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What can be done to improve the welfare of fish and shellfish in restaurant aquaria?

RSPCA Australia considers that the available scientific evidence demonstrates that fish are sentient animals capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Fish must therefore be treated humanely and practices that have the potential to cause pain, injury or suffering avoided.

Live fish and shellfish may be held in aquaria in restaurants or retail outlets prior to being killed for human consumption. Consideration needs to be given to the treatment of these to ensure their welfare is not compromised.

There are many factors that influence the health and welfare of fish held in aquaria but the most important single issue is water quality.

The restaurant or retailer should firstly ensure that they source healthy fish from their supplier and that the aquarium meets the species-specific requirements of the fish or shellfish being held. Freshwater fish must be placed in a freshwater tank, saltwater fish must be placed in a saltwater tank.

The quality of the water will determine optimal conditions for fish in the aquarium. Tanks should be provided with bubbling air to supply fish with plenty of oxygen but also to help remove carbon dioxide. A filter should be in place to ensure tank water is always clean and clear, without waste products. The temperature of the water should be appropriate to the species contained within the tank. Similarly, water pH (a measure of acidity or alkalinity) must be comparable to the water from where the fish originally came.

Finally, fish and shellfish should be killed humanely and as soon as they are taken out of the water.

Guidelines for restaurants and retailers have been developed through the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy providing basic information for holding a range of fish and shellfish species in aquaria as well as advice on the most humane way to kill fish and shellfish. These guidelines are available in English, Chinese and Vietnamese and are attached below.

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Updated on May 1, 2019
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