Is humane slaughtering of rainbow trout achieved in conventional production chains in Germany? : Results of a pilot field and laboratory study
BACKGROUND:Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, is an important fish in European freshwater aquaculture. This industry sector is dominated by small family-owned enterprises located in rural areas. A large percentage of rainbow trout produced by these small enterprises is marketed directly and killed on demand and not processed in commercial processing plants. EU and national regulations stipulate that fish shall be stunned prior to killing and slaughter. The overall objective of this study was to monitor how stunning interventions were integrated into the production chains of German conventional trout aquaculture in order to safeguard animal welfare during stunning and killing. For this, the stunning and slaughtering processes were monitored on 18 rainbow trout farms in various German federal states. During the on-farm research, (i) the stunning success, (ii) injuries related to the stunning procedure, (iii) duration between stunning and killing, and (iv) visible responses at the time of slaughtering were assessed as welfare indicators. In addition, haematological and biochemical blood parameters were measured as indicators for physiological stress. Due to the fact that stunning interventions should induce a loss of consciousness in fish, in a laboratory study, it was examined whether the absence of the brainstem/ behavioural responses, opercular movements (OM) or eye-rolling reflex (vestibulo-ocular reflex, VOR) was correlated with the stage of insensibility. RESULTS:The majority of rainbow trout farms applied manual percussion (38%) or electrical stunning (48%), while on 14% of the farms, the fish were stunned by electrical stunning which was immediately followed by manual percussion. After percussive stunning, about 92.3% of the rainbow trout displayed no OM or VOR as brainstem/ behavioural indicators of consciousness. This percentage varied on farms which applied electrical stunning. While on the majority of farms, 95 to 100% of the fish were unconscious according to the observation of brainstem/ behavioural indicators, the stunning intervention was less effective on farms where rainbow trout were stunned at current densities below 0.1 A dm2 or for a few seconds only. The laboratory study confirmed that the absence of brainstem/ behavioural indicators correlated with the absence of visually evoked responses (VER) of the brain to light stimuli as a neuronal indicator of insensibility. Therefore, the brainstem/ behavioural signs can be used to interpret the stage of insensibility in rainbow trout. A stage of insensibility could safely be induced by exposing portion-sized rainbow trout to an electric current density above 0.1 A dm2. This was not influenced by the orientation of the electric field. CONCLUSIONS:In conventional aquaculture, rainbow trout can effectively be stunned by manual percussion or electrical stunning. Consciousness can be monitored by the absence of opercular movements or the eye-rolling reflex, which are lost approximately at the same time as neurological responses like VER. For safeguarding animal welfare during stunning and killing of rainbow trout in conventional production processes, the stunning process requires careful attention and the operating personnel need to be trained in using the stunning devices and recognising indicators of consciousness.