At Anima International, we recently decided to suspend our campaign against live fish sales in Poland indefinitely. After a few years of running the campaign, we are now concerned about the effects of our efforts, specifically the possibility of a net negative result for the lives of animals. We believe that by writing about it openly we can help foster a culture of intellectual honesty, information sharing and accountability. Ideally, our case can serve as a good example on reflecting on potential unintended consequences of advocacy interventions.

Summary

  • Some post-communist countries of Eastern Europe have a tradition of buying live carp in shops and slaughtering them at homes for Christmas Eve.

  • Poland is a major importer and producer of carps, with 90% of domestic production consumed during the Christmas season.

  • Many groups, including Anima International, oppose and target the practice because of its incredible cruelty, as well as significant public sentiment against it.

  • Due to successful efforts of animal advocacy groups important victories were achieved, including major retailers withdrawing from selling live fish.

  • A consumer trend to move away from carp to higher-status fish, like salmon, is observed.

  • Anima International became increasingly worried that any effort to displace carp consumption may lead to increased animal suffering due to salmon farming requiring fish feed.

  • We ran polls and created a rough model to check these assumptions and then considered how our strategy should look like.

  • After careful considerations of a number of factors, including effectiveness estimates, we decided to disband our team focused on the campaign and invest the resources elsewhere.

Carp in post-communist countries

Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) is a domesticated freshwater fish. It’s the third largest fish farmed in the world’s aquaculture production. Poland is the European Union’s largest producer and top importer.

What is especially bizarre about Poland and other similar countries in Central and Eastern Europe is the relatively recent custom of buying live carps during the Christmas period. The tradition developed around 70 years ago due to a combination of factors:

  • post-war reality – destruction of fishing fleets made carp farming a desirable investment;
  • religion – in Christianity fish is not considered meat and is thus allowed during periods of fasting;
  • communism – there was a special government-established “fish allowance” under which people received live fish (refrigerators were uncommon) from their employers as Christmas bonuses.

Due to this strong tradition[1] 90% of Polish domestic production is sold around Christmas and ~25% of the population reports buying the carp alive.[2] There is an intense public debate around this subject in Poland at this time of year.

Suffering of carps in Poland

Carp farming and the industry

Carps are farmed in small ponds. As omnivores, they feed on small invertebrates and later transition to special grain-based feed. There are 3,000 farms in Poland with an additional 1,000 businesses engaged in carp aquaculture. According to 2020 reports, Polish carp aquaculture was the biggest in the European Union, making up 36% of freshwater fish production in Poland.

While the Polish carp industry seems to be gaining momentum in Europe, it appears that popular demand and changing trends in consumption may be leading to stagnation. As economic models emerge, they point to aesthetics and the difficulty of preparation rather than price driving the stagnation, especially among young adults. From our anecdotal experience, this seems intuitive, as carp hasn’t been marketed well by the industry. We have seen experts pushing the industry to market carp better to fit the new trends.

Number of animals

It’s worth mentioning here that fish numbers are reported in tonnes, so we can only use rough estimates. FAO FishStatJ Database states that 23,020,000 kg of carp were produced in aquaculture in Poland in 2019.[3]

While we know the volume of carp production, it’s not easy to obtain reliable data on live carps sold each year. The best estimates that we currently use come from the Polish Association of Fish Processors. They estimate that approximately 4,000,000 kg of live carps are sold each year in the country.[4]

The average carp sold in markets and shops is 3 years old and weighs between 1.2 kg to 2.5 kg. For simplicity’s sake, we assume that on average a carp weighs 2 kg when sold. This translates to around 2 million live carps sold each year in Poland. While it’s an enormous number of individual animals, it’s relatively low in comparison to animals like broilers, of which around 1 billion are killed in Poland every year.

Animal mortality rate

It’s worth noting that factory farming optimizes output per resource used. While it may seem counterintuitive that farmers would be fine with high mortality rates, in principle what matters is not how many animals die, but how much profit is gained. As a consequence, for each animal killed and delivered as the final product we have to consider how many more of them die in the process.

According to Animal Charity Evaluators’ report appendix (table 4) the combined survival rate in farmed common carp equals approximately 20.6%. Therefore, we estimate that approximately one in five carp survives until slaughter.

Live carp sales

Transportation

Carps are transported in very poor conditions resulting from the disregard of any welfare concerns and the fish being ill-adapted to endure such treatment. At first, they are taken out of ponds, moved to special tanks, deprived of food and prepared to be transported alive. Then the fish are loaded onto trucks and shipped to retailers. They are often transported without water and in overcrowded conditions. This level of negligence induces high levels of stress, resulting in serious injury or death.

