Fish welfare


Ratification Date: 20 Jul 2023

Position Statement

Fish are sentient animals capable of experiencing pain and suffering,[1],[2] and must therefore be treated humanely.

When fish are farmed, kept in aquaria or captured from the wild for commercial or recreational purposes all efforts must be taken to minimise suffering of the fish.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) should be actively involved in the development and review of regulatory and advisory frameworks for fish welfare.



For the purpose of this position statement fish denotes finfish and does not include aquatic invertebrates such as molluscs or crustacea.


The AVA recognises the diversity of the fish sector and supports the establishment and implementation of effective Welfare Codes of Practice for each of the four sub sectors, i.e. recreational, aquaculture, ornamental and wild capture. The Codes of Practice should be able to be enforced and should incorporate the following principles:

Holding fish in captivity

  • The quality of water should be maintained within the species’ natural range of tolerance, which includes the temperature, salinity, pH and dissolved oxygen of the water. Metabolic wastes should not be allowed to increase to levels that cause unnecessary suffering of the fish.
  • The holding unit in which fish are kept should provide protection from predators.
  • The food supplied should ensure that known nutritional requirements for the fish being held captive are satisfied, except in cases where purging is required to decrease unwanted flavours in the fish.

Sick fish

  • Sick or injured fish should be treated, if treatments are available and legal for the particular fish species, or euthanased. Sick fish should not be sold.

Handling of live fish

  • Any handling of live fish should be undertaken in a manner that avoids damage and stress to the fish. Prolonged handling (e.g. for health checks, veterinary treatment, artificial reproduction etc) should be undertaken using an anaesthetic approved and appropriate for the species and numbers of fish involved.
  • Any captured fish that is to be released should be handled as little as possible, and if possible should not be removed from the water, to increase the chances of a successful release. The use of knotless nets and circle hooks is encouraged because such devices will minimise physical damage to the fish prior to release.

Killing of fish

  • The killing of any fish should be carried out promptly and by humane means suitable for the species and numbers involved, recognising that methods may vary between species and according to available technology and equipment.
  • Stunning fish prior to exsanguination is best practice, e.g. https://www.ikijime.com/

Other relevant policies and position statements


[1] Animals that are known to be both conscious and sentient include all of the vertebrates, and some classes of invertebrates such as cephalopods and some crustacea. Ongoing research may lead to inclusion of additional groups within this definition. Sentience is the capacity to experience emotions: pain, suffering, negative and positive affective states.


[2] Mellor DJ, Patterson-Kane E, & Stafford KJ. The Sciences of Animal Welfare. UFAW Animal Welfare Series. Chichester UK: Wiley-Blackwell. 2009: 34-52