#8 Food@Sydney and HARN – Fish and fisheries: asking the welfare question

Thursday 4 June 2015 5.00pm - 6.30pm

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Level 6 seminar room | Charles Perkins Centre | The University of Sydney



Human Animal Research Network. 

Asking what are the ethics and politics of fishing?

This event is a collaboration between the Food node and the Human Animal Research Network

There has been a significant expansion in world wide per capital fish consumption, and a very strong expansion in industrial aquaculture. International agencies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation have argued that fisheries and aquaculture should play a significant role in future “in eliminating hunger, promoting health and reducing poverty”(UN FAO, 2014). At the same time there has been a great deal of public interest in fishing and environmental sustainability, including in issues such as overfishing,  the impact of fishing practices such as trawl and drift netting; and recently, the impact of climate change on the sustainability of small scale local fishing industries.

However, there has been less focus internationally on the welfare of fish used for human consumption, and the ethics of using fish for food. This interdisciplinary forum will offer an opportunity to critically examine current welfare provisions in the context of fisheries and aquaculture, recent research on fish cognition, and possible approaches in the ethics and politics of fishing.

CHAIR: Dr Alana Mann
Dr Alana Mann teaches media studies, public opinion and international relations in the BA(MECO), Masters of Strategic Public Relations and Bachelor of International and Global Studies. The focus of her research is political communication, specifically the engagement of non-state actors in international politics. She applies an interdisciplinary approach with a strong focus on democracy, social justice and citizenship that is reflected in her focus on the power relations between the media, governments, institutions and civil society actors in the field of food politics.


“Fish, Welfare and the Law.”
Associate Professor Celeste Black (University of Sydney)

In the field of animal protection law, the treatment of fish has attracted little attention to date but, with the growing reliance on fish as food, this needs to change. However, meaningful legal protection for the welfare of fish faces significant challenges. On a technical level, current animal protection laws in Australia often largely exclude human interactions with fish. On a practical level, the early stage of the science of fish cognition and sentience makes it difficult to argue that a particular practice or act is cruel or violates the minimum duty of care. In this talk these issues will be explored from the perspective of Australian animal protection law in the context of industrial scale use of fish for food, that is, commercial fishing and aquaculture.

Ms Black is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney and Attorney at Law, Supreme Court of California, United States of America. She is a member of the Parsons Centre of Commercial, Corporate and Taxation Law, the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law and a founding and executive member of the University’s Human Animal Research Network. At Sydney Law School, Ms Black teaches a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate units in income tax law as well as animal law. In the tax area, her research interests include tax administration and the interaction between taxation law and policy and environmental policy, with particular emphasis on the taxation implications of emissions trading schemes. In the field of animal law, Ms Black has published on a variety of issues, including live export and fish welfare.

 “Fish Cognition and Welfare.”
Associate Professor Culum Brown (Macquarie University)

Fish have long been a major source of protein for humans, but our demand for fishes has vastly outgrown their natural availability and there is increasing emphasis of farming fish for human consumption. Protein sourced from terrestrial ecosystems in contrast are overwhelmingly sourced from domesticated animals and there has been a corresponding shift in in welfare legislation to protect them from cruelty particularly in industrialised settings. This shift has yet to occur for fishes. Here I will discuss the link between cognition and welfare in fishes. I adopt an evolutionary and comparative approach to illustrate that there is no scientific justification for the perceived gap in cognitive abilities between fishes and terrestrial vertebrates. We will discuss the welfare implications for contemporary fisheries practices.

Culum Brown is an Australian Research Fellow, Associate Professor at Macquarie University, Editor for Animal Behaviour and Assistant Editor of the Journal of Fish Biology. For years he has studied the behavioural ecology of fishes with a special interest in learning and memory.  Culum did his undergraduate degree at Melbourne University. His Honours and PhD research at the Universtiy of Queensland examined the behavioural ecology of predator avoidance in rainbowfish (Melanotaenia spp). Culum moved to Cambridge University where he worked on social learning in a range of fishes and developed life skills training for hatchery-reared salmonids. A further post-doc at the University of Edinburgh, expanded on his background learning by examining the ecological correlates of cognition in Poeciliid fishes. This work was conducted in collaboration with the Smithsonian Research Insititute in Panama.  During this time he developed a guide to the fishes of the pipeline road.

In 2006 he moved to Macquarie University on an Australian Research Fellowship. Culum won a young researcher award from Australian Academy of Science in 2007 and Young Tall Poppy Award in 2008. He is now an Associate Professor at Macquarie Uni.

Culum was the guest editor of a special issue on learning and memory in fishes in the review journal Fish and Fisheries. This collection of work was later released as a book entitled Fish Cognition and Behavior, published by Blackwell Scientific. The Second Edition now available.

“Do Fish Resist?” 
Dr Dinesh Wadiwel (University of Sydney)

Recent political and social theory has explored whether animals can be said to “resist” human utilisation. These works are fascinating in so far as they describe the political agency of animals in relation to their capacity for insubordination. In this paper, I will explore the conceptual problems of understanding fish resistance, and discuss an “autonomous” model of political resistance as a way to conceptualise animal engagement with human systems. Here I will  focus on both the technology of the fish hook and the development of industrial aquaculture, which I will argue are both designed explictly to counter fish resistance. In some ways, the lack of agreement by scientists and the public over fish cognition and suffering poses tactical problems for advancing a case for welfare consideration. In this paper, I will argue that exploring fish resistance provides an alternative frame for thinking about the ethical and political implications of fishing practices.

Dinesh Wadiwel is a lecturer in human rights and socio-legal studies and Director of the Master of Human Rights. He has previously taught in Sociology and Politics at the University of Western Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of Notre Dame Australia.