European aquaculture

European aquaculture is stagnating by contrast with increasing rates of aquaculture production at world level and, in particular, in Asia. To try to dampen this trend, the Commission published two communications with strategies for developing European aquaculture, one in 2002 and another in 2009. The 2002 strategy failed to increase European production, and since then competition from third countries has sharply increased, there have been several market crises, and the global economic crisis has hit the aquaculture market and industry. This led to the publication in 2013 of a third Commission communication, aimed at achieving the sustainable development of EU aquaculture and proposing strategic guidelines.


European aquaculture production remained relatively stable around the figure of 1.2 million tonnes over the period 1995-2012, peaking at 1.4 million tonnes in the year 2000. In 2002 it stood at 1.25 million tonnes, accounting for 20% of total fisheries production. The value of European aquaculture production reached EUR 3.6 billion in 2011: of this, 50% came from fish products and 50% from crustaceans and molluscs. EU aquaculture focuses primarily on four species: mussels (39% of total volume), trout (15%), salmon (14%) and oysters (8%). However, there has been some development in production of other species such as sea bass, sea bream and clams.

The main aquaculture producers among the EU Member States are Spain (22%) France (17%), the United Kingdom (16%), Italy (13%) and Greece (8.5%), which together accounted for around 77% of total aquaculture production in 2011. However, in terms of the value of production, the UK is the leading producer (21%), followed by France (19%), Greece (13%) and Spain (12%). Bivalve molluscs (mussels, oysters and clams) are dominant in Spain, France and Italy. The UK produces mainly salmon, while Greece produces mainly sea bass and sea bream.

A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture[1]

In order to tackle the stagnation of aquaculture production, the Commission published, in 2002, a communication entitled ‘A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture’. The objectives of the strategy were:

a.Creating long-term secure employment, particularly in fisheries-dependent areas, and increasing employment in aquaculture by between 8 000 and 10 000 full-time job equivalents over the period 2003-2008;

b.Ensuring the availability to consumers of products that are healthy, safe and of good quality, as well as promoting high animal health and welfare standards;

c.Ensuring an environmentally sound industry.

However, the strategy did not achieve its objectives, particularly as regards increasing production and employment: neither the target of a 4% growth rate nor that of 8 000 to 10 000 new jobs was achieved.

The main problem for the aquaculture sector was the lack of production growth, in stark contrast with the high growth rate in the rest of the world. However, the sector has seen good progress in areas such as ensuring availability of quality products to the consumer and ensuring environmental sustainability.

In addition to the traditional obstacles and constraints, since 2002 European aquaculture has met with increased competition from production in third countries, and has had to face crises of governance and, most recently, the effects of the economic crisis.

Building a sustainable future for aquaculture - A new impetus for the strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture[2]

In order to identify and address the causes of the stagnation of EU aquaculture production, the Commission published a new communication on 4 August 2009, entitled ‘A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’. This communication aimed to ensure that the EU remains a key player in this strategic sector, increasing production and employment by implementation of the following actions:

a.Promoting the competitiveness of EU aquaculture production through:

  • research and technological development;
  • promoting spatial planning for aquaculture in order to tackle the problem of competition over space;
  • enabling the aquaculture business to cope with market demands;
  • promoting aquaculture development in its international dimension;

b.Establishing conditions for sustainable growth of aquaculture through:

  • ensuring compatibility between aquaculture and the environment;
  • shaping a high-performance aquatic animal farming industry;
  • ensuring consumer health protection and recognising the health benefits of aquatic food products;

c.Improving the sector’s image and governance through:

  • better implementation of EU legislation;
  • reducing the administrative burden;
  • ensuring proper stakeholder participation and the provision of appropriate information to the public;
  • ensuring adequate monitoring of the aquaculture sector.

Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture[3]

The Commission’s proposal for CFP reform aims to promote aquaculture through the Open Method of Coordination (a voluntary process for cooperation based on Strategic Guidelines and multiannual national strategic plans).

