Oregon Senate Hears Fish Welfare Plea, Animal Equality Co-presents

Last month during an informational hearing, the Senate in Oregon was presented with a legislative proposal to protect farmed fish in the state. Animal Equality’s Legal Advocacy Counsel, Sarah Hanneken, co-presented the initiative that would create minimum welfare standards for fish as the state plans to see an expansion of aquaculture—”factory farming in water.”

How would this legislation protect fish?

The proposed Oregon Aquaculture Act would establish minimal but essential protections for farmed fish:

  • Establish more humane slaughtering processes, including stunning prior to slaughter. Current inhumane killing processes include simply taking fish out of the water and allowing them to suffocate on ice, which prolongs the asphyxiation process.
  • Set standards to protect native species, ecosystems, and Oregon’s waters by prohibiting fish farming in marine waters, for example. Oregon would join its neighboring states, California and Washington, in banning open net pens that allow waste, parasites and other harmful chemicals from passing between non-native farmed fish into native-fish waters.
  • Protect taxpayer money from being diverted to clean up incidents that occur as a result of farming fish. One such potential incident is ‘fish escape’ in which hundreds of thousands of non-native fish escape from their pens and into natural waterways. This presents severe risks to wild species since the escaped farmed fish compete for resources. Cleanup costs after such an event often falls on taxpayers.

This bill provides much-needed protections for both farmed and wild aquatic animals in the State of Oregon. For too long, the welfare of farmed aquatic animals has been overlooked. Now, with advancements in aquatic animal welfare science, we know just how critical these basic protections are.

-Sarah Hanneken, Legal Advocacy Counsel for Animal Equality

The proposed bill is supported by Animal Equality, Mercy For Animals, the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, and other animal and environmental protection organizations.

Sarah Hanneken (Animal Equality) and Alex Cerussi (Mercy for Animals) presenting the Oregon Agriculture Act at the Oregon Senate

Why Oregon for this fish welfare legislation?

Aquaculture in Oregon is set to expand, creating a model for other states. In 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded a large grant to Oregon State University to grow the aquaculture industry in Oregon. Conversations with various state agencies and reports published by the Oregon Aquaculture Association further confirm plans to expand this industry within Oregon. The time is now to ensure this expansion considers the well-being of the farmed animals.

Animal Equality’s Work for Farmed Fish

Animal Equality has been exposing the reality of fish on factory farms and in slaughterhouses since its 2012 investigation into the killing of tuna in Italy. Since then, multiple investigations have shown the suffering of farmed fish, including one in the United States at the Simmons Farmed Raised Catfish slaughterhouse in August 2021.

As one of the largest USDA-inspected catfish slaughterhouses in the US, Simmons slaughters more than 21,000 fish in a day. It supplies grocery stores and restaurants like Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Cracker Barrel and Captain D’s. The investigation uncovered numerous violations of state animal cruelty laws. The footage shows:

  • Catfish are left on conveyor belts for up to an hour while some workers went on break. They gasped for oxygen while slowly suffocating.
  • Many fish are beheaded while fully conscious due to ineffective stunning methods.
  • Turtles and unwanted fish were found in the nets of the slaughterhouse. These animals were ground up alive and fed back to the fish in the ponds, according to one employee.

Animal Equality continues to use images like the ones captured at Simmons Farmed Raised Catfish to campaign for legal protections. In July of 2022, Animal Equality visited the UK Parliament to discuss the welfare of fish for the first time ever. The meeting was coordinated by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare and hosted by former President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, MP Lord Trees.

The UK Parliament meeting was arranged to discuss the need for increased legal protections for farmed fish. Animal Equality presented footage from an investigation in The Scottish Salmon Company in 2021. The findings of this investigation revealed the company was not even complying with the minimal protections awarded to farmed fish in the UK and highlighted the lack of oversight in fish slaughterhouses generally.

Footage from the Scottish Salmon Company investigation showed fish having their gills painfully cut while conscious, fish being bludgeoned numerous times before being stunned prior to slaughter, and salmon left to asphyxiate after falling to the ground.

Animal Equality will continue to fight against cruelty like what was found at Simmons Farmed Raised Catfish and The Scottish Salmon Company. And we will use the images from these investigations to promote legal initiatives, like the proposed Oregon Aquaculture Act, that protect fish who are suffering in these aquatic factory farms.

How you can help fish suffering for their meat:

The best way to help fish suffering for their meat is to switch to plant-based alternatives. Options for cruelty-free ‘fishless’ sticks, ‘fishless’ filets, and other seafood alternatives are more accessible than ever. You can also find inspiration in the delicious, animal-free recipes on LoveVeg.com.

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