Treatment by vendors

Carps are usually held in overcrowded water containers, often in dirty, bloodied and inadequately oxygenated water. Shops and staff engage in the sale of live animals only over a few weeks of the year and are therefore not experienced in handling these animals, especially when it comes to slaughter.

Footage of the conditions in shops is very graphic and generates a lot of attention in the media.

Treatment by consumers

People usually take the fish home in a container or plastic bag filled with water. Sadly, sometimes carps are transported in bags or containers without water, which under Polish law should be considered animal cruelty and thus illegal. Carps are then kept until Christmas Eve, when they are killed. Needless to say, most people are untrained in killing animals, which frequently results in an unnecessarily painful death, usually without any kind of stunning. Polish law states that it’s illegal for an untrained individual to kill an animal, but in this private context, laws against such violations are very unlikely to be enforced.

Two decades of advocacy work on live fish sales in Poland

The horrific and visible cruelty toward carps in Poland made it an obvious target for animal advocacy campaigns. Activists used various tools to help animals. Nowadays every major animal advocacy organization in Poland has a campaign about live carp sales (Viva!, Albert Schweitzer Foundation, Compassion and Anima International - known in Poland under Otwarte Klatki brand).

Public outreach campaigns – since as early as 1998 organizations like Klub Gaja were discussing the problem. Later on other organizations joined. Work included launching media campaigns, working with top influencers and petitioning.

Investigations – when it comes to live carp practices, there are two kinds of investigative material. The first type depicts the cruelty happening in shops and is usually filmed by activists, consumers or even staff. The other type shows the farming practices – here Anima International provided most of the footage in Poland.

Legal advocacy – a lot of focus in campaigning for fish is directed at changing the law. There have been instances of successful pushes for better welfare recommendations and important legal court rulings.

Building alliances – despite some of the laws protecting fish in Poland, authorities were ignorant or reluctant to enforce the law. Groups like Klub Gaja worked with the Polish Police and offered training to educate forces on what they should do to uphold the law.

Corporate outreach – many groups targeted companies to withdraw from selling live fish. Most notably a coalition was formed by Viva!, Albert Schweitzer Foundation, Compassion in World Farming and Anima International to coordinate better.

Milestones

From the standpoint of campaigning for carps one of the most important outcomes was pushing seven key supermarket chains in 2019 to stop selling live fish that resulted in obtaining their public commitments.

A key legal milestone was the victory of animal activist and lawyer Karolina Kuszlewicz to prosecute staff in one of the supermarkets (E.Leclerc) for mistreatment of carps. After 10 years of legal struggle, the case finally reached The Supreme Court of Poland which overturned previous instances and ruled in favor of fish, finding staff guilty of cruelty. The court pointed to the shop manager as directly responsible for mistreatment. This created an important precedent[5] for every court and prosecutor in Poland and sent a message to the public – especially businesses – that they should not think that cruelty toward fish will go unpunished.

Finally, public support for the live fish ban is high.[6]

Strategy reevaluation in Anima International fish campaign team

In Anima International, teams are quite autonomous. Some teams consist to varying degrees of volunteers managed by the teams higher in the hierarchy. Our fish team was one of the minor teams as we focus mostly on other campaigns, like hens or broilers. Nevertheless, in 2018 we increased our resources in this area, because we spotted an opportunity to get companies to commit to stop selling live fish.

We focused mostly on:

  • consumer awareness, obtaining footage from farms through investigations,
  • corporate outreach (together with Viva!, Albert Schweitzer Foundation and Compassion in World Farming).

We successfully recorded footage from carp farms, which wasn’t available in Poland before, and managed to get major retailers to commit to stop selling live fish. This was an enormous victory after years of campaigning for fish in Poland.

While planning the strategy for the team in 2021 the new manager of the campaign, Weronika Żurek, stumbled upon more news about people in Poland switching to other fish species during Christmas, one of them being salmon. Carp is an omnivorous fish fed predominantly grain and soy, whereas salmon is a carnivorous fish, which in turn uses more animals in farming. The potential effect of that made us worried. We decided to reduce our actions around Christmas 2021 until we could investigate this further.

Impact reassessment

Carnivorous species like salmon or tuna must be fed with almost exclusively animal-derived feed, such as fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) which are made up of so-called feed fishes. Most species of farmed fish, such as rainbow trout, are fed with a mix of plant- and animal-derived food.

As mentioned, common carp is not considered a high-quality product and people buy it live for Christmas only because it is a tradition. It also has a reputation of not being tasty in comparison to other species, such as salmon, which is considered to be a high-quality delicacy. Furthermore, salmon prices began slowly declining in Poland which made it easier for consumers to buy it.