The Strategic Guidelines published by the Commission on 29 April 2013 aim to assist the Member States in defining their own national targets, taking account of their relative starting positions, national circumstances and institutional arrangements. Issues covered by EU legislation are not addressed under the OMC, but they provide a framework for its activities. The Guidelines address four priority areas:

1.Simplification of administrative procedures and reduction of licensing time for aquaculture farms;
2.Coordinated spatial planning for overcoming the hindering effect of the lack of space;
3.Enhancing the competitiveness of EU aquaculture;
4.Promotion of a level playing field.

As established in the new basic regulation for the CFP (Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013, Article 34), Member States were due to submit multiannual national strategic plans for the development of aquaculture activities on their territory for the period 2014-2020, by 30 June 2014 (see: The Commission shall encourage the exchange of information and best practices among Member States and shall facilitate the coordination of the national measures foreseen in the multiannual national strategic plans. In addition, Member States are encouraged to carry out a mid-term assessment of the implementation of their multiannual national strategic plans for aquaculture by the end of 2017.

Role of the European Parliament

On 16 January 2003, in response to the Commission communication ‘A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture’, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on ‘Aquaculture in the European Union: present and future’. Parliament invited the Commission to take action in particular with regard to:

a.Markets of aquaculture products

  • Equip the aquaculture sector with a real economic crisis instrument and intervene to resolve problems stemming from practices involving loss-making sales;
  • Draw up new rules for the recognition of producers’ organisations.

b.Research support for aquaculture

  • Release funds for research into vaccines, improve disease-resistant strains and approve the use of any vaccine product authorised in one of the Member States;
  • Support research on fish feeding with a view to securing the supply of raw materials and guarantee product quality and food safety for consumers;
  • Contribute to the development of techniques to determine the toxin concentration in shellfish.

c.Environmental issues

  • Undertake a feasibility study on the creation of a data bank and the conservation of genetic stocks of wild fish;
  • Step up research for preventing the introduction of escapees, transgenic fish, and alien species into the environment;
  • Devise support systems for biological natural disasters (e.g. toxic algal blooms) or man-made disasters (e.g. the Erika and Prestige cases);
  • Protect traditional practices such as aquaculture in estuaries;
  • Provide a report on the welfare of farmed fish;
  • Incorporate the search for new species of high quality and added value among its priorities for aquaculture.

On 17 June 2010 Parliament adopted a resolution in response to the Commission communication ‘A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’.

Parliament expressed its belief that a strong sustainable aquaculture sector could act as a catalyst for the development of numerous remote, coastal or rural areas in the Member States.

Parliament invited the Commission to:

  • develop a specific EU quality label for aquaculture products, along with a specific organic aquaculture label;
  • harmonise the environmental impact criteria and ensure that the sourcing of raw materials used for fish feed is in line with environmentally acceptable practice, issuing specific technical guidelines for the certification of sustainable fish feed;
  • ensure that the Community legislation is applied rigorously across the entire chain of aquaculture products and that the principles of mutual recognition and free movement of goods are applied to curative and preventive pharmaceuticals used in aquaculture;
  • submit a report on environmental and social standards in the aquaculture industry outside the EU, and launch impact assessment studies regarding the potential effects of Community trade agreements on the aquaculture sector;
  • create an instrument for handling economic crises and devise support systems to deal with biological and man-made disasters;
  • organise and promote, in close cooperation with the Member States, institutional information campaigns to promote aquaculture products, including organic products, and consider creating specialist organisations for the promotion of the sector’s products;
  • extend the scope of Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport, promoting locally based hatchery operations and encouraging slaughter close to the fish farm; propose specific sustainability criteria in relation to the wellbeing of farmed fish; and avoid pre-slaughter procedures classed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as harmful to the wellbeing of the fish;
  • take the steps called for by Parliament to implement a cormorant population management plan;
  • ensure the provision of suitable vocational training in the field of aquaculture;
  • sponsor, in cooperation with developing countries, support and training measures designed to help promote sustainable aquaculture.

[1]Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament - A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture (COM(2002) 0511).

[2]Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council — Building a sustainable future for aquaculture — A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture (COM(2009) 0162).

[3]Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture (COM(2013) 0229.

Marcus Ernst Gerhard Breuer