Ethical justification for the use and treatment of fishes in research

Readers of, and contributors to, the Journal will be aware of the demand from many areas of society, both within science and more widely, for a rigorous and ethical justification for the use and treatment of animals in research.

The Journal strives to ensure that papers published promote best practice and ethical use of live animals and is aware of this public debate. While much of the recent publicity has generally focussed on the use of mammals, and to a lesser extent birds, the treatment of fishes is increasingly becoming an issue of public concern, particularly in the context of whether and how fishes perceive pain. Such concerns may have implications for fishing and the use of fishes in scientific research (see FSBI briefing paper on fish welfare by Huntingford et al., Journal of Fish Biology 68, 332–372).

Currently, contributors to the Journal of Fish Biology are required to adhere in the course of their research to the Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research published in Animal Behaviour 55, 251–257 (1998)(see Item 15 in Instruction to Authors). In the past, where manuscripts submitted to the Journal have raised ethical issues, the Editor has sought independent advice and guidance on the appropriateness of particular methods or procedures. To avoid, or at least reduce, the need for manuscripts to be separately reviewed by an Ethics Committee the Editorial Team now considers it timely to provide more explicit guidance on the ethical treatment and use of animals involved in scientific studies published in the Journal. This guidance is intended to fulfil two purposes: firstly to aid authors so they might properly understand what the Journal requires and what the Journal may refuse to publish, and secondly for referees, so they might identify problematic manuscripts early in the review process and proceed accordingly. It is based on the 3 Rs: reduction, refinement and replacement, i.e. use as few animals as possible, reduce the suffering as much as possible and where possible replace with non-sentient preparations.

To this end, the Journal will in future require that:

  • • the care and use of experimental animals complies with all relevant local animal welfare laws, guidelines and policies, and evidence is produced that protocols involving the use of animals have undergone an ethical review process, such as by an institutional animal care and use (or similar) committee, a local ethics committee, or by appropriately qualified scientific and lay colleagues. This evidence should be included in the methods section and provided separately to the Editor (a questionnaire will be mandatory as part of the submission in Editorial Manager). If these laws do not exist in the author's country the author will have to detail to the Editor how the following principles have been met. Should exceptions to any of the following be needed, the nature of any changes should be subject to ethical review by an animal care and use committee or an appropriate legislative body controlling animal experimentation. Again, this review procedure will have to be described to the Editor;
  • • the conservation status of the population and species should be evaluated: sampling and collecting wild animals should avoid causing severe population and habitat disturbances;
  • • fishes collected as part of faunal surveys and other field work should be collected as humanely as possible. Where feasible fishes should either be killed rapidly, e.g. by an overdose of anaesthetic or severing the CNS, or held in aquaria until released back into the wild;
  • • all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure the humane treatment of animals so as to minimize any adverse effect. Evidence should be provided to show that any surgical procedure that could cause more than slight pain or distress has been performed with appropriate sedation, analgesia and anaesthesia, with appropriate post-operative care. Any variation from this general principle will need to be suitably justified;
  • • the Journal will not normally publish the results from studies that involve procedures on sentient, un-anaesthetized animals paralysed by chemical agents, such as muscle relaxants;
  • • any procedures that cause adverse effects or lasting harm to a sentient animal, particularly procedures that involve lethal endpoints, will need to be specifically justified and any harm caused will need to be justified against the benefit gained;
  • • humane endpoints that minimize any adverse effects should be used and be suitably described in the manuscript.