Taking these factors into account, we started to worry that our work may cause more animals to be farmed than spared. This would be true in an unlikely scenario that people in Poland would switch to salmon just because they cannot participate in the tradition of buying live carp, with only frozen carp being available to them. For animal activists it was somewhat unintuitive why a lack of live animals for sale would make people switch to other frozen animal species rather than to the same frozen species.

To verify our model we commissioned a representative poll. Firstly, we asked how many are planning to buy live carps – 25.5% reported doing so. From these we asked respondents what they would choose for Christmas Eve if live carp was not available. While almost half (47.1%) said they would just buy frozen versions of carp, to our surprise 23.9% said they would switch to salmon and 21.2% to trout (followed by herring and pollock).

In a follow-up, people pointed out that they are more likely to switch to salmon because the price fell in recent years.[7] Furthermore, we asked Aquatic Life Institute to research the relation between live carp sales and fish-derived feed products usage to supplement our research.

The data we obtained didn’t look good for the campaign and pushed us to further consider how effective our work is.

Looking at the numbers

Our poll suggests a trend to replace live carp with salmon. Salmon is a carnivorous fish which means that choosing salmon instead of live carp could cause more animals to die. Yet, we are skeptical of how much it can for sure be attributed to our campaign rather than other socio-economic factors and how much we should trust self-reported data.

Nevertheless, because of the stakes of animal suffering we wanted to be meticulous. We modeled a very conservative scenario where we assumed that due to Anima International’s campaign efforts just 1% of Polish people who usually buy live carp for their Christmas Eve meal switch to buying the same amount of salmon (non-live).

We assumed that this 1% of consumers will buy the same weight of salmon as they would of carp. If 4,000,000 kg of live carps are sold annually in Poland, it would mean 40,000 kg of carp replaced by salmon.

The average slaughter weight of salmon is around 4 kg and that of live carp – 2 kg. This roughly translates to 20,000 carps being replaced by 10,000 salmon.

We need to understand how many animals are killed in order to produce one animal that is sold. There is some disagreement on how many fish a salmon would need to eat to reach slaughter weight (for example, Compassion in World Farming places the number at around 350 animals), but even if we take the smaller numbers from the Global Reporting Programme, one Atlantic salmon consumes approximately 147 other fish before it is slaughtered. For comparison, one common carp requires only one feed fish.

We also needed to take the mortality in fish farms into consideration. For common carps the survival rate equals ~20.6% while the survival rate in salmon is about ~65%. To make calculations clear, we assumed that 1 in 5 carp and 2 in 3 salmon survive until slaughter. We furthermore assumed that fish that die prematurely eat only half of the feed.[8]

Calculations for animals used to produce a single fish look as follows:

  • 1 carp = 1 carp + 1 feed fish + 4 prematurely dead carps + 4 prematurely dead carps * 50% of 1 feed fish = 8 animals.

  • 1 salmon = 1 salmon + 147 feed fish + 0.53 prematurely dead salmon + 0.53 prematurely dead salmon * 50% of 147 feed fish = ~187 animals.

In this model we want to assess how replacing 40,000 kg of product compares:

  • For carps – it’s 20,000 animals which in total would mean 160,000 animals killed.
  • For salmon – it’s 10,000 animals which in total would mean 1,870,000 animals killed.

It means that it takes around 1,870,000 fish deaths to produce the amount of Atlantic salmon equivalent to 1% of the amount of carp sold alive in Poland each year. It takes approximately 160,000 fish deaths in total to produce 1% of the carps that are sold alive in Poland.

For the purpose of the model, replacement means that carps are not produced and are spared the suffering of living in farmed conditions, so we need to subtract the number of animals killed in carp production from the number of animals used in salmon production: 1,870,000 - 160,000 = 1,710,000. This then represents 1,710,000 additional fish deaths which would not have happened if the switch had not been made.

Our calculations suggest that buying one Atlantic salmon requires around 11 times more fish deaths than buying the same (weight) amount of common carp.

To restate it – assuming that 1% of people would switch to salmon because of Anima International’s work, this would lead to an 11-fold increase in the number of animals killed.

It’s also worth highlighting again that these calculations are only rough estimates as reliable data regarding live fish sold in Poland is hard to obtain and that we used the most conservative data on how many fish a salmon would consume.

Problems when comparing welfare

Death is not the only moment a fish suffers and it’s clear that a carp sold alive and killed later may suffer more than a salmon which is slaughtered earlier in the farming process. At the same time, feed fish which are consumed by salmon are typically killed in extremely unethical ways (usually live freezing in ice slurry, asphyxiation or getting crushed by the weight of other fish) and their agony often lasts a few hours.

