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Debates
Thursday, 16 January 2003 - Strasbourg OJ edition

2. European aquaculture
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  President. – The next item is the report (A5-0448/2002) by Hugues Martin, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries, on aquaculture in the European Union: present and future (2002/2058(INI)).

 
  
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  Martin, Hugues (PPE-DE), rapporteur.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, everyone will understand if, at the beginning of this debate, I express my feelings of sorrow, deep compassion and solidarity to the fishermen and fish farmers of the Atlantic coast, with whom I deal on a daily basis. The omens at the start of 2003 are very sad. I want to talk again for a moment about the growing importance of the aquaculture sector. In the course of the last ten years, in fact, aquaculture has seen spectacular growth throughout the world, as well as in the European Community, and has become a high–growth sector in world food production.

In the EU, aquaculture accounts for almost 30% of the total value of fisheries production, almost EUR three billion per year and 60 000 jobs. It has many advantages, but I prefer to focus upon the three most important of these: the fact that it contributes significantly to the fish supply without increasing the pressure on stocks in the marine environment; that it is a source of jobs in regions with little alternative employment; and, finally, the fact that it will be able, I am convinced, to help maintain natural resources once wild species are being conserved.

The report that has been entrusted to me and that I have the honour to present today before this Assembly is focused upon what seems to me to be the most important aspect of aquaculture: sustainable development. Certain fish–farming activities are indeed very often seen as polluting or are thought to harm the environment. That is less and less the case, since professional fish farmers respect what are sometimes draconian European rules.

On the contrary, this sector is particularly, and unfortunately too often, affected directly by external pollution: nitrates in fresh water, waste discharged from ships’ tanks, hydrocarbons, chemical products and toxic algae in seawater. Fish farmers are, then, too often the powerless victims of tragedies such as that involving the Prestige. That is why I have focused my report on four key aspects of sustainable development: those relating to the environment, the social sphere, the economy and governance. I shall not go into any more detail on these topics, with which everyone is very familiar.

Instead, I should like to emphasise one fundamental aspect of aquaculture, that of research, which should specifically enable us not only to achieve indisputable product quality for consumers, to put new products on the market and to discover innovative forms of aquaculture such as off–shore sites, but also – and why not? – to do as I have proposed and to conserve and develop wild species, particularly of fish, with a view to restocking of a kind that, in a number of cases, would enable the resource to be maintained. Is this utopian thinking? We shall see.

Nor shall I go into more detail about my report which, I am very happy to say, has been unanimously adopted by the Committee on Fisheries. I prefer to take this opportunity to express once again my compassion for the fish farmers and fishermen who have been affected on such a long–term basis by the loss of the Prestige, which shows just how vulnerable they are. They are not polluters. Rather, they are the victims of pollution. This disaster, which began by polluting the Galician coast, has also affected the French Atlantic coast, including that Mecca of oyster farming, the Arcachon basin. Behind the aquaculture sites, there are people: people who have worked ceaselessly to ensure the quality of their products and who are in danger of seeing all their efforts, indeed their very lives, reduced to nothing. In this way, the Prestige disaster has, for an unspecified period, exposed every member of the profession, including their families, to suffering that is both psychological and economic. It is intolerable that oyster farmers should once again be victims of inadequate maritime safety and of the dumping of hydrocarbons onto our coasts.

In this connection, I should like to congratulate the Commission which, at the time, proposed an initial set of vital measures under the headings of the Erika 1 and Erika 2 packages, and say how sorry I am – and I am talking directly to the Presidency here – that a number of these measures have been deferred and others not taken into account. This has been due to pressure exercised by a small number of Member States that are better at depending upon payments than at devoting their attention to what is essential: the survival of the planet. What can be done in the short term? Certainly, there are already existing resources within the framework of the FIFG programmes, and a whole range of measures can be implemented. The Commissioner has replied to me on this subject.

Finally, I would emphasise the importance of combating flags of convenience, as well as the need to establish a European Corps of Coastguards. Even though it would be difficult to establish such a corps in the short term, its benefits would include improving the effectiveness of border controls and strengthening maritime safety. Indeed, I remain conscious of the fact that, setting aside the Prestige disaster, maritime hooligans pollute our seas on a daily basis by a criminal act for which the penalties are not sufficiently severe: that of discharging waste into the sea.

I urge the Greek Presidency to put maritime safety and the measures to be taken in the event of disaster at the top of its agenda. This report will be adopted in very sad circumstances. For all that, let us look steadfastly towards this sector of the future. It is important for the Commission to implement the recommendations in my report, particularly in relation to research and innovation. Consumers and the industry as a whole stand to benefit.

 
  
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  Solbes Mira, Commission. – (ES) Mr President, the Commission welcomes this report by Parliament. It certainly presents an accurate account of the challenges currently facing European aquaculture. The report is also consistent with guidelines contained in the communication from the Commission adopted last September. This communication concerned a strategy for the sustainable development of aquaculture in Europe.

The Commission would first like to thank Parliament for its support of a range of new measures put forward as part of the Commission’s strategy. I refer in particular to the initiatives planned concerning the review of legislation on food safety and health risks, environmental protection, animal welfare, the development of new farming techniques and of high quality species. Other measures concern enhancing the governance and organisation of the industry and the development of aquaculture in general.

Parliament’s report highlights the importance that should be attached to research. Mr Martin referred to this a moment ago, and the Commission’s proposal does so too. It is to be hoped that when it comes to adopting the new decisions on framework programme budgetary allocations, Parliament will support the allocation of additional resources to research into aquaculture.

I shall deal next with the concerns expressed in Paragraphs 10 to 14 of the resolution. These relate to the possible impact of genetically modified fish and poliploid molluscs. I am pleased to inform the House that the Commission has recently concluded the selection process for a study on genetic engineering in aquaculture. The study will encompass all these issues.

The Commission can confirm that in future initiatives, as requested in the resolution, it will take proper account of the economic importance of all the enterprises involved in aquaculture. Due consideration will be given even to the smallest. The Commission will also allow for the need to protect traditional practices.

We have noted Parliament’s suggestion, in Paragraph 7, on the advisability of amending the regulations governing the financial instrument, the FIFG. We have also noted Parliament’s view that the sector requires public financial support now and in the near future.

