Humane slaughter of African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus): Effects of various stunning methods on brain function


Brijs J, Sundell E, Hjelmstedt P, Berg C, Senčić I, Sandblom E, Axelsson M, Lines J, Bouwsema J, Ellis M, Saxer A & Gräns A (2021) Humane slaughter of African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus): Effects of various stunning methods on brain function. Aquaculture, 531, Art. No.: 735887.

Common slaughter procedures for African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus) include asphyxiation, ice chilling and exsanguination, which may all cause substantial suffering over prolonged periods of time before death. Therefore, comprehensive evaluations of potentially more humane slaughter procedures for this species are urgently needed. Here, we use a non-invasive electroencephalographic (EEG) method to assess the state of sensibility in African sharptooth catfish in response to various stunning methods (e.g. ice chilling, electrical stunning, electrical stunning followed by exsanguination, percussive stunning, and immersion in isoeugenol). Based on the abolition of visually evoked responses (VERs) on the EEG, ice slurry immersion induced insensibility between 2.6 and 7.6 min, during which catfish exhibited aversive behaviours. Once VERs were lost, they remained absent so long as catfish remained immersed in the ice slurry. Electrical stunning (i.e. exposure to ~1.7 A dm−2 at a water conductivity of ~997 μS cm−1) induced insensibility immediately but not irreversibly. Depending on the duration of the stun (i.e. from 1 to 10 s), catfish either regained VERs immediately or within 4.9 min after the completion of the electrical insult. However, when a 10 s electrical stun was immediately followed by exsanguination and immersion in an ice slurry, the duration of insensibility was sufficient to humanely kill catfish. When administered correctly, manual percussive stunning with a fish priest induced insensibility immediately and irreversibly. However, 36% of catfish regained VERs, which is likely explained by the difficulty associated with administering an accurate manual percussive stun of sufficient force on a live and struggling catfish. Catfish appeared to be sedated following immersion in isoeugenol (i.e. catfish were calm and easy to handle), yet VERs remained present at doses exceeding that recommended for euthanasia in salmonids, which indicates that this substance may not be suitable for stunning catfish. However, the potential for using isoeugenol as a pre-stunning sedative for improving handleability and reducing handling stress of this species warrants further investigation. In conclusion, this study clearly demonstrates that when singularly administered, none of the abovementioned stunning methods could reliably induce insensibility immediately and/or irreversibly without welfare implications. Yet, our findings indicate that these shortcomings can be resolved by using a combination of methods. This could include an electrical or percussive stun to immediately induce insensibility that should be immediately followed by exsanguination and immersion in an ice slurry to maintain insensibility until death.

Electrical stunning; Ice chilling; Percussion; Isoeugenol; EEG; VERs; Insensibility; Unconsciousness

Aquaculture: Volume 531

FundersSwedish Research Council
Publication date31/01/2021
Publication date online30/09/2020
Date accepted by journal25/08/2020