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IRTA will develop the WELFAIR certification scheme for the welfare of seabream and seabass

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 09:00 (GMT + 9)

  • It will be the first specific certificate for aquaculture welfare in the Mediterranean
  • Aquaculture in the EU produces annually around 518 million seabream and seabass compared to about 260 million pigs

Although the figures show that many more fish are raised than other production animals, the welfare of the fish, as individuals, has not been addressed to the same level as in other livestock species, and the knowledge is much less.

"In the Mediterranean there is no welfare protocol for fish, that is why we have proposed to develop and validate one for sea bream and sea bass", explains Dr. Ana Roque, IRTA researcher of the Aquaculture program. Researchers have started a two-year Open Philanthropy-funded project to implement animal welfare assessment protocols that can fit into a certification scheme that already works in other species.

"An important part of the work has already been carried out through previous projects funded by the EU, such as defining the measures and structure of the protocol, which is based on the methodology used in the European project Welfare Quality of birds and mammals," Roque says.  This project, in which the IRTA Animal Welfare Program actively participated, is also where the Welfair animal welfare certificate is based, created and managed by scientists under the idea that animal welfare should be measured directly on animals and under scientific supervision. “The fact that the protocols have already been designed following the Welfare Quality philosophy allows us to move quickly in this final phase of implementation and take advantage of the experience we already have in other species to integrate sea bream and sea bass into a certification scheme mature and recognized as the WelfairTM is ”, says Dr. Antoni Dalmau, technical manager of the WelfairTM seal and researcher of the IRTA Animal Welfare Program. This philosophy is based on the fact that the audits focus on the direct observation of the animal itself, evaluating four principles: good nutrition, good housing, good health and appropriate behavior in relation to the needs of the species. Within these four principles, 12 different but complementary animal welfare criteria are identified, each of which will integrate one or more indicators. Initial training of auditors and constant supervision of their work is necessary to avoid deviations. In addition, the protocols will incorporate all those improvements that the science of animal welfare is validating.

According to Dr. Dalmau, “currently, the scheme certifies dairy and beef cattle, laying hens and broilers, pigs, sheep, rabbits and turkey. In a few weeks we will launch the protocols for quail and, with this project that we are starting now, we hope to soon incorporate sea bream, sea bass and other aquatic species ».

In the European Union, it is estimated that, in 2018, 1,700 million fish were raised, and in the Mediterranean area the most important are seabream and seabass, which together totaled 518 million individuals, without there being any scheme for now of animal welfare that takes them into account. “To develop a welfare assessment system for seabream and seabass, once you have the protocols, you have to test it on real farms to see how it works. This serves to refine procedures and also to establish basic guidelines on how the auditors of tomorrow should be trained to be able to carry out an audit with guarantees ”, explains Dr. Dalmau. Once the protocols have been validated and adjusted, they will become part of the WelfairTM family, the brand used by more than 15 different certification companies under the supervision of IRTA and under a single seal.

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