Because of this and the differences in farming methods, fishes may suffer more or less during their lives, making it difficult to precisely calculate the levels of suffering for the two species discussed in this post. For the purpose of this model we ignored these differences as we used an already low estimate of 1% of consumers in the hope that a very conservative approach would offset any welfare differences.

Considering our future strategy

Speaking only about animals’ lives, the case of the live fish campaign being negative for animals seemed clear. However, it wasn’t clear how the model should impact our strategy – for example, whether we should discontinue the campaign altogether.

For brevity’s sake, this is a rough overview of considerations that our team flagged during the evaluation of the campaign. Some are more tangible, some are less, some may seem organization-centered rather than mission oriented, but for the sake of transparency we want to include them. As a general note, it’s hard to have high credence in thinking about indirect effects – as thinking about the next-order effects of our work is very speculative.

Naivety of the model – there is a mismatch between our model and reality. For example, a) asking people whether they would switch their dietary choices informs us only about what they respond to such surveys (which then correlates with outcomes that we extrapolate from it) or b) we cannot be certain how consumers behave in a potential reality when we try to mitigate the effects of buying salmon, etc. Treating such models as strong evidence rather than an update seems to be an error.[9]

Expert models – there was a clear negative correlation between how experienced a person is and how strongly they would update on how much our estimations should weigh on the strategy. More experienced campaigners felt that the update should be less drastic and more nuanced. This may be attributed to a number of factors (stronger priors, sunk-cost fallacy, better internal models of social change, higher skepticism of self-reports, etc.).

Negative reputational effects with donors – considering how prominent a subject this is within Poland, many donors who supported this campaign will likely reconsider their support.

Increase in public support for fish – in view of the very supportive reception of carp campaigns in Poland, it is possible that the potential increase in fish welfare awareness will outweigh downsides in the long term.

Alliance building tool – from our experience, working on relatively non-controversial issues is a good foot in the door to push support for subjects that are more controversial from a policy standpoint (like advocacy for broiler chickens). The increase in traction potentially gained with influential policymakers, institutions and trendsetters could be high enough for groups to continue such campaigns.

Diminishing returns – most of the key results of the campaign have already been achieved – most retailers don’t sell live carps anymore. Furthermore, carps are sold live in marketplaces and small private shops, which are difficult to impact directly. So even if we assume that this campaign is effective, we see diminishing returns in continuing to invest in it.

Counterfactual value– assuming that the campaign is effective, it’s somewhat likely that due to other groups in Poland working on the issue, we don’t have much value to add anymore. The counterpoint is that not working on it actively may stall the legal advancements for fish.

Undermining cooperation with other groups – stopping our work and reasoning about it openly may lead other groups in the space to disagree and treat it as adversarial, especially if our assessment would assert that their work is ineffective or make donors move away from supporting their carp campaign.

Opportunity cost – while Anima International’s resources spent on the live carp campaign are relatively low in comparison to our other programs, it’s not obvious that moving these resources elsewhere would not produce more value. This argument is even stronger if we include coordination costs in a large organization.

Public consequences of decreasing our resources spent on fish welfare – while it may seem counterintuitive, as what matters is the impact for animals, from our experience some grantmakers and evaluators are usually too resource constrained to ask charities for their reasoning and tend to focus on collecting budget and FTE data to assess group effectiveness or criteria for funding. On paper, pausing fish work makes us less attractive for funders, especially if they don’t have access to our reasoning. This in consequence may make it harder for us to raise funds to continue or expand our work (this dynamic of rewarding “high expected value” is also mentioned by Holden Karnofsky here).

Conclusion

In Anima International we strive to advocate for animals in the most effective ways possible. Sometimes that means admitting that we’ve made mistakes, that a campaign isn’t working or that our interventions are not having the effect they should. The real mistake, of course, would be to never investigate our impact in the first place.

When summing up the reevaluation, we were not strongly convinced by the mere weight of the calculations. It seems to us that the effects of switching to carnivorous fishes, especially salmon, could be mitigated by incorporating proper tools into campaigning. The difference in intuitions between experts was the strongest evidence that made us especially cautious not to take the estimations at face value. Yet the data and our reasoning heavily reduced our confidence in the cost-effectiveness of the campaign.

There are also plausible arguments in favor of important long-term effects for fish, despite the negative short-term outlook. However, in the real world, this would mean accepting the likelihood of vastly increasing fish suffering in the short term to reduce it in the long term. This somewhat resembles the “greater good” argument which we think has a very negative track-record and seems to enable fallacious reasoning, therefore we leaned toward discarding it.

Naturally, the most unnerving scenario for us, as animal advocates, is that the campaign we have been running for several years may in fact have had the exact opposite effect to what we expected, increasing animal suffering. Nevertheless, at the risk of motivated reasoning, we consider the value of information and intellectual honesty as conducive to successful animal liberation.

