Short profile

FishEthoScore of the species

Abbreviated assessment of the species' likelihood and potential for fish welfare in aquaculture, based on ethological findings for 10 crucial criteria.

Criteria Li Po Ce
1 Home range
2 Depth range ?
3 Migration
4 Reproduction
5 Aggregation ? ?
6 Aggression
7 Substrate
8 Stress
9 Malformation
10 Slaughter
FishEthoScore 1 2 3
Li = Likelihood that the individuals of the species experience welfare under minimal farming conditions
Po = Potential overall potential of the individuals of the species to experience welfare under improved farming conditions
Ce = Certainty of our findings in Likelihood and Potential
                    ?     /  
  High    Medium     Low     Unclear  No findings
FishEthoScore = Sum of criteria scoring "High" (max. 10)

General remarks

Despite the fact that Salmo salar is the most farmed fish in Europe, more fine-tuned culture strategies are needed to improve fish welfare and performance of this species. The low FishEthoScore is mainly due to the dependence on fish in the diet, home range needs, high levels of aggression, needs of substrate, stress under farming conditions and high levels of deformations. 
It is recommended to ensure proper space, at least in the vertical sense, according to the biological needs which seems to be satisfied in sea cages, but not in raceways. The development of new rearing strategies to optimise the husbandry practices such as matching the biological rhythms with e.g. feeding activities or unavoidable but often stressful husbandry procedures would be a step forward to solving some specific welfare concerns, to prevent poor welfare and to minimise stress, improving fish welfare, fish performance and reduce stress. Replacing fish meal and fish oil in the feed by plant-based or sustainable sources would ensure an ethical food production. Semi-intensive and extensive farming could be a remediation for some of the current problems and help improving fish welfare and performance. 

1. Are minimal farming conditions likely to provide the home range of the species? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins, fry: Planktonic as alevins [1]: Horizontal movement limited to hydrodynamic displacement. Fry move 1-5 m from the redd [2]. Hatchery trays and tanks: dimensions are not available [3].

Parr, smolts: Usually 0.1-8 km [4] [5] [6] [1] [7] [8].  Smolts: Sea cages: Maximum 24 x 24 m or 100 m in diameter [3].

Adults: Usually 0.1-4.4 km [9]. Tanks dimensions are not available [3].

2. Are minimal farming conditions likely to provide the depth range of the species? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins, fry: Usually <1 m [10] [11] [12] [13]. Hatchery trays and tanks: Depth dimensions are not available [3]

Parr, smolts: <6.5 m [10] [14] [15] [11] [12] [13] [5] [16] [7] [17] [8] [18]. Smolts: Sea cages: Maximum 18 m [3]

Adults: further research needed to identify depth range in the wild. Sea cages: 5 m [19], 10 m [20], 15 m [21].

Kelt: Stay close to the surface [22] [23].

Adults: Usually 0.5-3 m within the spawning season [24]. No data found yet on spawning culture conditions.

3. Are minimal farming conditions compatible with the migrating or habitat-changing behaviour of the species? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins and fry: Stationary [5] [25] [17].

Parr: Stationary [5]  [17].

Smolts: Anadromous [26] [27] [1] [28]: Migrate to the sea in spring-early summer.

Adults: Anadromous. Individuals return as grilse to their rivers of origin to spawn [27] [29] [6] [9]. Rearing in freshwater tanks [3].

4. Is the species likely to reproduce in captivity without manipulation? Is there potential to allow for it under farming conditions? How certain are these findings?


Adults: In the wild, female builds redd [30] [31] [32] [33] [34]. Under farming conditions, eggs are stripped [3]

5. Is the aggregation imposed by minimal farming conditions likely to be compatible with the natural behaviour of the species? Is there potential to allow for it under farming conditions? How certain are these findings?


