Aquaculture production in the European Union

Aquaculture production in the European Union remains relatively stagnant compared with the rising rates of farmed seafood production at world level. Over the past 20 years, the Commission has attempted to gear up EU production potential through the publication of various strategy and guideline papers, and the Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC) was established in 2016 in that vein. This body is made up of representatives of the industry and other relevant stakeholder organisations and gives advice to the EU institutions and the Member States. On 12 May 2021, the Commission published its new strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture. On 15 November 2022, the Commission published a communication (COM(2022)0592) entitled ‘Towards a Strong and Sustainable EU Algae Sector’.

Background

Whereas there was a considerable increase in aquaculture production globally between 1990 and 2020, the aggregated production of farmed seafood in all EU Member States remained stable for a long time, at around 1.2 million tonnes. The value of EU aquaculture production reached EUR 3.9 billion in 2020. Fish products accounted for 50% of this figure and crustaceans and molluscs for 49%, in terms of weight. EU aquaculture producers have primarily focused on four species – mussels (30% of the total volume), trout (17%), oysters (9%) and seabream (8%) – with other important farmed species in the EU being carp, seabass and bluefin tuna.

The main aquaculture producers among the EU Member States in 2020 were Spain (24%), France (21%), Greece (11%) and Italy (10%), which together accounted for around 67% of total aquaculture production. However, in terms of the value of production, France was the leading producer (22%), followed by Spain (15%), Greece (15%) and Italy (9%). Bivalve molluscs (mussels, oysters and clams) were dominant in Spain, France and Italy, while Greece produced mainly seabass and seabream.

A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture

As a first attempt to tackle the stagnation of aquaculture production in the EU, the Commission published, in 2002, a communication (COM(2002)0511) entitled ‘A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture’. The objectives of this strategy were:

  • 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 2003-2008 period;
  • 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;
  • 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 has been the lack of production growth, in contrast to the high growth rate observed on a global scale. The sector has, however, 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, EU aquaculture has met with increased competition from production in non-EU countries since 2002, and has had to face crises of governance and the effects of the economic crisis after 2007.

Building a sustainable future for aquaculture – A new impetus for the strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture

Seven years later, on 8 April 2009, the Commission published its second communication (COM(2009)0162) on aquaculture, seeking to identify and address the causes of the stagnation of EU aquaculture production. This new communication was entitled ‘Building a sustainable future for aquaculture: A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’. It aimed to ensure that the EU remained a key player in this strategic sector, increasing production and employment by implementing the following actions:

A. Promoting the competitiveness of EU aquaculture production by:

  • Fostering 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 by:

  • 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 by:

  • Better implementing 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

Ultimately, the strategic guidelines (COM(2013)0229) published by the Commission on 29 April 2013 aimed to assist the Member States in defining their own national targets, taking account of their relative starting positions, national circumstances and institutional arrangements. These guidelines covered four priority areas:

  • Simplifying administrative procedures and reducing licencing time for aquaculture farms;
  • Coordinated spatial planning to overcome the hindering effect of lack of space;
  • Enhancing the competitiveness of EU aquaculture;
  • Promoting a level playing field.

Multiannual national strategic plans (2014 - 2020)

As established through Article 34 of the common fisheries policy (CFP) basic regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013), Member States had to submit multiannual national strategic plans (MNSPs) for the development of aquaculture activities on their territory for the 2014-2020 period. The Commission encouraged the exchange of information and best practices among Member States through different workshops and meetings. As a follow-up measure, it facilitated the coordination of the national measures envisaged in the MNSPs.

Strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture for the period 2021 to 2030

On 12 May 2021, the Commission published its new strategic guidelines (COM(2021)0236 including an annex) for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture. It presents a vision for the further development of aquaculture in a way that will contribute both to the European Green Deal and to the economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidelines build on experience at EU and national strategic level and take into account the latest developments, including research, innovation and the use of EU funding. They also respond to calls in the farm to fork strategy to accelerate the transition to a sustainable EU food system, recognising the potential of sustainable aquaculture to provide food and feed with a low carbon footprint.