In the end, the expected (negative) value and reduction in our confidence in the overall campaign’s effectiveness made us decide not to invest our resources further. We have indefinitely paused any major campaign actions and disbanded the whole team that managed it, redirecting resources elsewhere.

It is important to note that this doesn’t change anything in Anima International’s commitment to work for aquatic animals, such as our work in regards to octopus farming. We are currently taking time to reassess how we can best have an impact for fish in Poland reasoning from the first principles.

Request for feedback and support

We welcome feedback on this post and on our reasoning, especially critical feedback. If you have any thoughts on how we can improve our reasoning, we encourage you to comment or contact Weronika.

Acknowledgments

This post was based heavily on expertise and an input from Anna Iżyńska-Tymoniuk, Kirsty Henderson, Anna Kozłowska, Paweł Rawicki, Keyvan Mostafavi, Bogna Wiltowska, and Andrew Skowron.

Special thanks to Aquatic Life Institute for additional information. If you care about fish, who are particularly neglected animals, please consider donating to ALI.

A kind reminder about Anima International’s Resource Library

As always, we remind you about our Resource Library. If your work aims to help animals, you can use any of our materials as you wish (without crediting it). Visit https://animainternational.org/resources for large amounts of investigative footage, including fish, as well as other resources.



  1. We use the term “tradition” here as it’s considered as such by Poles, but, as explained, it’s quite a new practice. ↩︎

  2. Based on Anima International’s unpublished 2021 poll in Poland. ↩︎

  3. It’s hard to pinpoint the preferable weight for carp for uses other than live sale. If we assume that the preferred weight is the same as for live sales (which is unlikely), then it would mean that Poland produces a total of 11,000,000 of carps in a year. ↩︎

  4. Data obtained through contact with the producers. ↩︎

  5. Poland uses civil law, not common law, so “precedent” has a slightly different meaning and significantly less legal bearing than in Anglo-Saxon countries. ↩︎

  6. In our representative poll, 59% of Poles said that welfare needs of fish in shops are not met and 44% were in favor of a ban on live fish sales (40% were against). It may not be intuitive why we consider it significant support as people are rarely in favor of bans, especially when it comes to selling products. For comparison, in 2016, 41% of the Polish population were in favor of the ban on cage eggs, which allowed us to convince companies covering most of the market to commit to stop using and/or selling cage eggs. ↩︎

  7. It’s worth pointing out again that these self-reported answers seem to contradict some research where price was not an important factor in purchasing decisions, but rather the public perception of the product (status, healthiness, availability, difficulty of preparation). ↩︎

  8. Based on this report. ↩︎

  9. It seems that in the post “Why we can’t take expected value estimates literally (even when they’re unbiased)” Holden Karnofsky explains in a very thorough way something that we try to point at, so we strongly recommend it. ↩︎

342

New Comment
24 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:16 PM

This is very cool, thanks for doing this research and sharing the results.

The idea that a project you work on might be harmful or ineffective is often hard to consider, take seriously, and act on (and then share publicly!). This is a skill I want to nurture and work on. I really appreciate this post and am curating it — I'd like to see more retrospectives, especially about projects that are being discontinued or changed significantly. 

I also really appreciate some of the discussion in the comments,[1] and I think the way the post was written encouraged this. Readers could disagree with the post/decision in part because the post provided relevant and specific information. It also shared an overview of the history of the project (milestones, etc.), and a description of how the team decided to stop this campaign.[2] And it was surprisingly vivid, perhaps because it is structured as a history of the decision and because it explicitly describes the experience of the decision-makers (worry, uncertainty, feeling "unnerved" at the prospect that the campaign might have been negative, etc.). E.g. in this section, I could picture the team beginning to worry and beginning a deeper investigation.

Related resources/posts/discussions: 

  1. ^

    And also have uncertainties about the model that informed the decision.

  2. ^

    E.g. "While planning the strategy for the team in 2021 the new manager of the campaign, Weronika Żurek, stumbled upon more news about people in Poland switching to other fish species during Christmas, one of them being salmon. Carp is an omnivorous fish fed predominantly grain and soy, whereas salmon is a carnivorous fish, which in turn uses more animals in farming. The potential effect of that made us worried. We decided to reduce our actions around Christmas 2021 until we could investigate this further."

(Edited for clarity.)

It's good to be careful about wild animal (feed fish) effects and I recommend looking for interventions that are robustly positive taking them into account, but I think the analysis of wild fish effects here is missing too much of the picture. I don't think this necessarily flips the conclusion again and means the intervention is robustly positive; I just think the appropriate response now is cluelessness, and we should look for something that we’re more confident is robustly positive, and/or try to better understand and weigh the effects.

