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 0 1 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

The very low FishEthoScore of Sparus aurata is mainly due to the home range needs, high levels of aggression, needs of substrate, stress under farming conditions, high levels of deformations, absence of humane slaughter protocol and dependence on fish in the diet. Extensive farming providing substrate could be a remediation for some of the problems and help improve fish welfare. Individual farming strategies with mandatory protocols including continuous monitoring are a major stepping stone towards preventing poor welfare and improving the sustainable production of this species. Further research is needed on current farming conditions as well as aggregation and aggression behaviour in the wild and in farms.

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


Eggs and larvae: Pelagic [1]: Inhabit the water column, independent of bottom and shore. Hatchery: Usually 3-6 m in diameter [2].

Juveniles: Usually >800 m [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]. Round tanks: 3-6 m in diameter [8]; raceways and ponds: 5-10 x 1-2 m [8]; cages: 20 x 35 m [9].

Adults: In spawning season in the wild, usually >800 m  [3] [4] [6] [7]. Tanks: Usually 16 x 16 m [2].


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


Eggs and larvae: no data found yet on depth range in the wild. Hatchery: Usually 1.5-2 m [2].

Juveniles, adults: Usually 0-15 m [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [7] [16] [17] [18], up to 30 m [19]. Tanks and raceways: Usually 1-1.5 m [8]. Cages: 14.6 m [9].

Adults: no data found yet on depth range during spawning season in the wild. Tanks: ≤1.5 m [20].  


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?


Eggs and larvae: Stationary [1] [20] [8]

Juveniles: Migrate between open sea and coastal lagoons [21] [22] [16] with more resources and better environmental conditions.

Adults: Migrate towards the open sea to spawn [22] [23] [16].


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, spawning from October to February [24] [25] [26] [1] [12] [27]. Tanks: Temperature and photoperiod manipulation to adjust reproduction time [20] [8]. Further research needed to identify possible long-term effects on welfare.

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?


Eggs and larvae: no data found yet on natural aggregation behaviour and farming conditions. 

Juveniles: live in shoals [6] [14] [28]. Further research needed to determine natural aggregation behaviour. Grow-out ponds: Shoals of 600 individuals of 500 g each use better the available space, 250 and 400 m2, than alone or in groups of 4 [29]. Extensive rearing: 0.0025 kg/m3; semi-intensive rearing: 1 kg/m3; intensive rearing: In tanks 15-45 kg/m3, in cages 10-15 kg/m3 [1].

Adults: live in small groups [6] [14] [28]. Further research needed to determine natural aggregation behaviour. Tanks: 15 kg/m[20].  

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


Eggs and larvae: no data found yet on natural aggression behaviour. Tanks: Aggressive [30] [20] [31]. Manipulation of biotic (e.g. growth dispersion) and abiotic (e.g. temperature) parameters can reduce aggression [30] [20] [31].

Juveniles: no data found yet on on natural aggression behaviour. In the lab, aggressive in pairwise interactions [32] [33]; food competition in groups of 4 [34] and 2, 5 or 10 [35].

Juveniles, adults: In cages, food competition at stocking density 3 kg/m3 due to feeding rhythms and captive overcrowding [36].

Adults: no data found yet on on natural aggression behaviour. In the lab, aggressive during sexual reversal period [37].

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?


Eggs and larvae: Pelagic [1] [20]: Independent of bottom substrate. 

Juveniles, adults: In the wild, usually found on rocky or sandy bottoms or seagrass beds [1] [10] [38]. In the lab, preferred habitats with shelter over those without [39]. Under farming conditions, the use of substrate enhanced growth, fillet quality and supressed aggression [40] [41]. Further research needed.

Adults: no data found yet on natural substrate and shelter needs within the spawning season as well as 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?


Larvae: Stressed by air exposure [42], salinity shock [42] and handling [43] [44].

Juveniles: Stressed by air exposure [45], confinement [45] [46], crowding [47] [48] [49], handling [46] and noise [50].

Adults: Stressed by crowding [49] [51].

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


Larvae: Under farming conditions, malformations of swimbladder [52], operculum [53] and spine [52] [54] [55] in >10% of individuals.

Juveniles: Under farming conditions, malformations of lateral line [56] [57], operculum [53] [58] [59] and spine [60] [61] [62] [63] [64] [65] [66] in >10% of individuals.

Adults: Under farming conditions, malformations of spine [60] [67] [66] in >4% of individuals.

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?


Common slaughter method: Immersion in ice-water [68]. A protocol for electrical stunning and killing by bleeding is under development but has only been implemented experimentally [69]. Precurssive stunning and killing by bleeding (Saraiva 2018).

Side note: Domestication

DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 [70] [71], fully domesticated. Cultured since 1980 [1].

Side note: Feeding without components of forage fishery

Larvae: Carnivorous [1] [20] [8]. NO DATA FOUND YET on replacement of fish meal and fish oil.

Juveniles: Carnivorous [1] [21] [72] [11]. Fish meal and fish oil may be mostly* replaced by plant protein [73] [74] [75] [76].

Adults: Carnivorous [1] [72] [11] [7]. Fish meal and fish oil may be mostly* replaced by plant protein [77].

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



DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 = selective breeding programmes are used focusing on specific goals [70]


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