Aquaculture development in Europe: current status and future prospects

Between 1990 and 2007, the production volume of European aquaculture increased by 54.3 percent, from 1,622,000 tonnes to 2,504,000 tonnes, while the production value doubled, from US$ 4,076 million to US$ 8,812 million. The increase was mainly attributable to the growth of marine finfish aquaculture, while freshwater aquaculture production declined. Between 2002 and 2007, the overall production volume slowed down, showing an increase of +17.7 percent. Europe produces only about 4 percent of the global aquaculture production, but European technologies and knowledge contribute significantly to the global aquaculture development. Farming systems, technologies and species are very diverse in Europe. Significant research and development has focused on improving the efficiency of production systems and the quality of the produced fish, while mitigating environmental impact. Innovations in selective breeding and life cycle manipulation have contributed to the improvement of efficiency and quality of juvenile production. For emerging species, the most pressing bottleneck is the supply of juveniles, but research has lead to significant achievements in the culture of cod, meagre and others and more recently, in the captive breeding of bluefin tuna.

In Europe, aquaculture generally has a marginal contribution to national economies and employment. The total employment in aquaculture is currently around 150,000 full time equivalents, which is small, but may contribute locally to significant economic activities and employment. Extensive and semi-intensive systems employ more people per unit production than modern intensive systems.

The region accounts for 14.5 percent of the world consumption of fish and fishery products. However, the European Union (EU) market is not a homogeneous one. Southern European countries show the highest per capita consumption; countries in Northern Europe show average levels (around 20 kg/year per capita) and those in Central and Eastern Europe show levels well below average.

The European market is increasingly dependent upon imports. Some 1.65 million tonnes (live weight equivalent) of farmed seafood products were imported into Europe in 2008. Almost half of this is salmon, although imports of Pangasius catfish and tilapia from Southeast Asia have demonstrated remarkable growth in recent years. Exports from the EU totalled only 100 000 tonnes in 2008 and included mainly high-value processed products. Harvest and post-harvest services are significant components of the aquaculture industry in Europe. The annual value of processed fishery products produced by the sector is about 24 billion USD per year, almost twice the value of landings and aquaculture production combined. Production has grown in recent years, but employment has been contracting due to advances in processing technology, industry consolidation and especially through the trend to outsource certain processing operations to third countries with lower labour costs.

The first European strategy for sustainable aquaculture development was developed in 2002. In 2007, the European Commission reviewed the status and impact of that strategy and launched an extensive consultation with stakeholders. This lead to a new communication “Building a sustainable future for aquaculture. A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture” (COM (2009) 162 final) aiming to address the obstacles to growth faced by the industry. The new strategy looks to make EU aquaculture more competitive, ensure sustainable growth and improve the sector’s image and governance.

Community legislation covers all stages of the production, processing, distribution and placing on the market of food intended for human consumption. Special attention is devoted to labelling of fishery and aquaculture products. The markets have responded to the interest of European consumers in issues like traceability, fair trade, animal welfare and environmental impacts with voluntary certification and labelling schemes operated on a transnational basis, but often with different standards. Organic aquaculture standards are currently limited to relatively few countries and species, although a new European Commission Regulation is now setting out a common standard for various types of fish and shellfish aquaculture. There is no single European ecolabel as yet for aquaculture products, but some producers have adopted animal welfare standards or farm management and geographic accreditation. Certification also extends through the value-chain, with retailers developing their own “better farm management” standards.

While Europe as a whole enjoys a rich aquaculture research environment, it is very diversified and fragmented between public and private institutes, universities and other higher education establishments and private companies. There is a considerable overlap in research and dissemination and especially, the application of the research outputs remains a challenge. In 2000 the EU created the European Research Area (ERA), creating a unified area across Europe to address these issues. European organisations, such as EFARO (European Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Organisation) and NACEE (Network of Aquaculture Centres in Central and Eastern Europe) have considerably increased their regional cooperation. Inter-regional cooperation is generally less advanced, although new initiatives, such as the ASEM aquaculture platform, address cooperation between Europe and Asia. Aquaculture (and fisheries) networks continue to be created or developed or their activities broadened, e.g. AQUA-TNET. An important recent development has been the establishment of the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATIP) for a better dialogue between the aquaculture industry, the research community, consumers and policy-makers.

The protection of consumers, the responsible use of resources and the protection of the environment will remain key challenges in the development of aquaculture technology and systems. The wider exploitation of inland and coastal waters for aquaculture might often be increasingly constrained by a growing competition from other users as well as by regulatory restrictions, unless new aquaculture technologies are adopted. At the EU level, the main regulatory and legal constraints appear to be a lack of a common approach to licensing, concerns about the Water Framework Directive’s potential to constrain the development of aquaculture, interpretation of legislation concerning the predation of aquaculture stocks by protected species and the application of environmental impact assessment at the local level. One way forward would be the bringing together of all regulatory aspects into one aquaculture "framework", but this has yet to be defined.


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Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010

The conference was organised by FAO, the Thai Department of Fisheries and NACA and held in the Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Phuket, Thailand, 22-25 September. The conference was the third in a series of aquaculture development conferences, following on from the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok 2000, and the FAO Technical Conference on Aquaculture, held in Kyoto 1976.