Copying from this comment and flipping things to reflect increasing demand for feed fish from a shift towards salmon: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/zu7D6DKMcB5Jwq5Ey/updates-to-faunalytics-animal-product-impact-scales?commentId=NGgFEfH7LB8o5uZSm

  1. The price elasticity of supply of wild-caught fish can be negative when there's overfishing, because reducing fishing pressure (the percentage of the population caught per period) allows the population to recover enough to allow more fish to be caught in the long run. So the number of fishing deaths for feed fish could actually decrease from a shift towards salmon.

  2. In well-managed fisheries with quotas, the elasticity should be basically 0 when the quotas are binding, so catch wouldn't change. It can be positive if there's underfishing and either there's no quota or catch is below the quota, so feed fish catch would increase with a shift towards salmon.

  3. Wild-caught feed fish populations might decrease in fisheries from increasing demand (if there's no quota that's binding). It's not clear whether that's good or bad. Also, of course if the population decreases, so will deaths, just not necessarily due to fishing (although fishing deaths may decrease, too, if overfishing). On the other hand, the populations of their prey may increase in response. Even anchovies eat crustaceans. Is this a good trade?

Thanks for the comment Michael. It's really informative.

Do you have any good sources that describe your points in more depth? These would be good for us to follow.

In regards to robustness and cluelessness - I agree. This is probably the strongest update based on the new considerations highlighted in the blog post. Similar conclusion was formed, especially among senior campaigners, although we used different phrases for that during discussions.

These issues are discussed in https://reducing-suffering.org/#fishing (largely from a suffering-focused/negative utilitarian perspective), especially:

  1. https://reducing-suffering.org/should-fishing-opponents-be-happy-about-overfishing/
  2. https://reducing-suffering.org/wild-caught-fishing-affects-wild-animal-suffering/
  3. https://reducing-suffering.org/marine-trophic-level-contains-total-suffering/

On what Peruvian anchoveta eat, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peruvian_anchoveta#Description , and Peruvian anchoveta account for 20-40% of fishmeal produced from whole wild-caught fish depending on the year, if I recall correctly.

 

For more on the kinds of models used by fishery experts:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_sustainable_yield
  2. https://haddonm.github.io/URMQMF/

 

For some direct estimates of price elasticity of supply for anchovies that came out negative, from Vietnam:

  1. https://munin.uit.no/bitstream/handle/10037/6370/article.pdf;jsessionid=4E475668FEFAD00890D8766F0595DD81?sequence=1  / https://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jsd/article/view/27124 (they don't directly report elasticities, but you can derive these from their models or check that supply is a decreasing function of price)
  2. https://folk.ntnu.no/skonhoft/EDE%20Middlmen%200519.pdf , based on http://www.rimf.org.vn/ctkhcn/chitiet/TAYNAMBO

I think there are few studies that directly estimate the supply curve or its price elasticity, but you can instead often infer the sign of the price elasticity of supply from common model assumptions + stock/fishery data, which are more widely available.

 

It's worth mentioning that wild animal effects can also make us clueless or pessimistic about interventions that reduce the production of terrestrial animal products, e.g. diet change and alternative proteins, I think mostly because of land use effects on wild animal populations.

I appreciate your willingness to change your mind and make this difficult decision. I think this is a big part of what makes EA great, thank you. (I make no comment on whether this is the correct decision at the object level, I don't really know enough to say.)

Thank you Oscar.

I'll use this opportunity to underline again that the biggest push influencing the changes in our organization in this area was Weronika Żurek who made the tremendous work challenging some of the premises held by more senior people. Not to mention that she is very early in her career (still studies) which makes me even more in awe of her reasoning.

It’s the third largest fish farmed in the world’s aquaculture production.

I think it's better to make it clear that this is referring to the ranking by weight. In terms of the number of individuals, they are about number 6 or 7 highest.

Thanks for pointing this out Fai!

Seems like a major oversight on my part to not make it clearer. Will edit the blog post.

It's good to see an animal welfare organisation using serious analysis to guide their interventions, although I'm not entirely clear why the assessment is being done on the basis of deaths rather than the integral of welfare over time?

Looking at the numbers, it appears that producing  a kilogram of carp involves significantly more time in factory farms than for a kilogram of salmon (both fish spend around 3 years in a farm but carp weigh half as much and there are more premature deaths). Additionally, given the far higher mortality rates, it seems likely that carp welfare is significantly worse than salmon welfare. If both these factors are true, this intervention is only backfiring under specific (and potentially resolvable) assumptions on the badness of slaughtering wild fish , the welfare of a wild fishes, and the elasticity of wild fish populations with respect to farmed salmon demand. 

