“But It’s Just a Fish”: Understanding the Challenges of Applying the 3Rs in Laboratory Aquariums in the UK
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK
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Received: 29 October 2019 / Revised: 27 November 2019 / Accepted: 28 November 2019 / Published: 3 December 2019
Fish are widely used in research and some species have become important model organisms in the biosciences. Despite their importance, their welfare has usually been less of a focus of public interest or regulatory attention than the welfare of more familiar terrestrial and mammalian laboratory animals; indeed, the use of fish in experiments has often been viewed as ethically preferable or even neutral. Adopting a social science perspective and qualitative methodology to address stakeholder understandings of the problem of laboratory fish welfare, this paper examines the underlying social factors and drivers that influence thinking, priorities and implementation of fish welfare initiatives and the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) for fish. Illustrating the case with original stakeholder interviews and experience of participant observation in zebrafish facilities, this paper explores some key social factors influencing the take up of the 3Rs in this context. Our findings suggest the relevance of factors including ambient cultural perceptions of fish, disagreements about the evidence on fish pain and suffering, the language of regulators, and the experiences of scientists and technologists who develop and put the 3Rs into practice. The discussion is focused on the UK context, although the main themes will be pertinent around the world.