Most of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and this is where most animals live. Wildlife is threatened under the water as much as it is on land - animals are hunted for food or pets, and fishing nets, litter and pollution accidentally kill millions of others.
Humans have always hunted wild animals for food, including fish, mammals such as whales and seals, and invertebrates like crabs, clams and octopuses. Over the last hundred years or so, as humans have increased in number, many species of aquatic life have declined to the very edge of extinction.
Most people know that cod - once the cheapest of fish - has now declined off the British coast to numbers so low that it is hardly worth the effort needed to catch them, and we now have to get our cod from other countries’ waters. It’s also the case that cod, once a giant fish of nearly two metres in length, now only grow to a fraction of their former size. This story is repeated in all the world’s seas and inland waterways – very few commercially fished species are safe.
As a welfare organisation, we’re concerned not only by the scale of fish slaughter - a billion are caught each year off the British coast alone - but also by the way in which they die: crammed in nets, suffocated in the air once landed or even gutted alive. But with regret we acknowledge just how difficult it is to make commercial fishing more humane – harvesting fish on the high seas in wild weather does not allow for the control that can be exercised in, for example, a well-managed farming system.
We do, however, expect commercially farmed fish to be treated with the same degree of compassion as any other sentient farmed animal. To this end, we've developed detailed welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon, which are designed to ensure higher standards of animal welfare for all fish kept according to the requirements.
Aquatic animals can also die as a side effect of intensive fishing. Thousands of porpoises, dolphins and other sea life are caught every year in nets used for fishing, suffering a slow death. To find out more about cetacean (dolphins, porpoises and whales) bycatch around the UK, have a look at the bycatch indicator in the latest edition of our report called The Welfare State: Measuring Animal Welfare in the UK.
Some aquatic and marine animals, particularly seals and predatory birds like cormorants, are persecuted because fishermen claim they eat too many fish. Where such claims are made, we will always thoroughly examine them. We look for proof of the real extent of damage and that all humane alternatives have been thoroughly considered.
We don't believe it’s right to catch wild fish and other sea or freshwater animals for the pet trade. Such animals suffer unacceptably high mortality during capture, transport, sale and when kept in the wrong environment.
Industrial pollutants poison animals in seas, rivers and lakes and animals are caught in spilt oil that has either been carelessly dumped or accidentally leaked from shipwrecks. Litter such as balloons, which can be mistaken by turtles and seals for jellyfish, and Chinese (sky) lanterns, can cause significant damage or even death.
We've produced information sheets on both of these issues:
Balloon releases (PDF 125KB)
Chinese lanterns (PDF 133KB)