The Commission found that some of the amendments tabled do not fall within the scope of its strategy. They will require detailed study. Further, together with several Member States, the Commission is of the opinion that aquaculture is a new activity which can and must be independent and financially viable. The introduction of measures aimed at financing its operational costs would not be consistent with this view. Furthermore, we would be severely criticised within the WTO.

We have also noted Parliament’s request for a study on the viability of conserving stocks of wild fish to be undertaken. In addition, Parliament has called for the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare and to be charged with drawing up a report on the welfare of farmed fish. Indeed, the Commission has already requested the Committee to rule on the slaughter and transport of farmed fish.

Further, within the framework of existing legislation, the Commission is launching initiatives to deal with problems affecting the market in specific species. Sea bream and bass are two current examples. The Commission’s services met with the Member States and representatives of the sector in December 2002. At that meeting we were able to come up with measures to be taken in the ensuing few months. To quote some examples, the temporary suspension of public aid for the creation of new production capacity, the launch of a study on the market for bass and sea bream, and the effort to organise a campaign to promote international sales.

We do not believe that the request contained in Paragraph 15 calls for additional legislative measures. There is widespread awareness of the difficulties involved in developing physicochemical and biological techniques to determine the concentration of toxins in shellfish. This is also the case regarding licensing the sale of vaccines in Member States. All this is dealt with in the communication. Nonetheless, we have taken note of Parliament’s requests.

Paragraphs 20 and 29 refer chiefly to the Member States and to Parliament itself, and the Commission agrees with them.

There is, however, one proposal the Commission cannot support. This is contained in Paragraph 28. It would involve creating an instrument designed to offer assistance to the sector when it is struck by natural or man-made disasters. It is actually within the competence of the FIFG to authorise the temporary cessation of activity and other financial compensation. When very serious accidents occur, such as that involving the Prestige, the ad hoc reaction of the European institutions can and must be swift. The regulation providing compensation for Spanish fisheries and the Spanish shellfish and aquaculture sectors affected by fuel oil spillage from the aforementioned tanker was adopted on 20 December. That was merely a month to the day after the vessel sank.

The Commission certainly endorses Parliament’s suggestion that the professional organisations need to make a greater effort to improve their image, establishing more effective channels of communication. In our view, however, this is something the professionals should undertake for themselves, although they could be eligible for support from existing provisions for public aid. We do not believe the Commission should be directly involved as requested in Paragraph 35.

Lastly, the Commission has taken note of Paragraphs 27 and 32 of the resolution. These concern the recognition of producers’ organisations and the guarantee of fair standards to be applied to European and third-country producers and products. These issues call for more detailed consideration in the future.

 
  
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  McKenna (Verts/ALE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy. – Mr President, this report contains a number of contradictions. On the one hand there are some very good things in it, to the extent that it addresses the whole issue of aquaculture and sustainable development and in particular its impact on the environment. It is also positive in that it considers the very important issue of animal welfare and the question of overcrowding in fish farms, and calls for some sort of stocking densities to be set.

However, other parts of the report criticise EU environmental and health and food safety requirements. It would appear to put business interests first, which is a very dangerous precedent because environmental and health and food safety requirements should come before any business interests.

It also questions the precautionary principle, on the grounds that this principle would seem to make it more difficult for aquaculture ventures. The precautionary principle is something that we must adhere to within the European Union and it must be respected at all times. If it makes things more difficult, that is because it is a precautionary approach, it is the way we should approach aquaculture.

The other questionable aspect of the report is the whole issue of wanting the Commission to promote aquaculture. I do not think that this is a good idea. There are many problems connected with aquaculture; it seems that people within the aquaculture industry think that it will solve the problems of wild stocks and also those relating to sea fishing and the reduction of sea stocks. But it will not. Aquaculture gives rise to many problems. GMOs are an issue that has been raised already. Introducing genetically modified fish into aquaculture is something that is extremely dangerous and should be avoided.

We also have to address the use of industrial fishing to feed aquaculture. It is quite clear that if this industry keeps growing as it is, it will soon outstrip the supply of resources from industrial fishing. Whether we like it or not, that is what we are facing, plus the fact that aquaculture is an extremely dangerous industry in the impact it has on the environment.

Finally, on the matter of consumer confidence, I am very wary of the notion in the report that the Commission should promote consumer confidence in aquaculture. The products of aquaculture speak for themselves, and it is wild fish stocks that we should be looking at and addressing here.

 
  
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  Varela Suanzes-Carpegna (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, aquaculture is daily achieving greater recognition within the wider context of the fisheries sector at global and Community level. Aquaculture is a key adjunct to the extractive fisheries sector. It is, however, abundantly clear that aquaculture is beset by a range of problems. The latter relate for instance to its size, marketing, the environment and health. It is essential to identify all these problems and tackle them at Community level.

It was therefore particularly appropriate for our Committee on Fisheries to prepare an own-initiative report on such an important and sensitive issue. The appointment of Mr Martin as rapporteur was particularly appropriate too. He has brought dedication and rigour to his hard work, managing to produce a report that obtained broad support within our committee. I am confident it will receive the same support in plenary. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the difficulties facing the broad and diverse European aquaculture sector. I would like to congratulate Mr Martin publicly on this achievement.

This report should prove a godsend to the European Union and most certainly to Parliament. It marks a watershed in the effort to deal with the many and complex issues impacting on aquaculture, and will prove a splendid work of reference to draw upon.

Thanks to this report and the earlier hearing with the sector, much light has been thrown on the specific problems. Both the present situation and future prospects are clearly detailed in the document. We are called upon to do our utmost to ensure that nightmares like the Erika and the Prestige disasters are consigned to oblivion, and that henceforth the protection of the environment and of marine ecosystems has priority. The interests of sensitive European maritime and fishing areas must come first. That is where fish and shellfish are produced, the ecosystem is preserved and thousands of families earn their living. Many other jobs complement traditional fishing practices. They are closely connected to the latter and dependent on them.

I therefore urge you to follow the course outlined in Mr Martin’s report so as to ensure that European aquaculture itself remains on the right course.