Alevins and fry: Live solitary after emerging from the gravel but remain in the same areas as siblings [2] [35] [1]. Intensive conditions: 50 kg/m3 or higher [3]

Parr: Live solitary or in small groups [36]. Further research needed on extension of groups in the wild. Extensive conditions: 8 kg/m3; intensive conditions: 30 kg/m3 [37]

Smolts: Live in schools [38] [36] [1] [39]. Further research needed on extension of schools in the wild. Under farming conditions, 15-35 kg/m[40] [20]: Usually 20 kg/m3 [3].

Adults: Live in schools [38] [36] [1] [39]. Further research needed on extension of schools in the wild. Rearing at low densities with unknown extension [3].

6. Is the species likely to be non-aggressive and non-territorial? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins and fry: In the wild, aggressive and territorial after emerging from the gravel [2]. In the lab, aggressive in pairwise interactions [41] [42] and groups of 10 [35]; aggression increases with fish density, from 3 to 9 individuals/m2. No data found yet on aggression behaviour under farming conditions.

Parr: In the wild, territorial and aggressive [43] [44]. In the lab, individual differences in metabolism related aggressive behaviour [45]. Under farming conditions, more aggressive at high 30 kg/m3 than low 8 kg/m3 density [37].

Smolts: In the wild, schooling behaviour [38] [43] [44] [39]. Under farming conditions, lower levels of aggression at feeding time under 25 kg/m3 than under 15 and 30 kg/m3 [40]. Not aggressive in 1,000-1,200 m3 sea-cages of 10 x 10 x 15 m at 0.85 kg/m3 [20].

Adults: In the wild, schooling behaviour during migration [38] [43] [44] [39]. Dominance hierarchy during the spawning period in the wild [46] and in the lab [47]. Under farming conditions, non-linear dominance hierarchies at 15.2 kg/m3 [48].

7. Are minimal farming conditions likely to match the natural substrate and shelter needs of the species? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins and fry: In the lab, absence of substrate did not affect the ontogeny and behaviour [35], but the use of artificial substrate (polyethylene astro-turf) favoured growth [49]; low survival in sand compared to rocks and stones [50]. Under farming conditions, use substrate [3]. No data found yet on the effect of missing environmental enrichment in farming conditions.

Parr, smolts, adults: In the wild, prefer habitats with rocks and stones [7]; use substrate as cover from predators and adverse environmental conditions [17] [51] [52] [53]. Under farming conditions, providing cover increased growth rate and improved stress [54]; smoltification process dependent on the number of shelters provided [55].

Adults: Use substrate to build redds [32] [17]. No data found yet on the effect of missing environmental enrichment in farming conditions.

8. Are minimal farming conditions (handling, confinement etc.) likely not to stress the individuals of the species? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins and fry: Stressed by confinement [42] [56] and use of artificial light at night [57].

Parr and smolts: Stressed by acute handling [44], temperature shock [58] [59] [60], chasing, netting, noise, light conditions, hypoxia and emptying the tank [60].

Adults: Stressed by chilling, crowding [58] and handling [61].

9. Are malformations of this species likely to be rare under farming conditions? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


Alevins, fry: Under farming conditions, vertebral column deformities in >10% of individuals [56] [62].

Parr, smolts: Under farming conditions, vertebral and spinal deformities in >10% of individuals [63] [64] [65] [66] [67] [68].

Adults: Under farming conditions, vertebral and spinal deformities in >10% of individuals [63] [65] [66] [67].

For all age classes, no data found yet on frequency of malformations in the wild.

10. Is a humane slaughter protocol likely to be applied under minimal farming conditions? Is there potential for improvement? How certain are these findings?


A protocol for electrical stunning and killing by bleeding is available [69] [70] [71] Castanheira 2018.

Side note: Domestication

DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 [72] [73], fully domesticated. Cultured since 19th century [3].

Side note: Feeding without components of forage fishery

Alevins and fry: Carnivorous [3] [24] [74]. No data found yet on replacement of fish meal and fish oil.

Parr, smolts and adults: Carnivorous [75] [76] [74]. Fish meal and fish oil may be mostly* replaced by plant protein [77] [78] [79] [80].

* partly = <51% – mostly = 51-99% – completely = 100%


DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 = selective breeding programmes are used focusing on specific goals [72]


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