Ethical considerations for field research on fishes

13 April 2017

Collection of data from animals for research purposes can negatively impact target or by-catch species if suitable animal ethics practices are not followed. This study aimed to assess the ethical requirements of peer-reviewed scientific journals that publish primary literature on fishes, and review the ethical considerations and animal care guidelines of national and international documents on the ethical treatment of animals for research, to provide an overview of the general ethical considerations for field research on fishes. A review of 250 peer-reviewed, ISI-rated journals publishing primary research on fishes 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 identify a specific set of ethical guidelines to be followed before publishing research involving animals. Ethical considerations for investigators undertaking field research on fishes, common to most animal care policies, legislation and guiding documents, include adhering to relevant legislation, minimising sample sizes, reducing or mitigating pain and distress, employing the most appropriate and least invasive techniques and accurately reporting methods and findings. This information will provide potential investigators with a useful starting point for designing and conducting ethical field research. Application of ethical best practices in field sampling studies will improve the welfare of study animals and the conservation of rare and endangered species. Conservation implications: This article provides a list of ethical considerations for designing and conducting field research on fishes. By reviewing sampling techniques and processes that are frequently used in field research on fishes and by highlighting the potential negative impacts of these sampling techniques, this article is intended to assist researchers in planning field research to minimise impacts on fish populations. It is envisaged that this review will be a useful resource for journal editorial committees intending to introduce ethical requirements for publication and for researchers, managers, conservation practitioners and research organisations when designing field studies on fishes, applying for ethical clearance and developing institutional ethical guidelines.