 
  
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  Miguélez Ramos (PSE).(ES) Mr President, I should like to congratulate Mr Martin on his own-initiative report, and on the quality of his work. He deserves special congratulations because he has succeeded in achieving unanimity within the Committee on Fisheries, and because of the standard of the hearing he so skilfully arranged. In particular, I would like to thank Mr Martin for the speed with which he incorporated into this report the request for ad hoc instrument to be resorted to when environmental disasters occur, regardless of whether they are due to natural causes. The current situation in Galicia following the accident involving the Prestige is a case in point. The aquaculture sector has been hit particularly hard.

Aquaculture is an emerging sector within Community fisheries. Consequently, it faces many challenges and uncertainties. It needs Community support to achieve excellence in production, to innovate, and to enable the ventures to become more competitive and to operate in an environmentally friendly manner. Support is also needed to allow these enterprises to promote themselves to consumers and to create jobs in areas where they are most needed.

The Community must make progress on denominations of origin for high quality aquaculture products linked to specific localities. A special section on the promotion of this type of product should be added to the FIFG regulations.

Amongst other places, members of the Committee on Fisheries visited Scotland and Andalusia. Such visits enabled us to gain first–hand knowledge of the problems of the sector and of its potential. We were in a position to appreciate the difficulties facing producers on site. We met with salmon producers in Scotland and in Ireland, and learnt about their problems. We marvelled at the skills displayed by sturgeon producers in Granada. We realised the significance of the experimental farming of sea bream and bass in former Roman salt pans in the province of Cadiz. We gained an understanding of the marketing problems too. Hence our belief that one of the Community’s priorities must be to identify new high quality species, and add them to the list of preferential species. The development of research at Community level, and the exchange of new practices related to these species and their farming must also be prioritised.

The Socialist Group would welcome a directive providing for the regulation of organic aquaculture, and taking account of the crucial factors in this type of production. I have in mind the use of traditional methods, environmental factors, temperatures and the availability of water. Special funding should be made available to assist organic production and the promotion and sale of such products.

We urge the Commission to take into account the fact that market saturation is not an issue in connection with the rearing of certain species such as turbot. This is because the farming of this species is a recent innovation, and is only just being developed. We therefore believe the Commission should continue to support the establishment of new facilities for farming such species, and that suitable provision should be made in the regulations governing the use of FIFG funds. The Commission had indeed supported some new facilities for turbot farming. Even so, given the rapid increase in demand and the relative growth of the industry we believe more assistance is called for.

Aquaculture is a fisheries sector with great potential. It must receive Community support if it is to develop in an orderly fashion.

 
  
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  Vermeer (ELDR). – (NL) First of all I would like to congratulate Mr Martin on the excellent result. The problems and challenges surrounding aquaculture were brought to the fore well in his report. You can also tell that he did his own research and went to look at the places where this work is being done. I do have a couple of comments, however. One of aquaculture’s most significant problems is its poor image, which is the result of a lack of knowledge. We will only be able to eliminate this lack of knowledge if we have clear test data at our disposal. The European Union must therefore enable research to be carried out. Clarity will result in a better image, and this will enable the sector to solve a major problem, which it must do by means of communication.

With regard to the finances, the economic viability of the sector is a significant concern in Europe. If we want to offer opportunities for long–term economic viability, we must not allow the sector to become addicted to subsidies. Self–help is better. My starting point is: allow the market to go its own way, start up and drive itself onwards, and the sector should then be able to look after itself. Apart from that, we do want to handle the frameworks responsibly, so we must define frameworks and preconditions ourselves. This market must be put on the right track. Regulation must be simple, clear and honest. Removing regulatory barriers will make the market more consistent, more transparent and consequently more efficient. This provides better opportunities for competitively priced products, which will also benefit European consumers.

Furthermore, consumers benefit from food safety and transparency, both of which are particularly important. It must always be possible to guarantee food safety. We must, however, remain rational in this regard and not make ridiculous demands. If something is 100% good, it does not need to be 150% good. Let us keep both feet on the ground. Imposing excessive demands will pull the plug on small businesses, and they will not survive. I therefore call for simple regulation. Clear and workable on the one hand, and controllable and enforceable on the other. The Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party will endorse this report. I think that aquaculture makes a positive contribution to the preservation of natural fish stocks.

 
  
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  Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, this report expresses a positive position towards aquaculture, which we support, because we believe this will always only be a complement to the fisheries sector and not a replacement for it. The report places aquaculture in the context of sustainable development and the precautionary principle, which requires, in particular, full attention to be paid to environmental issues and the production of genetically modified fish to be rejected.

We agree with the rapporteur’s argument for maintaining aid under the FIFG and the participation of the main parties involved, the need for research to be promoted and for an economic instrument to be created to support possible crisis situations in the sector, such as natural disasters. Nevertheless, we wish to draw attention to particular aspects and special needs that must be taken account of in this activity. Aquaculture must not be compared with any industry other than farming and livestock breeding, given that it has direct consequences for the development of species and the environment, specifically coastlines and alternative land uses.

Furthermore, opportunities for the intensification and verticalisation of production can present major risks for human and animal health, which must be monitored so as to prevent any type of ‘mad cow disease’ for fish. Hence the need for greater support for research into this activity, for the use of production techniques, hygiene and safety standards, by making the application of the precautionary principle a priority, and for reducing environmental impacts, with specific assistance needing to be given to small and medium–sized enterprises.

Lastly, I wish to inform you that our group supports both this report on European aquaculture, by, Mr Martin, whom I congratulate, and the report by Mrs Miguélez Ramos, whom I also congratulate, on fishing in international waters, which we will be discussing here today.

 
  
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  Bautista Ojeda (Verts/ALE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, the Prestige disaster is a timely reminder that aquaculture is no different from any other potentially polluting industrial activity, and can itself be seriously affected. This has been the case for the Galician fish farms.

Aquaculture has a promising future. It will make it possible to maintain the supply of high quality products to the markets. It will also allow depleted fishing grounds to be restocked. This is a new option. Additional support is required for research and the development of new products free from genetic modification. Direct cooperation with local and regional authorities must also be strengthened in order to promote aquaculture. This is particularly necessary in those areas worst affected by drastic restructuring resulting from failure to sign fishing agreements, or following the reform of the common fisheries policy.