Agreed. The “KPI” here should be welfare, not deaths.

Salmon is a carnivorous fish which means that choosing salmon instead of live carp could cause more animals to die.

This is more or less irrelevant if those deaths cause no suffering.

Still, very interesting analysis. Thanks for sharing OP.

Jakub Stencel, Weronika Zurek thanks that you wrote about it in public. I read it already in polish, but I think it is worth to sharing Anima International results and mistakes that were made but also lessons that we learned.

Death is not the only moment a fish suffers and it’s clear that a carp sold alive and killed later may suffer more than a salmon which is slaughtered earlier in the farming process. At the same time, feed fish which are consumed by salmon are typically killed in extremely unethical ways (usually live freezing in ice slurry, asphyxiation or getting crushed by the weight of other fish) and their agony often lasts a few hours.

Because of this and the differences in farming methods, fishes may suffer more or less during their lives, making it difficult to precisely calculate the levels of suffering for the two species discussed in this post. For the purpose of this model we ignored these differences as we used an already low estimate of 1% of consumers in the hope that a very conservative approach would offset any welfare differences.

Choosing a 1% doesn't work to mitigate this problem, i.e., if your initial estimate of relative badness was based on the number  of animals killed in the process, and you notice that this relative estimate could be affected by things like painfulness of death (or by the capacity to suffer of differently sized fish), then assuming that only 1% of consumers switch is neither here nor there.

I instead read this point as saying "assume that if we persuaded 100 folks to give up carp, then 1 of those would replace their carp consumption with salmon." So it's talking about the replacement effect, rather than the number persuaded (the latter gives magnitude, as you say).

I see, that makes some sense

Yeah, this is what I meant in this point, but NunoSempere's comment made me confused about strength of my model here and I interpret this confusion as either me getting something wrongly here or not fully getting his comment. I will think/discuss it more and update the phrasing here just to be sure it's not misguided. Thank you for that.

Great post, I will also be looking into Michael St Jules comments. Would love to see response from Animal Ask who I think did some thinking on the topic. 
Do you plan to suspend or evaluate other campaigns, where the impact is not clear-cut (e.g. Jasna Strona Mocy, maybe others)? Can this be interpreted as Anima moving into an even more effectiveness-focused direction?

Thanks for the question, Ula! As the manager of the campaign you mentioned, I felt obliged to answer, and finally got the necessary push to create an account. :)

Just to give some context for those who might be reading this but do not know Jasna Strona Mocy: it was a side outreach campaign targeting audiences that may be hesitant to consider animal suffering as problematic due to cultural or political norms — mostly adjacent to masculinity. It started seven years ago. Sport was identified as the means that would be successful in breaking down stereotypes related to eating meat and masculinity, fitness, health, strength, etc. The campaign started with a series of short documentaries picturing accomplished competition athletes on a vegan or vegetarian diet and (initially) focused on combat sports, strength training and bodybuilding as the disciplines most heavily associated with said stereotypes. The campaign also included events, media collaborations and partnerships with experts — dieticians, athletes, trainers, etc.

So, to answer your question, Ula, we try to evaluate our campaigns on a regular basis. The main limiting factor is scheduling time for meta work when you’re managing a campaign with limited resources. It also has to be properly organized and guided due to a lot of problems, like sunk-cost fallacy or egoistic motivations (in the “worst-case” scenario it may mean losing a job/layoffs, which actually might have been the case for me in this very situation). For example, here, during the restructuring of Anima International, I realized that there were some questions that we hadn’t been asking ourselves and decided to evaluate the campaign and decide on whether we should continue it or not, and if so — in what form. The major takeaways would be:

  • I would say I agree with the idea behind the campaign and I am 75% sure I would decide to start it again if it was seven years ago. I am 80% confident I would not start it today in the same form, although I still agree that sport is a good medium to tackle norms, such as those related to eating meat or masculinity.
  • I would say that it was impactful at the beginning and allowed us to start meaningful discussions about plant-based diets in Poland. It has also supported our other interventions, such as those focused on food system transformation, which we consider highly effective.
  • The major mistake I identified was that long-term decisions were made based on, I assume, a belief that this was a great idea that would certainly work all the time (of course I simplified a lot, it was more complicated than that). What I mean is that, for example, while the short documentaries worked well at the beginning, it was a mistake to assume that the format would continue to be impactful and that it is the best, most effective intervention. 
  • Having evaluated it, I decided to discontinue Jasna Strona Mocy as a separate program with its own dedicated team. We are currently in the process of closing down most of the deployed interventions. However, we will keep using the resources, contacts and the brand we have built when we consider them useful tools to further Anima International’s goals. But truth be told, the major mistake here of Anima International is not doing it earlier.

