During this project, we will be identifying how the use of various types of commercial fishing gear affect the physiology and mortality of cod and thus their welfare and quality. We will also be investigating the links between ethical fishing, quality and price.

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This subject affects fishermen, the fish processing industry, sales and producer organisations, the authorities and consumers.

We will also be developing new knowledge about how fish react to the catch process based on their physiology and behaviour in controlled laboratory experiments. We will also investigate if there is a connection between the behaviour and quality of cod by monitoring the blood content in fillets, the properties of fillets, production yields and shelf-life.

We will also investigate if it is possible to improve the welfare and quality of cod during catch and thus  increase the opportunities which exist in processing for a higher share of valuable products. In this way it may be possible to gain several benefits in respect of sustainability: all fish which is caught is taken ashore and has a higher quality. The amount of food wasted would also be reduced.

This would help to strengthen the white fish industry and improve the economic aspects of the entire value chain.

Ethical fishing

The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act states that “animals shall not suffer unnecessarily” – but what does this mean for the fishing industry? Previous trials conducted by Nofima show that it is possible to engage in more gentle fishing practices, but also that this is conditional on catches being smaller than the quantities that are regarded as being economically viable. In this project we will therefore investigate if more “humane” methods of catching fish would give fishermen better prices for their fish. We will also relate the quality of catches to ethical issues such as fish welfare and sustainability in the form of the best possible utilisation of limited marine resources.

People have been fishing throughout the ages, but there is still a lot that we do not know about how fish experience the catch process. How long can a fish survive in a net before it dies? What happens to fish when they become more crowded and squeezed in a seine net? We know that fish become stressed in catch situations, but are there any differences in the types of stress experienced – and how does this affect the quality of the fish?

During this project we will be also be investigating the ethical aspects of fishing. What does it mean when we say that coastal fishing should be carried out in an ethically responsible manner? We will study how fish experience the various conditions which occur when they are caught and compare our investigations with quality measurements and pricing in the market.

Multidiciplinary research

This is a multidisciplinary project and we will compare the results of field trials, laboratory experiments, statistics, cost/benefit analysis and interviews with managers. Overall the project will provide new knowledge about how fish experience coastal fishing today, and how profitable it is to engage in ethically responsible fishing activities.

The results of this project will show the principles which apply to the best ways of fishing.

Fields of work

1. Fishing – welfare and fishing equipment

We will investigate what happens to fish when caught using gillnets, lines and Danish seine nets under various conditions. We will compare our results with those achieved for commercially fished cod.

The parameters we wish to investigate and compare include the condition of the fish when it is caught in the fishing equipment for varying lengths of time, at different temperatures, different densities and the effects on quality.

2. Experimental fishing

We will simulate gillnets, line and Danish seine fishing under controlled conditions in a swim tunnel which works like a “treadmill” for fish. Previous research has shown that this is comparable to different types of fishing equipment.

In this way we will be able to study what happens to fish during the various phases of the fishing process. Will different types of stress impact differently on the fish, and can we document how and why fish die in fishing equipment?

3. The links between fish welfare, fishing and product quality

The fish used in experiments 1 and 2 will be examined for different properties in order to find out how the welfare of fish impacts on the quality of the products. We will use various methods in order to find any connections, including spectroscopy, sensory methods, instrumental methods and microbiological analyses.

During the project we will use spectroscopy (light measurements) in order to undertake objective quality assessments. This could be developed to become an objective online system for assessing the quality and optimal utilisation of landed catches. This could affect price negotiations, along with the type of fishing equipment chosen by fishermen and how it is used.

The aim is to find models which could predict the texture of fish, fillet gaping, utilisation and shelf-life based on how the fish has been caught.

4. Can good fish welfare result in higher fish prices?

For fresh cod from coastal fishing vessels, it is often the case that good quality fish fetch about the same prices as fish of poor quality. Why?

We want to investigate this in order to understand those mechanisms which determine pricing. We will interview fishermen and fish buyers, collect data from vessels and buyers, and analyse the benefits and costs which exist in the purchasing and sales processes.

The aim is to obtain knowledge about how pricing takes place, as well as an insight into what could be done in order to reward good quality with higher prices. Overall, this work will provide new knowledge about how profitable it is to fish in a way which is both ethically and economically responsible.

5. Presenting research

We will place emphasis on being open about our research trials and results. We will actively present our project activities and results in different media. In particular we are interested in communicating with coastal fishermen, the authorities and other researchers, but we would also like to inform the general public and help to bring a knowledge-based debate about the use of our common fishing resources.

This website will be regularly updated with our latest news and results. You may also like to follow our activities on Nofima’s Facebook and Instagram profiles.

6. Project administration

This three-year project is being led by Nofima, and is being undertaken in cooperation with the University of Tromsø and the Norwegian Veterinary Institute.

Watch Geir’s video blog – episodes from EthiCatch

Senior Scientist Geir Sogn-Grundvåg has his own videoblogg. Here you can see some episodes about research in EthiCatch.

The blog videos are subtitled in English.