Lastly, I urge the Commission not to overlook traditional activities such as aquaculture in estuaries and their impact on the natural environment, much of which is protected.

 
  
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  Ó Neachtain (UEN). – Mr President, at a time when the Commission would appear to be bent on introducing a common fisheries policy which is geared more to the short–term interests of some Member States than to fishermen, it is encouraging to see that it has finally got something right.

Broadly speaking I agree with the approach taken in the Commission's communication on the future of aquaculture. However, from the outset let me say that aquaculture must be fully integrated into the common fisheries policy. It must be complementary to other types of fishing. Under no circumstances must it be considered as a substitution. Globally, aquaculture is one of the fastest–growing food sectors. The Irish aquaculture sector, for example, now accounts for over 30% of total fish production, reflecting global trends. Aquaculture has considerable potential to support further growth in much needed jobs and economic activity, notably in coastal communities where other jobs are very hard to find. In view of the world–wide demand for seafood, it is increasingly important as a raw material supplier to the fish processing sector, with a significant added value and export opportunities. There can be no question that all future development in the sector must be on a sustainable basis. The highest priority must be given by the industry throughout the European Union to the attainment of best practice in line with stringent environmental guidelines and high standards of quality assurance, as is currently the case in Ireland.

Furthermore the sector must deliver on best practice from a food safety perspective and here I disagree with my Irish colleague Mrs McKenna. Aquaculture is not dangerous. Aquaculture is a natural resource–based industry which is anything but dangerous. Dumping of foreign fish, notably salmon, by non–EU producers has in the past put Community producers at a serious disadvantage and it is still doing so. In this context, I would ask the Commission to have another look at the public aid section in its proposed actions before coming forward with the formal proposals. As regards utification, I take note of the Commission's caution in relation to an agriculture directive concerning water pollution. Aquaculture and agriculture are totally different sectors that must be addressed separately. I submit, therefore, that we need a specific directive in relation to any potential water pollution in the aquaculture sector. I congratulate you, Mr Martin, for a first–class report on this important subject and I hope that the unanimous vote of approval in the Committee on Fisheries will be echoed by a unanimous vote in the House today.

 
  
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  Butel (EDD).(FR) Mr President, first of all, I should like to congratulate Mr Martin on this excellent report, prepared in conjunction with professional fish farmers. At a time when estimates suggest a considerable increase in the demand for fish and when one of the objectives must be the balanced management of fisheries stocks, aquaculture has a genuine supplementary role to play in supplying the markets. As the rapporteur emphasises, however, its development is conditional upon a number of precautions being taken.

In the light of experience, we wish to highlight the need to increase research, because there is no question of basing this development on clearly deficient breeding systems. Research must therefore be provided with sufficient funds to enable it to respond to the crucial issues that arise in relation, for example, to the impact upon the environment, the reduction in the use of fish meal in food, the development of less carnivorous species, the fight against diseases, the genetic risks posed by escapees to the natural populations, and the development of new products.

I also support the rapporteur in rejecting the introduction of genetically modified fish into the European Union. Products that are bred are different from products that are the result of fishing. They ought therefore to be identified so that consumers are free to choose between them. An expansion in aquaculture products can only, however, be envisaged as a supplement to traditional products which, let it not be forgotten, make an active contribution to economic activity in our coastal regions.

 
  
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  Souchet (NI).(FR) Mr President, this is a good, robust and well–crafted report on an important sector in which – since we import more than half of the fish we consume – we have a very long way to go, in which traceability is best ensured through domestic production and in which, there being an upper limit on resources, aquaculture enables us to create vital additional jobs in our coastal regions.

The rapporteur is right to condemn the Green Paper’s failure to mention aquaculture and to emphasise the shortcomings of the Commission’s communication of September 2002. What above all characterises the aquaculture sector is the effort in terms of time and input that needs to be devoted to research, effort that more often than not is disproportionate to the opportunities for funding young family businesses which have little in the way of capital and which are obliged to operate in a context of intense competition and unstable prices. For example, the French company managed by Michel Adrien from the Vendée region, which laid the foundations for the European turbot industry, had to invest FRF 2.5 million each year for ten years in pure research before it succeeded in mastering the technique for reproducing turbot in captivity.

Can and should research programmes of this kind, which are costly, time–consuming, entailing considerable uncertainties, both technical and commercial, addressing issues of basic biology, be undertaken entirely by private companies? I do not think so. I believe, on the contrary, that a large part of this type of research must be conducted with the aid of public funds, as must the ongoing renovation of the vessels that are the tools of the small–scale fishing industry. It is quite clear that, in such cases, public funding cannot be equated with a distortion of competition.

On the subject of research, I am thinking in particular of that relating to the new vaccines that enable the risks associated with the use of antibiotics to be removed. This is a crucial issue for the future and for the way in which the sector is perceived. Strong, national and Community incentives must therefore be put in place. I also support the idea of adjusting the rules of the FIFG and, I would add, those of the EAGGF in order to fund subsidies for setting young people up in business, transferring businesses and providing consumers with information.

I share the rapporteur’s concern about the risk posed by genetically modified fish, and it is very clear that there must be a total ban in the European Union on both the production and import of such fish. Finally, there is a need to be very vigilant concerning the unfair competition practised by a number of third countries, since dumping is absolutely to be prohibited in an emerging and volatile market. The import of aquaculture products that does not respect the standards imposed upon European Union producers must be absolutely forbidden, and this ban must be duly monitored.

 
  
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  Langenhagen (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, first of all, I would like to wish everyone here in the House a happy new year!

Secondly, Commissioner, I was very pleased to hear your constructive comments with regard to various studies, procedures and approaches. It seems there are still positive movements in the fisheries sector after all. For 30 years, we have failed to curb overfishing in any real way. Demand, the local employment situation, sectoral interests, scientific evidence and national interests have proved to be irreconcilable. Indeed, that is why the planned reform of the common fisheries policy turned out to be so limited in scope.

