Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Seafish

  Seafish is a statutory body serving the UK sea fish industry. We are assisted in this by our Food Legislation Expert Group which is a cross sectoral group of industry representatives, from catchers to retailers. Catching sector membership of the Group includes the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the Shellfish Association of Great Britain. This submission is on behalf of Seafish and the Expert Group.

  1.  The draft Bill is being promoted as extending the requirements for animal welfare from farm animals to other animals kept by man, such as pets and zoo animals. The welfare requirements are framed with such animals in mind.

  2.  Defra have consulted on their proposals from January 2002 but did not include Seafish or the fishing industry in that consultation. Seerad are consulting on similar proposals and similarly have not included the fishing industry in their consultation. We were alerted to the existence of the proposals by the recent media coverage of the Minister launching the draft Bill.

  3.  However, the Bill as drafted will apply to the commercial fishing industry and it will apply inappropriate requirements that cannot be met in practice. Defra and Seerad have now been made aware of this problem and we are engaging with them. Apparently such impact on the fishing industry was unintended.

  4.  Article 53 of the draft Bill defines "animal" as a vertebrate other than man, ie finfish but not shellfish, although it allows national authorities to extend this definition. Seerad are proposing to include cephalopods (squid, etc) and crustaceans (crabs, etc). Article 54 defines a "protected animal" as including an animal being kept by man or temporarily in the custody or control of man. It also defines "kept by man" as meaning if there is a person who owns, or is responsible for, or in charge of it. From these very broad definitions it can be deduced that the legislation will apply to fish (and possibly shellfish) from when they bite the hook, enter the trap or are herded toward the net, until they die.

  5.  Article 1 creates an offence of cruelty and Article 3 creates an offence of failing to ensure welfare. The detail of these Articles associated with the offences is that which is expected for the treatment of farm animals, including humane slaughter. The extensive powers given in relation to these offences include in Article 26 the power to disqualify a person from keeping animals.

  6.  Essential commercial fishing practices include catching fish on hooks or in static nets, either of which are set for extended periods, trawling and the handling in bulk of the fish caught. It is difficult to envisage how this industry could comply with the welfare expectations for farm animals.

  7.  The current Protection of Animals Act 1911, as amended, applies only to domestic and captive animals and so does not apply to the capture of wild fish by the commercial fishing industry. It also specifically permits dealing with animals for food, provided that this does not cause unnecessary suffering.

  8.  The human health benefits of fish consumption are increasingly being recognised and consumer demand is strong. Even if these inappropriate welfare rules were applied in the UK to the detriment of our own fishing industry, demand would increase our already large imports fish from all around the world which is caught and handled according to normal fishing practices, over which we have no control.

  9.  Therefore our conclusion is that fishing must be exempted from the inappropriate new requirements of this Bill.

25 August 2004

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