Written by William Bench, Tom Billington, Haven King-Nobles, & Rocky Schwartz
Likely over 100 billion fish are farmed globally each year. Several trillion more fish are caught from the wild annually. These numbers are staggering and represent the enormous scale of suffering that these industries produce.
Recently, two EA-aligned organizations have been created with the sole focus of improving the lives of aquatic species: The Aquatic Life Institute (ALI) and Fish Welfare Initiative (FWI). The Aquatic Life Institute achieves this through pushing better welfare to leverage groups in highly-tractable countries (such as certification groups in Europe and North America). Fish Welfare Initiative achieves this through building interest for welfare at the producer level in high-scale and highly-neglected countries (e.g. India). Recognizing that approximately 543 species of aquatic animals are farmed and these species have dramatically different welfare considerations, both organizations seek to increase species-specific research in order to reduce suffering on fish farms.
We (both The Aquatic Life Institute and Fish Welfare Initiative) believe that the suffering of fish presents a massively overlooked and important area for effective altruism. We believe there is ample room for two complementary organizations in this space, and we in fact hope to see many more organizations coordinating into a fish welfare movement (similar to the collaborative work seen for chickens in the last years, see the Open Wing Alliance).
Fish Welfare Initiative has a three-part plan:
- Conduct preliminary research to identify the most promising welfare interventions that can be made for fish.
- Demonstrate these interventions at a micro level, working with small producers.
- Scale up these interventions to a macro level, either via governmental or corporate outreach.
For instance, one approach that currently looks promising is to work with farmers in India to improve water quality (via helping them purchase, install, and upkeep aeration equipment). From there, our local team would work with the government to implement similar changes in policy, and then assist with policy enforcement (this is often the biggest challenge with such initiatives in India).
Currently, FWI is still conducting research (for instance, see our Vietnam Scoping Report). While some of our research can be done remotely (e.g. welfare improvements prioritization research), much of our research depends on fieldwork and country visits, which is unfortunately now impossible due to the pandemic. Our plans have thus been delayed (see our One Year Plan for more information).
Aquatic Life Institute’s work falls into four main pillars:
- Research Regranting: Instead of conducting research directly, ALI is regranting to researchers within existing institutions, including universities and other nonprofits, to shift and refine their research toward positive welfare and the most promising welfare interventions. This approach allows the researchers to tap into existing infrastructure and resources, such as university budgets, and allows for ALI to advise the research based on EA principles. This research will enable the creation of a clear framework for species-specific environmental enrichment and a working metric for higher-welfare fish products.
- Coalition-Building: ALI is working to create a coalition of stakeholders who can work together under a common blueprint for increased welfare and together mobilize research findings toward the adoption of welfare interventions within the industry.
- Lobbying Decision-Makers: In concert with coalition partners, ALI seeks to then influence certifiers, companies, and lawmakers to adopt higher welfare standards and practices.
- Public Education: Foundational to these efforts is growth of public sympathy for aquatic animals. ALI is beginning efforts to raise awareness about fish sentience and elevate the standing of present welfare concerns.
At this time, additional funding for ALI will translate directly to additional regranting and expedite research, which in turn will expedite the creation of welfare standards that ALI and coalition groups can lobby for.
Why Two Fish Organizations?
We believe we are on the precipice of a formalized fish welfare movement and are excited to have two EA organizations beginning this work. We believe that the two organizations and their respective approaches are complementary and hope to elucidate what this will look like: Where FWI takes a “bottom-up” approach, working with producers at a micro level and then scaling to macro level interventions, ALI takes a “top-down” approach, lobbying decision-makers as a means of impacting producers.
We carefully considered whether it would be most effective to merge the two organizations into one and concluded that while this idea has its merits, it is outweighed by the benefits of remaining two organizations. While FWI and ALI maintain a close working relationship, both are of the belief that two EA-aligned fish welfare organizations can have a greater impact than one organization encompassing both organizations’ work. Among the reasons for this are:
- Two organizations are likely to collectively maintain a greater public presence than one, thereby increasing traction around fish welfare.
- As each organization grows, there is room for greater specialization. For instance, FWI’s current focus on Asia and ALI’s likely focus on Western countries will also translate to expertise in region-specific species and their welfare.
- The two may at times wish to take divergent approaches that are best achieved under the auspices of two separate organizations.
- Two separate structures can serve as a safeguard against groupthink. This allows both organizations to be nimble and maintain varied perspectives on the work at hand, while always operating from a foundation of the shared goal of improving fish welfare and shared EA orientation.
I Want to Donate to a Fish-Focused Organization. Which Should I Donate to?
It’s first worth noting that ALI and FWI are not your only two options: many other organizations, such as Compassion in World Farming, Eurogroup for Animals, the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance, Essere Animali, FishCount, Fair-Fish, Faunalytics, and others advocate for and/or conduct research on promoting the welfare of fish; other top animal welfare organizations, such as The Humane League, Mercy for Animals, and Animal Equality have or are launching initiatives. We are in contact with most of these organizations and excited to collaborate further with them in the future.
However, if you are considering between ALI and FWI, the following are some considerations that should aid your decision:
You may want to donate to ALI if you believe:
- We should start fish advocacy work by first working with corporations and certifiers, and then scaling to the level of individual farms.
- We should prioritize work in countries where welfare improvements may be more tractable and will set more of a precedent.
- We should prioritize new grants to other organizations and fish-focused academic researchers and prioritize building a mass research base for fish welfare.
- It is more impactful for an organization to focus on several different focus areas (in ALI’s case, this includes lobbying, coalition-building, and public education).
You may want to donate to FWI if you believe:
- We should start fish advocacy work by first working with individual farms and producers, and then scaling to the level of corporations and governments.
- We should prioritize work in countries where fish are more numerous and neglected.
- We should prioritize foundational research questions (i.e. prioritizing which countries, species, and welfare improvements are the most promising).
- It is more impactful for an organization to just have one main focus (in FWI’s case, this means implementing welfare improvements and reforms in neglected countries).
As discussed previously, the teams at both organizations believe that both approaches are important, complementary, and worth supporting. We expect the marginal impact of donation dollars will also largely depend on the current funding gaps of each organization.
Lastly, there are other ways that you can support these organizations outside of donations: Both are currently hiring (ALI for an Executive Director and FWI for a Director of Country Operations) and FWI is offering some internships. You can also sign up in FWI’s volunteer database, which allows you to signify your interest in volunteering with other like-minded organizations (such as ALI). You can also join the newsletter lists of ALI and FWI to follow both organizations’ work and learn about future opportunities for involvement and support.
Conclusion: Plan for Upcoming Collaboration
In the months ahead, you can expect to see continued collaboration between ALI and FWI. The two organizations are in regular communication and actively working to share resources where needed. One example of this is the organizations’ social media, which are now both managed by the same individual, Sophia Babb, who has developed a specialization in EA-oriented fish welfare content. Likewise, stay tuned for public events and educational opportunities from both organizations going forward!
We’re grateful to Cash Callaghan at Animal Charity Evaluators for providing the initial write up that inspired much of this post.