Stocks are continuing to decline. For this reason, fish farming geared towards sustainability is the only sensible option for the future that I can see at present. I would like to express my thanks to Hugues Martin. His own–initiative report on aquaculture is a particularly good example of the pro–active approach adopted by members of the Committee on Fisheries when there are problems to be solved. The relevant communication from the Commission underlines the fact that Parliament can certainly take the initiative on important issues. Aquaculture is undoubtedly the alternative to overfishing, which has no future. In recent years, as we have heard, it has developed very positively and has created countless jobs in the European Union as well. It has become an important industry in coastal regions, offering further potential, which must be fully exploited.

However, it is not a panacea. It is worth looking more closely. Fish farming creates similar problems to intensive animal rearing on land. Waste discharges, parasites, chemicals, fish feed: these are just some of the key words. To cite only one example, the total annual discharge of waste from the Scottish fish farms is equivalent to that of a major city.

I greatly welcome the operations and success of aquaculture, but I call for sensible, high–quality and sustainable fish farming. The focus on quantity at rock–bottom prices merely results in ecological and economic problems. It would therefore be more sensible to work towards quality – and, I believe, also towards diversity of fish species, each of which needs specific attention, and that can be expensive, of course. As the saying goes, the faster you climb, the harder you fall, and that will not benefit anyone, neither the coastal regions nor the consumers.

 
  
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  Kindermann (PSE).(DE) Mr President, a very important aspect of the common fisheries policy is the communication from the Commission on a strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture of September 2002. I therefore greatly welcome the initiative of the Committee on Fisheries to subject aquaculture in the European Union to a thorough investigation in an own–initiative report. The increasing importance of this sector of the fisheries industry is not only due to its steady growth in recent years; it can also be regarded as a genuine alternative to the dwindling stocks worldwide of marine fauna used for human consumption. It also has positive effects on the labour market, and – a point which should be emphasised – not only in coastal regions.

A large number of jobs depend directly or indirectly on aquaculture, both in primary production but also in many other sectors. I believe that research in this area is particularly important. The financial resources should undoubtedly be boosted here so that even better recommendations can be made. There are still many unresolved problems in aquaculture. Let me cite a few: the use of pharmaceuticals, minimising environmental impacts, food safety for consumers, improving production units in line with more stringent animal welfare standards, and, not least, protecting wild species from genetically manipulated fish species.

Finally, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Martin, very warmly for his very thorough investigation of this issue. We will undoubtedly have reason to continue our debate on aquaculture in future.

 
  
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  Busk (ELDR).(DA) Mr President, Commissioner, aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of world food production. There is cause for acknowledging the Commission’s proposed strategy for aquaculture and for commending the rapporteur, Mr Martin, for his work and his report. In view of the outcome of the December European Council and the restrictions that, in future fisheries policy, it has been decided to impose upon catches, there is a need for vision and joint strategies for aquaculture in the EU. The key term is sustainable aquaculture that puts the focus upon employment, consumers and the environment. It is absolutely crucial to protect regions with strong fishing industries against job losses, creating more employment instead, just as it is to ensure that consumers have healthy and safe fisheries products of high quality and to ensure ecological balance and a sustainable environment.

Access to clean water is an essential, but also limiting, factor when we talk about freshwater fish farming. This is a reason for stepping up research into increased recourse to recycling and re–use. There is a need for the use of antibiotics and medicines to be more closely monitored, and also for a system to be established and data assembled for the purposes of health protection. Investment in cleaner production and technology must be promoted and not be hampered by insufficient knowledge of environmental effects and by extensive use of the precautionary principle, the result of which would be differing conditions of production from one Member State to another, leading to a distortion of competition. The Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party is able to support the rapporteur’s and the Commission’s proposals.

 
  
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  Korakas (GUE/NGL).(EL) Mr President, the restrictive measures in the Green Paper on fisheries, vessel scrapping, quotas and so forth have put medium and – even more so – small fishing enterprises out of business. I come from an area in Greece with a large number of small and medium–sized fishing enterprises and have seen this for myself. At the same time, and this is not unrelated to what I have just said, there is a burgeoning aquaculture sector, which big business is invading in a big way. I have nothing against aquaculture, but I am against this sort of unaccountable development, which flouts even basic hygiene and environmental standards and, unfortunately, the more aquaculture is taken over by big business, the greater this unaccountability will become.

This report reflects the growing importance of this sector. It sets out the conditions needed in order for aquaculture to flourish, such as finding sites, applying principles of sustainable use, advertising products, fair terms of competition, introducing certain hygiene measures, protection against the introduction of genetically–modified fish, respect for the environment and so on. However, these proposals relate mainly to technical matters. They fail to get to the root of the problem and address the issues which will inevitably arise in the future as these enterprises expand, such as serious hygiene problems and anything from unfortunate to disastrous environmental repercussions. The capitalist structure and expansion policies of these companies, in which the profit factor rules supreme, are already leading, where aquaculture is concentrated in the hands of big business, to rearing methods, livestock and fish farms which are bad both for public health and the environment. By failing to address these major problems, the report leaves small producers, the public and the environment out on a limb.

Finally, as regards our rapporteur’s call on the Greek presidency to prevent Prestige–type disasters from reoccurring, I fear that this call will fall on deaf ears, given that the Greek presidency has never made any secret of its ties with the shipping industry.

 
  
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  Hudghton (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, we welcome this report and also the communication from the Commission, but if we are to have a strategy to promote aquaculture, ensuring that it is properly regulated, then we have to be sure that the strategy is well thought through.

Aquaculture, like fish catching, has had its problems, from shipwrecks to infectious salmon anaemia (ISA). Scotland may have some examples which can be followed, where, in the wake of ISA, fish farmers have led the way in adhering to an ISA code. This is particularly important considering that there was no EU funding for compensation or vaccination.

Effective and enforceable quality assurance schemes too, such as Scottish Quality Salmon, should have a role, and this should be encouraged. Any strategy must ensure that aquaculture is sustainable, competitive and economically viable as an activity, taking into account environmental and social concerns – including the need to prevent escapes and to have a sustainable means of feeding farmed fish – so that a high–quality, safe product is ensured. There must be a resounding 'no' to genetically modified fish. I will vote accordingly this afternoon.