Great, clear summary at the top, and a well-thought-out post. Thanks!

Thanks for publishing this! I was looking forward to this summary, since we (Humánny pokrok) are running a campaign to ban live carp sales in Slovakia, which was inspired by the work of Otwarte Klatki in Poland, and Weronika has raised some good questions. But eventually, we ended up with a decision to continue our campaign, with some adjustments. There is a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The trend to switch carp for salmon doesn’t seem to be particularly strong in Slovakia and our survey showed that if live carps wouldn’t be available, only 3.3% of people (which is close to statistical error) answered that they would switch to salmon and 6.3% to trout.
  2. The public awareness of fish welfare issues is very low in Slovakia. Over 58% think that good conditions for carps are secured during live carp sales and only 32% support the ban on live carp sales. This seems to be a major obstacle when it comes to future campaigns focused on high impact fish welfare areas such as farmed salmon - it is hard to explain concerns about welfare of remote fish species to people, when the local norm with similar species is extreme cruelty which is not even publicly challenged.
  3. There was practically no progress in fish welfare in Slovakia other than a couple of veterinary suggestions on proper handling of the carps during sales, which were mostly not followed. Which is again a poor basis for pushing for future fish welfare interventions.
  4. There is no other organization actively working on fish welfare issues in Slovakia. So it is either us or no one.
  5. There seem to be a lot of questions among European organizations about the best approaches to fish welfare campaigns and about which interventions would be most effective in the EU. And since Slovakia has one of the lowest fish consumption levels in the EU and since it is a rather small country, this seems to stronly limit the possibly negative impact of a campaign that could eventually prove to be the wrong course of action later. But it could provide useful data for future EU-wide campaign decisions. And one of the surprising outcomes after the launch of the campaign was a very positive reception of the campaign by both the media and the public, which is apparently something that does not happen very often with fish campaigns in Europe, and which is one of the frequently reported obstacle for fish welfare campaigns. 

In our context, the benefits of setting ground for future fish welfare campaigns and establishing at least basic concerns for fish seem to outweigh the risks of pushing some people to switch to salmon. So now we are still running our campaign, but we tuned down the narrative to a point where it does not confront carp consumption but focuses exclusively on the practice of transporting carps to cities and selling them alive to consumers. So far we have secured commitments from almost all major retailers to end live carp sales and we will continue to push for commitments from the rest and from municipalities, and prepare for a legislative campaign to ban the practice. However, thanks to concerns raised by Weronika a couple of months ago, we decided not to go beyond that and to limit the campaign goals. We are now aiming for a ban on live carp sales with plans to work with farmers on some additional welfare interventions at farms. But we will not push beyond that, since the local carp industry will play an important role as a sort of fish consumption buffer to which we can direct consumers away from carnivorous fish species in the future, before decent plant-based fish alternatives will be broadly available.

In summary: Ff we had seen as much progress as was made in Poland - retailer commitments, raised public awareness and support, practical ban on selling live fish to consumers, and other engaged organizations in the area - we would probably come to the same decision. But in our case we still see a lot of first steps that need to be made in order to make progress with global fish welfare issues in the future.

Could an increase in salmon preference on Christmas also lead to higher preference for salmon year-round? More people are introduced to the fish, learn how to cook it, etc. Perhaps another downstream effect to consider in your model, although difficult to quantify and hard to know if your campaign has much of an impact here.

I'm hopeful for lab grown salmon (see: Wild Type Foods), but if all else fails and the taste for salmon proves to be too sticky, I could imagine a counterintuitive campaign that specializes salmon to be "only for holidays." Of course, I'm sure this could easily backfire. This kind of work is hard!

Has the campaign sought solely to discourage people from purchasing the carps, or did it also endeavor to urge them to stop consuming any fishes (and other animals)? 

Such apparent suffering as that experienced by the live carps presents an excellent opportunity to engage the public on the issue of cruelty to fishes in general. 

That some surveyed individuals said they'd switch to consuming other fish species doesn't mean the campaign should be abandoned. There should instead be greater emphasis with it in educating people about the cruelty of fish consumption in general, and vegan alternatives to it.

Thank you for sharing these insights!!

I would like to add another possible positive indirect effect of banning / reducing the sale of live animals. I could imagine that seeing live animals suffering and considering this situation as "normal" will have a negative impact on general attitudes towards animals. Especially children could adopt this view that it's "normal" to buy live animals and kill them - and it's perhaps more unlikely that they question this practice later on.

However, I agree that it is difficult to continue with a campaign if the short-term effect is unclear / (potentially) negative and you have to argue against the argument that your campaign is causing harm. If there are better alternatives, it seems a good choice to me.