Fish farming giant faces animal abuse allegations

In production systems where animals are bred and bred to be used for food, animal pain and suffering is often seen as the cost of doing business. While there is increase consumer awareness of animal suffering in industries like meat and dairy, this consideration is rarely extended to fish. Between 51 and 167 billion farmed fish are killed each year for global food production, with people in the United States spending $102 billion per year on fish intended for consumption. Most of it is salmon, and farmed salmon accounts for almost 74 percent of world salmon production. Given the staggering number of individual fish involved in the aquaculture industry, the capacity for pain and suffering is immense.

Animal Outlook, a nonprofit animal rights organization, is bringing the issue of pain and suffering in farmed fish to the forefront by demanding that Atlantic Sapphire, a Norwegian company with facilities in Denmark and Florida, be held responsible for 800,000 fish deaths under animal cruelty in Florida. laws. The organization alleges that Atlantic Sapphire failed to take appropriate action in two cases at its Florida factory, resulting in massive fish suffering and death. Pet Outlook filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), prompting those agencies to actively investigate whether Atlantic Sapphire violated the state law and Florida Aquaculture Best Management Practices (BMP).

Will Lowrey, attorney for Animal Outlook, says Atlantic Sapphire had been on their radar for over a year due to the broad scope of their proposed activity. The company, which presents itself as “the largest global onshore aquaculture company in the world”, according to its websitebegan construction of a massive salmon farm in Homestead, Florida in 2019. The company plans to produce 220,000 tons of salmon by 2031, a estimated at 41% of the American market. At Atlantic Sapphire, the fish live their entire lives indoors in enclosed tanks using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) that depend on the continuous filtration and treatment of water as it recycles through the system. In the intensive RAS used by Atlantic Sapphire, the safety of fish confined in these tanks depends on the careful management of their water system.

Prioritize profit over well-being

According to Lowrey, Atlantic Sapphire has demonstrated a tendency to prioritize profit over fish welfare. On July 28, 2020, the company killed 200,000 fish that had become stressed and sick due to construction noises and vibrations when held in tanks at the unfinished facility. Sick and distressed fish were gave them electric shocks to stun them, the arteries in their gills were slit open and they were left in tubs full of chilled water while they bled. In a August 2020 investor update, Atlantic Sapphire admitted that chronic and acute construction stressors have weakened the fish, and the company has not commissioned “critical equipment” that would have prevented prolonged suffering and death.

In a second incident on March 23, 2021, Atlantic Sapphire killed an additional 600,000 fish due to a faulty filtration system that caused increased water turbidity and possible increase in noxious gases, resulting in water flow disruptions and abnormal behavior in fish. A Press release of March 24, 2021 says the company was aware of the flaw in the filtration system even before it caused the death of more than half a million fish. A similar incident had occurred at their facility in Denmark in February 2020 due to faulty design, causing high levels of nitrogen and subsequently leading to the death of 227,000 salmon. In the reported incident, the company said it was tackling the issue at its Danish and US facilities, but apparently continued to stock fish in the US before making necessary changes. Lowrey points out that this incident, like the one in July 2020, was preventable and caused by Atlantic Sapphire’s failure to take the necessary steps to ensure fish welfare.

Fish feel pain and suffer

A key element in this case is that the fish are suffering, and their suffering matters. This goes beyond fish’s ability to feel and respond to pain in nerve endings (called nociception), but also relates to their consciousness and how they can perceive their own suffering. Scientific studies established that fish experience pain – they exhibit both behavioral responses and changes in their brains in response to painful stimuli, and fish that suffer suffer from attention deficits, become less willing to acquire food and will pay a cost to access pain relief when offered. More and more evidence also reveals advanced consciousness and cognition in fish, including the presence of self-recognition using chemical (rather than visual) cues, long-term memories, and complex communities that use social skills such as cooperation and the reconciliation.

For the fish killed at Atlantic Sapphire, it is likely that their suffering was intense. Animal Outlook’s letter of complaint points out that increased turbidity in the water has significant negative effects on salmon, including gill trauma, increased aggressiveness, and compromised respiration and oxygen exchange in the gills. gills. Fish also have extremely sensitive hearing and can sense vibrations in the water, and construction noise can result in hearing loss, physical injury and permanent impairment, inability to feed and immediate or prolonged death. All of this means agony for fish contained in tanks with nowhere to go.

The manner in which the fish were killed may also have contributed to their suffering, as this method – cutting off the gills after electrical stunning – risks regaining consciousness after stunning and being fully conscious while bleeding to death. In a study of salmon, one in three fish woke up after being stunned and before bleeding to death from gill cuts.

Call for enforcement of fish protections

Lowrey points out that fish are protected by strong Florida state anti-cruelty laws and FDACS best management practices, and Animal Outlook is simply asking that the laws be enforced in this case. Lowrey says, “These are incidents they [Atlantic Sapphire] experienced before, and they knew in advance that these were problems. It was not a random one-time error that occurred. These incidents happen again and again. And I think the prior knowledge only further underscores the need for criminal sanction.

Atlantic Sapphire could not be reached for comment.

Ingrid L. Taylor

Ingrid L. Taylor is a writer, poet, and veterinarian whose work explores strategies for fostering multispecies solidarity and deconstructing speciesism. She has worked in clinical veterinary medicine and public health.

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