Welfare in animal husbandry includes considerations of biology, ethics, ecology, law and economics. These diverse aspects must be translated into common quantifiable parameters and applicable methods to objectively assess welfare in animals. To assist this process in the field of aquaculture, where such methods are largely missing, we developed a model to assess fish welfare. A network of information was created to link needs, i.e., fundamental requirements for welfare, with parameters, i.e., quantifiable aspects of welfare. From this ontology, 80 parameters that are relevant for welfare, have practicable assessment methods and deliver reliable results were selected and incorporated into a model. The model, named MyFishCheck, allows the evaluation of welfare in five distinct modules: farm management, water quality, fish group behaviour, fish external and fish internal appearance, thereby yielding five individual grades categorising welfare ranging from critical, to poor, to acceptable, and good. To facilitate the use of the model, a software application was written. With its adaptability to different fish species, farming systems, regulations and purposes as well as its user-friendly digital version, MyFishCheck is a next step towards improved fish welfare assessment and provides a basis for ongoing positive developments for the industry, the farmers and the fish.
Keywords: animal welfare assessment; aquaculture; fish welfare; ontology; semantic data model.