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Are fish protected by animal welfare legislation?

The status of fish under State and Territory animal welfare legislation depends on whether they are included in the definition of an ‘animal’. In all jurisdictions, Animal Welfare or Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts cover vertebrate animals, but only some include fish, despite all fish being vertebrates.

Fish are included as vertebrate species in the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria. In South Australia and Western Australia, fish are specifically excluded from animal welfare legislation. In the Northern Territory, fish are only covered by animal welfare legislation when ‘in captivity or dependent on a person for food’.

In some states, despite fish being included under animal welfare legislation, there are specific exemptions to some sections in relation to recreational fishing or for anything that occurs under fisheries legislation.

Because there is clear evidence that fish are sentient animals capable of experiencing pain and suffering, RSPCA Australia believes that fish should be uniformly protected under State and Territory animal welfare legislation.

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Updated on October 29, 2019
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