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Evaluation and modelling of benefits and costs of fish welfare interventions in European Aquaculture

Final Report Summary - BENEFISH (Evaluation and modelling of benefits and costs of fish welfare interventions in European Aquaculture)

The BENEFISH project explored the benefits and costs of welfare measures in aquaculture production systems and defined a widely applicable set of operational actions and indicators, including effects on the value chain and changes in consumer behaviour, which were related to measurable consequences in production. In addition, a scientific basis for quantifying the impacts of welfare measures was created, through the development of adequate modelling tools.

BENEFISH had three specific objectives:
1. to use a set of operational welfare indicators (OWIs) in order to define relationships between relevant control measures and their consequences in production, quality and consumer perception;
2. to estimate the costs and benefits of such measures and to monitor and document them using case studies;
3. to develop a decision analysis model allowing for comparisons between alternative proposals based on their biological and monetary effects.

Firstly, the causes and costs of mortality in commercial aquaculture were assessed, along with the relative value of interventions aiming to reduce mortality rates. A large number of existing biological and economic data sets, descriptive of various species, was utilised for that purpose. Four specific case studies, employing mortality as an OWI and focusing on suitable interventions, were also taken into consideration and the most robust among them were subsequently incorporated in the bio-economic modelling.

Secondly, the causes of fin damage in intensively farmed species were identified and proposals for their reduction were formulated. Necessary information originated from both experimental and commercially applicable datasets for numerous European species. Two case studies were examined and data on the implementation of welfare actions at both industry and farm levels were assessed.

Furthermore, costs and benefits related to feed patterns were analysed, in order to interpret the deviations from expected feed intake which were observed during intensive rearing. The analysis included data related to farm management, so as to correlate implemented practices with the deviation patterns. However, the applied methodology did not account for feed wastage, due to lack of associated information; therefore the derived conclusions could in some cases be confounded. The highlighted relations and causative associations between management practices and feed intake were therefore experimentally evaluated and the potential of the available datasets for future use was assessed.

The consequences of varying CO2 concentrations in intensive rearing systems were subsequently identified, via the implementation of an adequate simulation approach. Two case studies based on actions for improved water quality were additionally included in the bio-economic models.

Furthermore, the effects of OWI on productivity and the costs and benefits of welfare interventions’ implementation were modelled. Multilevel statistical procedures were employed for data analysis and the research group members were familiarised with their utilisation through the organisation of training courses. A novel mechanism in a spreadsheet form was identified in order to transfer information between different working groups. The data that were advanced for modelling were collected during an extensive literature review and the case studies’ examination.

The calculation of the added value of welfare interventions was a principal BENEFISH component. Conclusions regarding the role of ethical values in food purchase, the consumer perception of animal welfare, pricing strategies and the effectiveness of communication in fish farming were derived. The potential to create added value was apparent in the undertaken analysis. Consequently, quantitative input for the incorporation of market data in the economic modelling was provided.

A cost-benefit model of fish welfare was also developed, to account for the implementation, monitoring, productivity, quality and consumer demand of welfare interventions. A major challenge was to define producer level cost-benefit models and utility functions to quantify the associated effects. The implemented process was based on the close and intense collaboration between BENEFISH participants. Finally, a decision making tool for fish welfare management was created, based on graphical probability networks, which enabled the evaluation of alternative strategies. The tool was tested for different production environments and culture species, provided probability estimates of the proposal's economic effects and highlighted the parameters that required further clarification in order to reduce uncertainties in decision-making.

The project results were published in numerous scientific journals, while presentations in international meetings and conferences were also utilised for dissemination purposes. Moreover, a specific website was created, including BENEFISH information and discussion boards.

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