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World - Science has not kept pace with aquaculture

New study reveals 'knowledge gap' of animal welfare

Aquaculture--the farming of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic animals for food--has reached unprecedented levels of growth in recent years, but largely without consideration of its impact on individual animals, finds a new analysis by a team of researchers.

"The scale of modern aquaculture is immense and still growing," says Becca Franks, a research scientist at New York University's Department of Environmental Studies and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the journal Science Advances. "Yet we know so little about the animals that we are putting into mass production, and the negative consequences of aquaculture's expansion on individual animals will just continue to accumulate."

The study is the first to systematically examine the scientific knowledge about animal welfare for the 408 aquatic animal species being farmed around the world--animals that include salmon, carp, and shrimp. The researchers found that specialized scientific studies about animal welfare--generally defined as an animal's ability to cope with its environment--were available for just 84 species. The remaining 324 species, which represent the majority of aquaculture production, had no information available.

Animal welfare legislation is not new, but in recent years, governments have adopted laws aimed at enhancing enforcement and extending animal protections.

With traditional fishing on the decline, aquaculture has been touted as both a solution to food insecurity and as a means to reduce pressure on species in seas and oceans. However, the growth of aquaculture, or aquafarming, hasn't diminished stress on wild populations. Meanwhile, as recently as 2018, 250 to 408 billion individual animals from more than 400 species were farmed in aquaculture--or about 20 times the number of species farmed in animal agriculture on land--according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

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