 
  
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  Queiró (UEN).(PT) Mr President, I wish to start by congratulating Mr Martin on his excellent initiative, because it presents a new view of creating aquatic breeding grounds and aquaculture. As we all know, under the reform of the Common fisheries policy, the Commission has made thorough-going changes to management policies and to fishing fleet renewal policies. In particular it has proposed eliminating support for fleet renewal, limiting aid for modernisation and adopting a fleet management policy that makes its restructuring process unviable, even for countries such as Portugal, which have not only reached their targets but have exceeded them. This type of measure has drastically affected the size of fishing fleets and, consequently, has reduced their activity. The consequences of this policy have represented and still represent a genuine sacrifice on the part of Portugal’s coastal communities, which have for decades lived from the sea and because of it.

It is therefore on their behalf and on the behalf of all Europeans who live from the sea that I am speaking in this plenary, and that I am trying to support solutions likely to keep the economic, social and cultural costs of these Community measures to a minimum. These are measures that are extremely fish friendly but appear to hold both fishing and those who have always lived from this activity in contempt. I believe that aquaculture can made into something complementary to traditional fishing, on the one hand benefiting from the experience gained by those who have always been involved in fishing activities and, on the other, providing these people with a full professional rehabilitation in the same sector of activity.

The increasing importance of this sector requires solid investment by the Union, not only in scientific research but also in training and in professional qualifications, in the installation and modernisation of structures and equipment and in health protection, particularly with regard to the use of high-quality meal and oils, to limiting the use of antibiotics and to rejecting genetically modified fish.

There are approximately 150 Community regulations on aquaculture. It is not, however, the high number of regulations that provide guarantees of effective legal protection in this field, but improved quality in the production of Community legislation and in the definition of measures to be adopted. This quality can be improved not only by correctly implementing and targeting Community investment, but also by simplifying legislation, making it more coherent and more comprehensible to those for whom it is intended and, consequently, making its implementation more effective.

These are, in my opinion, elements that are crucial for the necessary change of mentality and of image that even today damage the public perception, especially consumer perception, of this activity with regard to some species of fish. Lastly, everyone would agree that we need to amend the regulation on the financial instrument for fisheries guidance under the CFSP, in to order make aquaculture eligible for subsidies for young people's start–up, for small and medium-sized businesses, for promoting the quality of fishery products, for promotional campaigns for their consumption, for establishing environment-friendly practices, etc, etc. This, then, is my appeal to the Commission, in the person of Commissioner Solbes Mira: – and I am sorry that Commissioner Franz Fischler is not here – please do not allow this matter to fall into oblivion and please adopt effective measures to promote the aquaculture sector even more and with an eye to the future.

 
  
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  Van Dam (EDD). – (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, twenty years ago aquaculture was hailed as the solution for declining fish catches. The dream was that it would also be able to provide a substantial proportion of the protein requirements of people living in the world’s famine areas. Like many dreams, however, this one came to nothing. The food conversion rate of farmed fish is low. To produce one kilogram of fish you do not need four kilograms of feed, as you do for mammals, but only one-and-a-half to two kilograms. Unfortunately, a large proportion of this feed has to be made up of animal protein. Protein in fish feed comes from fishmeal, which in turn comes from industrial fish catches. These are done with a kind of nylon stocking that denudes entire areas. They not only catch adult fish but undersized fish as well; they also process cod blood, amongst other things. There is therefore little point in talking about cod replenishment plans if you do not restrain industrial fishery first. This can be done by quotas, but also by compelling purchasers of fishmeal to look for alternative raw materials such as vegetable protein or zooplankton. I appreciate that these alternative raw materials are not readily available. It is therefore very important to provide a financial stimulus for research into these alternatives and where possible to encourage it. This will be of benefit not only to cod stocks in the North Sea but also to the world’s hungry. If science can tap these alternative sources of protein, the dream for aquaculture may yet come true.

 
  
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  Martinez (NI).(FR) Mr President, our fellow MEP, Mr Martin’s, report relates to an issue which is exciting and stimulating not only scientifically but also in economic and social terms and which is, in addition, extremely topical. The Prestige disaster in Galicia, where Spain is the leading shellfish farming nation, or Arcachon, where France takes the lead in oyster farming, have shown how very fragile an activity aquaculture in fact is, whether what is at issue is freshwater aquaculture – which our fellow MEP, Mr van Dam, seems to forget about – or marine aquaculture, which is to say not only fish farming but also oyster farming.

One really has to be familiar with aquaculture in order to understand it, but it is an activity very closely bound up with the environment, within which it is in extremely subtle states of balance involving more than simply water, currents, chemistry or biology. Remember that, in closed environments such as the coastal lagoons, the Mediterranean or the Etang de Thau, the act of simply painting the boats can disturb the environment. That is why humble fishermen have always been unwittingly engaged in sustainable development.

This is not a run–of–the–mill enterprise, but one of the future, entailing dignified, state–of–the art activities involving fish as noble as bass, bream and turbot. With obvious limits of which account has to be taken, it entails great scientific innovations and research into vaccines, genetically modified organisms and diploid or triploid oysters. Certainly, fish are used to feed other fish. The amount of fish meal is therefore greater than the amount of fish produced, and there is a danger of keeping the fish meal industry going. Hence, the need for research.

Health problems are those involving not simply antibiotics or bacteria, but mysterious and microscopic algae such as dinophysis. Hence, the need to avoid intensive farming, to keep control of genetically modified organisms, in particular genetically modified salmon, and to have off–shore marine farms, as in Japan. The Bambi or Walt Disney syndrome needs to be avoided, however, with its talk of fishes’ well–being. Otherwise, a halt will have to be called to opening oysters, on the grounds that it is cruel, or to squeezing lemon on them, on the grounds that it causes them suffering. A need exists, therefore, to make it easier for young people to set up in business through training, through investment in purification plant and sandbars, through state–of–the–art scientific research, perhaps even in the form of nanobiology, and through the creation of quality labels (for example, for Arcachon oysters and also for oysters from Bouzigues, which are perhaps better, or from the Etang de Thau).

Finally, with ten thousand years of catching up to do on those who work the land, consideration should perhaps be given to cultivating the sea.

