Defra minister Jo Churchill has rejected a request for CCTV to be used in fish slaughterhouses in England. Photo: Defra.

Minister rejects CCTV for fish slaughterhouses in England

A UK government minister has rejected including fish in regulations which mandate the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses in England because the footage “would not be viewed”.

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Jo Churchill, a minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said that because fish slaughterhouses contain no official veterinarians and are subject to no routine animal welfare inspections, any CCTV footage taken would be ignored.

This is because ‘farmed fish processing premises’ are not considered slaughterhouses by law, and are therefore exempt from the Mandatory Use of Closed Circuit Television in Slaughterhouses (England) Regulations 2018.

Fish feel pain

Amro Hussain, senior public affairs lead at campaigning organisation The Humane League UK, said: “Fish are animals who can feel pain and fear, and whose welfare deserve our attention. Instead, they are routinely forgotten, receiving worse protections than other animals, particularly at slaughter. The minister confirmed what many working in animal welfare have long known - that the welfare of millions of fish is being brazenly neglected by institutions too callous or idle to care.”

Churchill was responding to a question from Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, requesting the Secretary of State George Eustice to include fish in the 2018 regulations.

Smith said: “Farmed fish are like other farmed animals as they are sensitive to pain, making their welfare important. However, the law does not give them the same protections and there is little oversight of their wellbeing at slaughter, even though we are killing millions of these animals every year.

“I’m encouraging the government to redress this and give them the same considerations as cows, pigs or chickens - the status quo leaves these animals too exposed to cruelty.”

Mandated stunning

In 2021 The Humane League UK launched The Forgotten Fish Campaign and a petition to pressurise the government into updating the law to mandate pre-slaughter stunning for farmed fish.

Pre-slaughter stunning is the standard for most of British aquaculture, but The Humane League argues legal change would allow for transparent public inspections of slaughterhouses where breaches of standards could be punished by law.

The UK government’s Animal Welfare Committee is due to update its Opinion on the welfare of farmed fish at the time of killing this year, although both its previous opinions (1996 & 2014) argued that the law should be updated to mandate stunning at slaughter.

Only a small percentage of the UK’s farmed fish are produced in England, with majority – mostly Atlantic salmon - grown in Scotland, where pre-slaughter stunning is the norm.

Mowi award

Last month the world’s biggest salmon farmer, Mowi, which is also Scotland’s biggest salmon producer, received a Special Recognition Award from campaigning charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) for its global use of a stun-kill percussive system and wider commitments to fish welfare.

CIWF believes improvements in fish welfare lag behind those for terrestrial animals, largely because fish sentience is generally less recognised.

“Mowi ASA, however, has demonstrated leadership in this area by becoming the first producer to make global welfare commitments on the rearing and slaughter of Atlantic salmon,” said CIWF in a press release.

“As the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon (around 465,000 gutted weight tonnes per annum), this commitment is set to benefit approximately 122 million salmon per annum, across sites in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Faroe Islands, Canada and Chile.”

Scotland’s second biggest salmon farmer, Scottish Sea Farms, uses an award-winning in-water stunning system developed by Dundee aquaculture technology company Ace Aquatec. Stunning a fish in water is said to reduce stress for the animal and consequently lessen production of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol can reduce the quality of the meat from the fish.