ACE Aquatec is to head a research project to find more humane slaughter methods for species such as tilapia and catfish.
The Dundee based company, which has pioneered the electrical stunning of finfish, is leading one of three welfare initiatives announced by the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA).
The two other projects involve research and development to improve the welfare of crustaceans and cephalopods at slaughter.
The HSA said the research awards, worth £1.93 million, will help test methods that could be used to humanely stun the target species on an industrial scale.
The research teams will also assess the commercial viability of the proposed methods and their effects on the quality of the flesh of the slaughtered species.
The HSA said the funding, made possible by a generous donation, comes as concern for the welfare of these type of animals has grown.
‘Worldwide, thousands of millions of farmed fish, farmed or wild caught crustaceans (eg crabs and lobsters) and cephalopods (eg octopus, cuttlefish and squid) are slaughtered for food every year, many of them by methods that may not be humane,’ said the HSA in a press release.
‘There is good evidence that finfish may be able to experience fear and pain and the most common methods of slaughter are likely to expose them to substantial suffering over a prolonged period of time.
‘Many species of farmed fish are typically killed by being taken out of water and left to asphyxiate in air, or fish might be chilled on ice slurry or gutted while conscious.’
Ace Aquatec’s award winning, in-water stunning system, Humane Stunner Universal, renders fish unconscious in less than one second and is used by major salmon farmers worldwide.
The new project will focus on inducing immediate unconsciousness in Nile tilapia, pangasius, gilthead sea bream, yellowtail and possibly carp.
It will attempt to non-invasively record fish brain activity in response to stunning (science is currently lacking such welfare data for some of these species).
The project will also consider the potential of a novel type of electrical stunning, SPUC (single pulse ultra-high current), for further improving fish welfare at slaughter.
Nathan Pyne-Carter, managing director of Ace Aquatec, said: ‘Our project is a collaboration with Silsoe Livestock Systems, Steve Wotton and the Universities of Bristol and Stirling and IRTA (Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology, Catalonia).
‘The three-year project will implement in-water electrical stunning in large volume finfish aquaculture industries where current killing methods fail to protect fish welfare.’
The two other research projects will focus on the stunning and killing of commercial species of crabs and lobsters (led by Nofima); and the humane slaughter of cephalopods (led by the Association for Cephalopod Research, CephRes).
Dr Huw Golledge, CEO and scientific director of the HSA, said: ‘There is a considerable and growing body of evidence which suggests that fish, crustaceans and cephalopods are all sentient animals which deserve as much protection for their welfare as other commonly farmed species.
‘This has already resulted in the introduction of limited legislation in various countries to protect fish welfare at the time of slaughter.
‘In the case of crustaceans and cephalopods, I fully support recent attempts to extend legal protections to these species.
‘However, in order to meaningfully protect the welfare of these animals we need more than just legislation, we need to know how to treat them to ensure that they do not suffer.
‘The research that the HSA is supporting is designed to produce exactly this kind of crucial, practical knowledge which should allow these animals to be slaughtered humanely in future.
‘I am delighted that we have enabled our colleagues in the aquaculture industry and the animal welfare research community to come together to undertake this work.’