35-150 billion fish are raised in captivity to be released into the wild every year

Summary

  • Fish stocking is the practice of raising fish in hatcheries and releasing them into rivers, lakes, or the ocean.

  • 35-150 billion finfish are stocked every year.

  • Fish are stocked to:

    • increase the catch in commercial fisheries (probably tens of billions of stocked fish annually),

    • increase the catch in recreational/sport fisheries (billions of stocked fish annually),

    • restore a population of threatened or endangered species (the number of stocked fish seems to be lower)

  • Fish can be stocked when they are anywhere between the egg stage and multiple years old. The mean time spent in hatcheries/farms seems to be somewhere between 6 days and 4 months. Fish stocked to enhance recreational fisheries tend to be released when they are older than those stocked to enhance commercial fisheries.

  • Usually, fish are stocked to maximize economic outputs so we shouldn’t expect fish welfare to be given sufficient consideration. It’s unclear how much hatcheries are incentivized to breed healthy and unstressed fish that would have higher survivorship after the release. Bigger fish may also starve and suffer after their release due to their lack of survival skills.

  • I was unable to find any animal advocacy organization that is working on reducing the suffering caused by fish stocking. I found very few articles that talk about fish stocking from an animal welfare perspective.

  • Possible interventions include lobbying to decrease the number of fish stocked for recreational fishers and requiring better conditions in hatcheries. I am very uncertain if such interventions would be cost-effective compared to ACE’s recommended charities.

  • Fish stocking has various ecological effects (e.g., a decrease in the genetic diversity of wild populations) that would need to be well-understood before seriously considering trying to reduce the number of stocked fish.

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Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments?

Multiple animal organisations are now focusing on securing corporate commitments to improve animal welfare. And they have been very successful: Chicken Watch lists 1672 such commitments, 1007 of which are set to be fulfilled between 2020 and 2026. However, there is some reason to worry that some of these commitments may be broken:

  • Some industry sources doubt whether U.S. cage-free commitments will be fully met. Insufficient consumer demand and lack of funds led to producers slowing down or even shutting down their cage-free conversion plans. What is more, only 27% of U.S. companies included in CIWF’s EggTrack report disclosed their progress towards cage-free commitments.

  • So far, most animal welfare commitments were met. However:

  • Sainsbury’s broke their broiler commitment.

  • MarriottBurger KingSmithfield Foods and Woolworths pushed back the date of their commitments.

  • Bennet, Dussman, Au Bon Pain, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, and The Walt Disney Company did not report progress to CIWF for cage-free commitments that have already passed their due date.

  • In the past, some companies gave themselves some wiggle room in the phrasing of their commitments, which they could later use to get out of their commitments with less damage to their reputation.

Based on this, I suggest that it would be valuable to put more effort in ensuring that companies keep their promises, and I list some ways in which it could be done.

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