Behavioural indicators of welfare in farmed fish

C.I. Martins, L. Galhardo, C. Noble, B. Damsgard, M.T. Spedicato, W. Zupa, M. Beauchaud, E. Kulczykowska, J.C. Massabuau, T. Carter, S.R. Planellas, T. Kristiansen

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137 Citations (Scopus)


Behaviour represents a reaction to the environment as fish perceive it and is therefore a key element of fish welfare. This review summarises the main findings on how behavioural changes have been used to assess welfare in farmed fish, using both functional and feeling-based approaches. Changes in foraging behaviour, ventilatory activity, aggression, individual and group swimming behaviour, stereotypic and abnormal behaviour have been linked with acute and chronic stressors in aquaculture and can therefore be regarded as likely indicators of poor welfare. On the contrary, measurements of exploratory behaviour, feed anticipatory activity and reward-related operant behaviour are beginning to be considered as indicators of positive emotions and welfare in fish. Despite the lack of scientific agreement about the existence of sentience in fish, the possibility that they are capable of both positive and negative emotions may contribute to the development of new strategies (e.g. environmental enrichment) to promote good welfare. Numerous studies that use behavioural indicators of welfare show that behavioural changes can be interpreted as either good or poor welfare depending on the fish species. It is therefore essential to understand the species-specific biology before drawing any conclusions in relation to welfare. In addition, different individuals within the same species may exhibit divergent coping strategies towards stressors, and what is tolerated by some individuals may be detrimental to others. Therefore, the assessment of welfare in a few individuals may not represent the average welfare of a group and vice versa. This underlines the need to develop on-farm, operational behavioural welfare indicators that can be easily used to assess not only the individual welfare but also the welfare of the whole group (e.g. spatial distribution). With the ongoing development of video technology and image processing, the on-farm surveillance of behaviour may in the near future represent a low-cost, noninvasive tool to assess the welfare of farmed fish.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-41
JournalFish Physiology and Biochemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • trout oncorhynchus-mykiss
  • salmon salmo-salar
  • catfish clarias-gariepinus
  • bass dicentrarchus-labrax
  • repeat swimming performance
  • brain serotonergic activity
  • juvenile atlantic salmon
  • bream sparus-aurata
  • divergent stress responsiveness
  • char salvelinus

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