SAIAB News » Ethical considerations for field research on fishes

In a recent Huffington Post Blog Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, reviews a set of essays concerning the question of whether or not fish feel pain. In the blog he links to an article written in 2007 in which he says, "Numerous aquatic animals are closely linked to the wholeness of many ecosystems, and how they fare is tightly associated with the integrity of communities and ecosystems. By paying close attention to what we do to them, why we do what we do, and where and when we do it, we can help maintain the health of individuals, species, populations, and ecosystems" (Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, Vol75:85-98, 2007. p 96).

NRF-SAIAB is committed to ethical conduct with regards to the treatment of animals and the environment, and conforms to The South African National Standard for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purpose (SANS 10386:2008), stakeholder norms and to international publishing requirements.
To unravel some of the complexities of these ethical considerations, especially with regard to field work in aquatic environments, and because of the apparent lack of consistency in the ethical requirements of scientific journals, in 2015 a group of postdoctoral fellows at SAIAB led by Dr Rhett Bennett, teamed up with Principal Scientist, Professor Olaf Weyl, to author a paper entitled ‘Ethical considerations for field research on fishes’. This was published in the Journal Koedoe in December 2016.

The authors undertook a review of the ethical requirements of 250 peer-reviewed, ISI-rated journals publishing primary research on fishes. Their analysis revealed that nearly half (46%) had no mention of ethics, treatment of animals or ethical requirements for publication in their author guidelines or publication policies. However, 18% of the journals reviewed did identify a specific set of ethical guidelines to be followed before publishing research involving animals.

The article, which consolidates the ethical considerations common to most animal care policies, legislation and guiding documents, is intended to assist researchers, managers, conservation practitioners and research organisations when designing field studies on fishes, applying for ethical clearance and developing institutional ethical guidelines. It also aims to provide a useful resource for journal editorial committees developing ethical guidelines for publication of research involving live fishes.

Owing to the diversity of research techniques, study species and aquatic environments in which scientists at NRF-SAIAB work, all research involving live animals requires clearance by an internal Animal Ethics Committee. The Institute also maintains an annually reviewed Animal Ethics Policy and all new research projects involving field studies on fishes are submitted to the committee for prior approval.

For more information see our Animal Ethics Policy web pageSurgical implantation of a transmitter with link to ATAP.Electrofishing surveys

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