 
  
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  Stevenson (PPE-DE). – Mr President, can I first of all join my colleagues in offering my sincere congratulations to Hugues Martin for his excellent report on aquaculture. This was, as other speakers have noted, an own–initiative report by the Fisheries Committee, and Mr Martin has put an enormous amount of work and effort into producing recommendations which will be welcomed by both consumers and producers alike.

Mr Martin's report has come at a crucial time in the fisheries sector. Aquaculture is now expanding exponentially against a background of rising consumer demand for fish in Europe, and of course of collapsing fish stocks in the traditional marine fishery.

Marine aquaculture is a vitally important supplier of fish, molluscs and shellfish with a particular emphasis on farmed salmon, the quality of which is improving all the time. But there is also a burgeoning growth of the inland aquaculture industry which is enabling exciting progress to be made in the farming of cod, halibut, turbot and a host of other key species. The Fisheries Committee visited a fish farm at Rio Frio near Granada in Andalusia last November where they are even producing sturgeon and caviar. The complexity of this operation was quite extraordinary, but given that caviar is currently fetching about a third of the price of gold, one can readily understand why people are prepared to invest the necessary time and money to achieve these results.

So we have a vast and growing aquaculture sector in the EU providing a great many jobs, often in remote rural areas with fragile economies. It is an industry which, as Mr Martin points out, may be able to provide jobs to some of the marine fishermen who face the loss of their livelihoods during the current cod crisis.

But it is also an industry which requires, as Mr Ó Neachtain said earlier, to adhere to the strictest standards of compliance with best practice in the fields of the environment, welfare, health and food safety, particularly if consumer confidence in its products is to be increased. I believe Mr Martin sets out the parameters to achieve these objectives and I welcome his approach.

Mr Martin's recommendations that a lot more investment and effort should be put into research and development in the aquaculture sector are of fundamental importance, and I am delighted that the Commission endorsed that view this morning. As the rapporteur said himself in his introduction to this debate, this is a promising sector which, if handled properly, can cause great benefits to accrue to the EU in the future.

 
  
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  Lage (PSE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, rich Romans at the beginning of our era, between the first century BC and the first century AD, were the first to breed certain species of fish and molluscs. This was practised more, however, as a costly and fashionable pastime than as an economic activity. The sea-fish rearing ponds were then greatly admired for their beauty and as a symbol of the prestige that they represented. Traces of at least 50 fish rearing ponds dating from the Roman period have been identified along the Mediterranean rim.

Later on, particularly in the nineteenth century, some countries developed beds of oysters, which were considered – quite rightly – to be a species of food for the refined palate. Only in the latter decades of the twentieth century, however, did we see the rapid expansion of aquaculture, in response to the danger of fish resources being exploited to extinction. In fact, in 40 years, world fish production has increased fourfold, and today stands at around of 100 million tonnes, and world demand is increasing inexorably, in line with demographic growth.

Although aquaculture cannot replace fishing in the environment, it is, nevertheless, designed to complement and enhance some much-loved and sought after species that today feature on our daily fish menus and that fishing cannot supply in sufficient quantities. In future, aquaculture is bound to grow. What is essentially required is bringing to fish production the same changes that farming and livestock breeding underwent, moving from simple hunting and gathering to the creation and production of animal and vegetable foods. Such changes are not made, however, Mr President, without problems, particularly of an ecological nature, with regard to consumer health protection and even with regard to the well–being of the fish. Mr Martin addresses all of this in a thorough, rigorous and intelligent way in his report, which should become the textbook for aquaculture in the European Union.

 
  
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  Lisi (PPE-DE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, I think we should all be really grateful to Mr Martin, not only for the excellent job he has done, as everyone has recognised, but because he is effectively enabling us all to pin down this subject of aquaculture. It has already been said: from now on, we will make a distinction between before and after the Martin report. We can truly say that this industry has, today, come of age, it has become a fully–fledged adult industry with its own particular characteristics and features, it has stopped being an appendage of the fishing industry and, therefore, it needs from us all the attention that any industry of a certain economic stature deserves.

As other Members have said, the figures speak for themselves: this is an industry where employment is growing, it is an industry that is responding to rising demand, it is an industry that eases the difficulties of many coastal areas which would otherwise have no alternatives, it is an industry that also helps us fight the battle we have ahead of us with the decline in wild fish stocks. Furthermore, unlike fisheries reforms, it is an industry on which the Commission and Parliament find themselves in substantial agreement. I am delighted to have heard Mr Solbes’s praise for this report today, and we can all see that there is convergence on matters of food safety, research and the environmental compatibility of this industry. We have therefore reached good common ground.

In conclusion, I would just like to ask the Commissioner to pay greater attention to the two issues that Parliament wants to raise: first, the changes in the FIFG regulation, the financial regulation, particularly as regards young people’s start–up and the modernisation of farms; and secondly, the natural disaster fund. Commissioner, one cannot declare how valuable and useful an economic sector is without then taking consistent measures to sustain it.

 
  
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  Fava (PSE).(IT) Mr President, I too am grateful to the rapporteur because I believe this report enables us to set down some definitive points: first of all aquaculture as a substantial source of supplementary income, especially for fishermen who live and work in marginal areas; and secondly its capacity for reducing fishing and for preserving our resources. A few problems remain, however, especially for small–scale fishing and traditional fishing. Conversion to aquaculture should attract aid because it is expensive: financial resources are needed for the initial investment and to get through the first three years, which are almost always unproductive. The Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance should include specific, targeted, fast credit facilities, or aquaculture will remain an option only for the well–off. The Commission’s target of 8 000 to 10 000 more jobs is an ambitious challenge, and it will require a solid commitment to promote the economic profitability of aquaculture.

Another objective – one which Parliament is particularly concerned with – is food safety, environmental impact and animal health. In this respect, there is a need for a code of conduct, with well–defined rules and parameters, and, above all, there is a need to ensure that all products from third countries comply with our standards of hygiene, food safety and animal welfare. This is not just to prevent unfair competition, as one might imagine, but principally to make an effective improvement to the quality of our sustainable development.

 
  
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  Cunha (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner Solbes Mira – who has previously been a Minister for Fisheries and is therefore not insensitive to this debate, despite not currently being responsible for the sector – I wish to address my first words of congratulation to Mr Martin, who has proved once again that he is an excellent MEP by producing this magnificent report, which is entirely appropriate to the current situation. Congratulations, Mr Martin.

