Aquatic animals encompass all animals that live fully or partially in fresh or salt water habitats. They include fresh and salt water fish, sharks, crustaceans (e.g. lobsters and yabbies), mammals (e.g. dugongs, seals, whales, dolphins and platypus), and amphibian reptiles (e.g. crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and frogs).
Particular species of birds (e.g. penguins, pelicans) can also be considered aquatic animals given their habitats are always near water, usually coastal, and they have a natural ability to wade, swim or dive for their food.
Many aquatic animals are valuable sources of nutrition for humans and other animals and contribute significantly to Australia’s primary industry in both domestic and international trade. Other aquatic animals have cultural and economic importance to our tourism and recreational industries. Aquatic animals, like all animals, play an important role in maintaining a healthy environment.
Animal welfare principles have emerged mainly with respect to terrestrial animals and have captured greater community awareness than aquatic animal welfare. Although not formally acknowledged, there are some general practices of animal welfare within quality assurance requirements of commercial aquatic industries that are designed to ensure food safety and quality end product.
There is general acceptance by both commercial and recreational sectors that careful and controlled capture procedures should be welfare oriented, thereby contributing to a healthier environment and stable aquatic ecosystems.
The Aquatic Animals Working Group provided an animal welfare framework to meet the challenges faced by those managing aquatic systems or using them for commerce or recreation. The sector is comprised of four main fish industries: farmed fish, fish captured commercially (‘wild capture’), fish captured recreationally, and ornamental fish (commercial and retail).
The challenges to improving the welfare of aquatic animals include:
- the need to provide formal acknowledgement that animal welfare issues are relevant to all aquatic animals
- the need to review existing state and territory legislative arrangements pertaining to aquatic animal welfare, and to address the lack of or variations in the definition of fish as animals