farmed fish often have food withheld before procedures such as transport, harvesting/ sorting and slaughter (this is to ensure all food is emptied from the stomach and intestines).
Scientifically studies have shown starvation did not have any effect on the fishes immunity, nor heart functions or skin integrity. Also the stress markers within the heart indicated a predictable response to crowding and handling stress, which suggests from a welfare prospective this does not do the fish any harm for a short period of time in cool temperatures.
However, Islam has the Hadith:
‘Umar once saw a man denying a sheep, which was going to slaughter, a satiating measure of water to drink. He gave the man a beating with his lash and told him: ‘Go, water it properly at the time of its death, you knave!’.
Although this is in reference to giving water to a sheep (Fish can also experience dehydration by the way!) – should the same considerations be met for the Fish we consume in order for Tayyib to be fulfilled, the starvation of the fish should not be unnecessary or for long periods to the point of cruelty even if the fish is going to slaughter.
Death by suffocation
There are various ways in which Fish are slaughtered, some of which are not practised in the UK but may be overseas such as:
Gassing with carbon dioxide.
Cutting the gills without stunning.
Electrical stunning (with a controlled voltage)
Strike to the head.
Left to suffocate in air or on ice, natural bleeding process un-stunned.
As you can imagine some of these slaughter methods are extremely distressing to Fish and these methods must be assessed with regard to Tayyib. Even though Fish are Halal for us and there is no need for specific certification Allah commands us to eat Halal and Tayyib and care for Animal Welfare, in this instance our commands are guidance in Islam should not be pushed aside just case the end product is Halal.
Can farmed Fish welfare be improved?
Of course, in this age of mass production to meet supply and demand welfare standards can be improved, currently around 100 million fish are being farmed at any one time to fulfil the demand of humans. Organic standards, such as those set by the Soil Association, improve the welfare of farmed fish. The difference between Fish and Livestock being that Organic certified fish can still be housed within cages, however Soil Association will only certify Fish which has plenty more room, humane slaughter and limited starvation periods (Soil Association, 2017).
Fish Farming: Our health and the environment
Environmental issues include, Uneaten fish feed, fish waste, and any antibiotics or chemicals used in fish farm operations flow back into the ocean having an impact on the surrounding environment. Farmed fish are at risk of spreading disease to wild fish who are not usually exposed to that kind of bacteria, any farmed fish which escape may also fight for wild fish resources and changes the wild fish food chain.
Fish produced at factory fish farms can have higher levels of contaminants than wild fish, which may lead to health risks for consumers. Fish farm productions outside the EU who use antibiotics can cause drug-resistant bacteria to develop, which may then be passed on to humans.
Previously antimicrobials would be used to treat the fish within these conditions to prevent disease, however now the aquaculture industry recognises and takes precautionary measures to control the use of antibiotics but improving husbandry standards and using vaccines (Cooke. M 2016), but of course only a certain standard can be maintained within overcrowded environments.
The same with meat products, if your fish is cheap you should question why, the price of cheap food will be paid else where either the environment or your health.
Ashley. P.J 2006. Fish welfare, current issues in Aquaculture. Applied Animal behaviour science. Vol 104 issue 3-4 pages 199-235
Brek.O, Jorgensen. S.M, Olsvik. P.A, Timmerhaus. G and Waagbo. R 2017. Short-term starvation at low temperature prior to harvest does not impact the health and acute stress response of adult Atlantic salmon. Peerj.
Cooke. M 2016. Business Benchmark on farm animal welfare. Animal welfare in farmed fish. Investor briefing 23. [ online] https://www.bbfaw.com/media/1432/investor-briefing-no-23-animal-welfare-in-farmed-fish.pdf
Farm Animal Welfare Committee 2014. Welfare of farmed fish at time of killing. [online] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/319331/Opinion_on_the_welfare_of_farmed_fish_at_the_time_of_killing.pdf
Food and Water watch 2013. Factory Fish Farming [online]https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/insight/factory-fish-farming
FSBI (Fisheries Society of the British Isles), 2002. Fish Welfare. Briefing Report 2. Granta Information systems. [online] http://www.le.ac.uk/biology/fsbi/welfare.pdf.
HSA, 2005. Humane Harvesting of Salmon and Trout. Humane Slaughter Association, Wheathampstead.
Humane slaughter association 2018. Humane slaughter of finfished farming around the world. [online] https://www.hsa.org.uk/downloads/hsafishslaughterreportfeb2018.pdf
Kendell Reagan Nutrition centre 2017. Wild caught vs Farm raised sea food. [online] https://chhs.source.colostate.edu/wild-caught-vs-farm-raised-seafood/
Kope R.G 2001. Salmon fisheries, pacific, Encyclopaedia of ocean sciences second edition. Pg. 12-22.
Poli. B.M 2016. Farmed fish welfare and suffering assessment and impact on production quality. Italian journal of animal science. 8 sup1, 139-160.
Rahman .S.A 2017. Religion and Animal welfare- Islamic perspective. Animals. 7 (2) 11.
RSPCA No date. Fish Farming- Key issues [online] https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/farm/fish/keyissues
Soil Association 2017. Organic Aquaculture standards. [online] https://www.soilassociation.org/media/15726/soil-association-aquaculture-standards-v1-3-may-2017.pdf