This report gives us an excellent analysis of the current state of aquaculture in the European Union and also provides us with important guidelines for the future. Amongst these I should like to emphasise the need to draw up integrated environmental management plans for both coastal and inland areas, since the need for such environmental plans has become evident following the recent Erika and Prestige disasters. Secondly, the need to increase food safety in order to ensure the health and confidence of Europe’s citizens, promoting research and adequate funding of the sector, both for new units and for modernising existing ones.

It is clear, therefore, that aquaculture has a great future. Nevertheless, as a consequence of recent food crises that have beset Europe, consumers have become suspicious of aquaculture. It must be stated, however, that intensive production is not necessarily synonymous with the absence of hygienic conditions. This is why we in the European Union have a set of standards for technical requirements that do not exist in other parts of the world. This means that there is a high degree of monitoring of these hygiene conditions. Nevertheless, these rules must be reinforced and improved so that our citizens view aquaculture-produced fish with complete confidence.

 
  
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  Stihler (PSE). – Mr President, I am glad that we are having a debate on this subject. It is very reassuring that so many colleagues have taken such an interest in aquaculture. This must be the best attended fisheries debate on record.

It is vital that we recognise the importance of this very young and growing sector. Seven thousand jobs are reliant on aquaculture in Scotland, 75% of them in the highlands and islands, and often aquaculture provides a lifeline for some of our most remote communities.

Salmon accounts for nearly 40% of Scottish food exports and Atlantic salmon farming is now worth more to the Scottish economy in financial terms than cattle and sheep farming combined. The report talks positively about the industry and future objectives. We need to consider long–term secure employment in the sector and to ensure product availability for consumers and an environmentally sound industry. Sustainable development has to be the watchword. The report looks at the importance of food safety and hygiene and also of research into alternatives rather than antibiotics.

We also need to address some of the key problems affecting the industry. The most recent has been unfair competition. The Commission has already been dealing with the issue of salmon dumping from Chile, Norway and the Faroe Islands and an investigation is ongoing in the Trade Directorate–General. The disclosure documents which were published on 20 December 2002, with a deadline of 8 January 2003, initially made it impossible for the European Salmon Producers Group to comment, due to Christmas and the New Year. However, I am pleased that the Commission has given salmon producers more time to provide a response. It is critical that their voice is heard and I hope the Commission will ensure that Parliament and the Fisheries Committee are kept informed of the progress of this inquiry, especially as the estimated level of dumping by Chile is 29.7%, in direct contravention of fair trade. We must make sure that these unfair practices stop. I hope the Parliament will endorse this report and support aquaculture.

 
  
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  McCartin (PPE-DE). – Mr President, this has not been a very controversial subject. I have never before seen more harmony or unanimity in the House. Having gone through the trauma of the allocation of fish quotas, there is a greater awareness throughout the European Union of the scarcity of this most important resource. Wild fish stocks in the European Union are about 40% of what our consumers in the Union need. This is therefore an ideal means of supplementing the demand.

Parliament has been dealing with this subject over many years, yet there is not sufficient consciousness of the important contribution this industry can make to the peripheral, under–developed and poorer regions. It can also be complementary to industry in those regions at a time when wild fish stocks are less available, so that the extra capacity we have and the infrastructure for processing and marketing can be made use of through the production of farmed fish.

The advisers who cautioned us years ago have been listened to. The message has got across that we can exercise the necessary caution and, at the same time, make progress in increasing production. We have obviously achieved this. We are now producing something like 27% of our needs from farmed fish and there is no reason why we cannot continue.

People cannot look at the dwindling stocks and our failure to conserve them and say that the wide oceans out there present us with opportunities. 80% of all the stocks we know of are inside the 200–mile limit. So there are no stocks out there waiting to be exploited. We know little about the other 20%, and from what we know it is a one–off. We can harvest those fish once and that's the end of it.

Fish farming offers prospects for the disadvantaged regions. It can be complementary to the activities going on there and can help to improve the economy of the European Union at a time when unemployment is once again becoming a problem.

 
  
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  Pérez Álvarez (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by joining in the almost universal chorus of praise and congratulations for Mr Martin. He does indeed deserve to be congratulated on the quality of his report. It contains an assessment of the present and anticipates a bright future for this important activity. The consolidation of the aquaculture sector in the field of world food production is highlighted, as is its role in helping to reduce the imbalance between imports and exports of fisheries’ products at Community level. The potential of aquaculture as a source of employment is also emphasised. Many new jobs directly or indirectly linked to aquaculture can be created in areas where few other industries exist. I refer to those regions that are heavily dependent on fishing, be they recognised as such or not. Galicia is a case in point. There are employment opportunities in aquaculture itself and in the processing and service industries. According to data supplied by the European Commission last September, the number of people employed has risen to 80 000.

The future will not be all plain sailing. It should be recognised that there are certain risks involved, such as environmental pollution, and the transmission of diseases from farmed to wild fish. It is therefore necessary to work towards achieving a healthy environment. Greater vigilance is required, as are technological improvements. Of course, all this will also serve to promote the development of aquaculture itself.

More specific provision for research is called for. Parliament must urge the Commission to make this available to ensure aquaculture enterprises can benefit from the support of national and Community programmes. In addition, the relevant regulations should be amended so that aid for setting up and developing enterprises can be forthcoming. Cofinancing of aid to facilitate the implementation of more environmentally friendly farming practices should also be possible.

Commissioner, social dialogue between Member States must be promoted, with a view to introducing a code of good practice. Such a code could prevent price falls posing a threat to the sector. Mr President, allow me to mention Valentín Paz Andrade. He was a kind and generous native of Galicia. As they say in the local language, he was ‘un galego bo e xeneroso’. He loved his region and he loved the sea. Were he alive today he would be deeply saddened by the condition of the sea around Galicia and by how the sea has been affected by environmental disasters. Last July, at the Forum named after Valentín Paz Andrade in La Coruña in Galicia, it was stated that consumption of aquaculture products is set to double by 2010.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR IMBENI
Vice-President

President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place at 12 noon. (1)

 
  

(1) Statement by the President: see Minutes.

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