Huntingford, F. A., Adams, C., Braithwaite, V. A. et al. 2006. Current issues in fish welfare. Journal of Fish Biology 68(2), 332-372.
In common with all vertebrates, fish respond to environmental challenges with a series of adaptive neuro‐endocrine adjustments that are collectively termed the stress response. These in turn induce reversible metabolic and behavioural changes that make the fish better able to overcome or avoid the challenge and are undoubtedly beneficial, in the short‐term at least. In contrast, prolonged activation of the stress response is damaging and leads to immuno‐suppression, reduced growth and reproductive dysfunction. Indicators associated with the response to chronic stress (physiological endpoints, disease status and behaviour) provide a potential source of information on the welfare status of a fish. The most reliable assessment of well‐being will be obtained by examining a range of informative measures and statistical techniques are available that enable several such measures to be combined objectively. A growing body of evidence tells us that many human activities can harm fish welfare, but that the effects depend on the species and life‐history stage concerned and are also context‐dependent. For example, in aquaculture, adverse effects related to stocking density may be eliminated if good water quality is maintained. At low densities, bad water quality may be less likely to arise whereas social interactions may cause greater welfare problems. A number of key differences between fish and birds and mammals have important implications for their welfare. Fish do not need to fuel a high body temperature, so the effects of food deprivation on welfare are not so marked. For species that live naturally in large shoals, low rather than high densities may be harmful. On the other hand, fish are in intimate contact with their environment through the huge surface area of their gills, so they are vulnerable to poor water quality and water borne pollutants. The scientific study of fish welfare is at an early stage compared with work on other vertebrates and a great deal of what we need to know is yet to be discovered. It is clearly the case that fish, though different from birds and mammals, however, are sophisticated animals, far removed from unfeeling creatures with a 15 s memory of popular misconception. A heightened appreciation of these points in those who exploit fish and in those who seek to protect them would go a long way towards improving fish welfare.