NSPCA AND SA FISHING industry at odds over farming practices
The NSPCA has alleged that many aquaculture farms in South Africa produce fish inhumanely. According to the organisation’s Nazareth Appalsamy, stocking densities and killing methods on farms need to be regulated by legislation. Gerhard Uys reports.
The NSPCA has discovered inhumane killing and breeding practices at aquaculture facilities across South Africa, according to Nazareth Appalsamy, the national senior inspector of the Farm Animal Protection Unit at the NSPCA. He said the organisation had inspected 49 aquaculture facilities and found that many of these farms did not produce aquatic species humanely as required by the Animal Protection Act.
Appalsamy said there was no published legislation that dealt specifically with harvesting or breeding fish in South Africa. The Marine Living Resource Act (No. 18 of 1998) dealt mostly with permits, while the draft Aquaculture Development Bill was still being discussed in Parliament. As a result, there were no guidelines on stocking rates or killing methods.
“We have not finalised space requirements. This needs to be researched and is dependent on the species. [In this regard], the Aquaculture Development Bill must be approved. Once it’s approved, regulations can be incorporated. We are hoping that slaughter methods will [also] be incorporated into the bill,” Appalsamy said.
The NSPCA’s inspections revealed that fish were overcrowded and that this increased their stress levels. Such high stocking densities also rendered the fish more susceptible to disease.
“Fish must be humanely killed in a manner that inflicts as little suffering as practical. “Various methods of humane stunning exist and must be practised before the species is killed or harvested,” he said.
Appalsamy added that some methods used to extract eggs were also inhumane. “Before female fish are anaesthetised for egg extraction, their abdomens are palpitated to see if the egg mass is free. This is done with physical handling and is highly stressful,” he said.
Nick James, the tilapia representative of the Aquaculture Association of Southern Africa, told Farmer’s Weekly that the NSPCA did not have inspectors that were qualified to make value judgements on aquaculture practices.
He added that the tilapia farming sector operated within a recognised set of norms and standards as set by the Tilapia Aquaculture Association of South Africa.
“Farmers have to keep stocking rates in accordance with the environmental quality of the water in their recirculating aquaculture systems, and in accordance with how much feed the fish will eat.
“If the water is poor or the feed inadequate, the fish will be stressed and not grow, so the farmer will not produce profitably. [For stocking rates], we recommend no more than 30kg/m³ water. A higher stocking rate of 50kg/m³ [is acceptable] only if supplemental oxygen is available,” James said.
He added that the Aquaculture Development Bill would offer little benefit to the industry, as the bill would merely duplicate existing legislation, as well as restrict the sector’s growth by not creating an enabling environment.
“Existing agricultural legislation is quite adequate for aquaculture, which is simply livestock farming in water. The tilapia sector has a vibrant group of experts who can give advice on fish culture systems. Government can provide almost nothing of technical value,” James added.
‘ FISH MUST BE HUMANELY KILLED, WITH LITTLE SUFFERING’
A lack of consensus
“There is no international consensus on how to humanely kill fish for human consumption. Over-sedating gives rise to toxicity issues in the public’s eyes. Clubbing comes across as brutal, as does dropping live fish into iced water.
“Asphyxiation, when a fish is removed from water, is the most humane method; the fish is simply overcome without oxygen. We catch our slaughter fish and place them in a clean plastic crate until movement stops before processing them,” James said.
According to him, slaughter and stocking rate regulations fell outside the jurisdiction of legislation.
“There are no government agencies with competency to draw up legislation concerning stocking rates or even slaughter methods,” he said.