2. General Considerations
Certain general considerations apply to nearly all research investigations on fishes, whether conducted in the field or in a laboratory setting. This section introduces concepts and procedures that can be adapted to the situation and circumstances for each investigator.
Research studies should have well-understood and justifiable objectives that address, within the context of the research discipline, basic needs for knowledge and understanding of the world in which we live and the particular resource under consideration. In cases where the biology of fishes proposed for study is well known, a study hypothesis should be articulated so that the use of fishes is focused on addressing that hypothesis. If the biology of a fish species is not well known, general sampling and other observational uses of fishes (i.e., not hypothesis-driven) may be warranted to guide the development of a good study hypothesis (see section 5.2 Field Collections). Research quality relies on the carefully communicated questions that can be addressed by scientific methods and on the development of research procedures that are quality controlled, publishable, and repeatable. Guidelines have been published for the improved reporting on animal research and for increased reproducibility (Kilkenny et al. 2010; see ARRIVE Guidelines, http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/page.asp?id=1357; see section 3.1 International Regulations and Guidelines).
The validity of research results is affected by the experimental design, the analytical procedures employed, and the quality and health status of the experimental subjects. The quality and appropriateness of the fishes used, both the species and the individuals, can seriously influence results and conclusions, thereby having dramatic effects on the number of animals needed and the number of times that the study is repeated. These effects, in turn, will have important animal welfare and financial implications. Research scientists have long recognized the importance of animal welfare considerations; however, formal guidelines for the use of fishes in research were not common in the United States prior to 1985, when requirements that research proposals obtain the approval of an IACUC were imposed (Public Law 99-158 1985, http://history.nih.gov/research/downloads/PL99-158.pdf). Although the principles and procedures described in these Guidelines have been designed to address requirements imposed by IACUCs in the United States, the general concepts are applicable to investigators around the globe.