Achieving this vision will require addressing the different challenges and opportunities of the EU aquaculture sector in order to reach the following inter-related objectives, namely:

  • Building resilience and competitiveness;
  • Participating in the green transition;
  • Ensuring social acceptance and consumer information; and
  • Increasing knowledge and innovation.

The strategic guidelines identify 13 areas where further work is needed to ensure the sustainability, competitiveness and resilience of EU aquaculture. The guidelines provide specific recommendations and propose concrete actions to be taken by the Commission, the EU Member States and the AAC.

To support the implementation of these guidelines by all stakeholders, the Commission has set up an EU Aquaculture Assistance Mechanism. This mechanism serves as a tool to help the Commission, the EU Member States, the industry and other stakeholders to develop further guidance and consolidate best practices in the areas covered by the strategic guidelines. This mechanism includes an online platform with an accessible knowledge base for all stakeholders (for example, a guide on EU funding and a database of EU-funded projects in the sector). It also includes country information on the different MNSPs of all Member States.

The EU also supports research and innovation on key aspects of EU aquaculture: from its interactions with the environment, to the health and nutrition of farmed fish, to reproduction and breeding. Research and innovation on sustainable aquaculture is a priority under Horizon Europe, the EU framework programme for research and innovation.

Towards a strong and sustainable EU algae sector

On 15 November 2022, the Commission published a communication (COM(2022)0592) entitled ‘Towards a Strong and Sustainable EU Algae Sector’. This communication was announced following the strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture for the period 2021 to 2030. The drive to develop a strong and sustainable algae sector stems from the benefits that the EU derives from algae related to meeting sustainability objectives, supporting marine biodiversity and protecting ecosystem services. The algae sector also has the potential to significantly boost jobs for the blue economy, which is the reason why the EU has recognised it as an emerging sector that needs to be developed.

The Commission identified five main issues that the EU faces in the algae sector: high production costs, low-scale production, limited knowledge of the market, limited knowledge of the environmental impact of algae production, and a fragmented framework. One main way in which the EU is aiming to fix these issues is through educational initiatives to close knowledge gaps and increase awareness of the emerging sector. In this communication, the Commission identified 23 specific actions for improving conditions in the sector, primarily using funding from Horizon Europe. The Commission committed itself and called on the Member States to take these actions to enhance developments in knowledge, data and technology in this area. A progress report on the goals set by the Commission in this communication is set to be drawn up in 2027.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament has adopted numerous resolutions aimed at further strengthening the EU’s aquaculture sector:

  • Resolution of 16 January 2003 entitled ‘Aquaculture in the European Union: present and future’;
  • Position of 27 April 2006 on the proposal for a Council directive on animal health requirements for aquaculture animals and products thereof, and on the prevention and control of certain diseases in aquatic animals;
  • Position of 14 November 2006 on the proposal for a Council regulation concerning use of alien and locally absent species in aquaculture;
  • Position of 14 November 2006 on the proposal for a Council regulation amending Council Regulation (EC) No 104/2000 on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products;
  • Resolution of 4 December 2008 on the adoption of a European Cormorant Management Plan to minimise the increasing impact of cormorants on fish stocks, fishing and aquaculture;
  • Resolution of 17 June 2010 on a new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture;
  • Resolution of 8 July 2010 on the arrangements for importing fishery and aquaculture products into the EU with a view to the future reform of the CFP;
  • Position of 23 November 2010 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 708/2007 concerning the use of alien and locally absent species in aquaculture;
  • Position of 12 September 2012 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products;
  • Position of 10 December 2013 on the Council position at first reading with a view to the adoption of a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products, amending Council Regulations (EC) No 1184/2006 and (EC) No 1224/2009 and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 104/2000;
  • Resolution of 8 September 2015 on untapping the potential of research and innovation in the blue economy to create jobs and growth;
  • Resolution of 12 May 2016 on traceability of fishery and aquaculture products in restaurants and retail;
  • Resolution of 12 June 2018 entitled ‘Towards a sustainable and competitive European aquaculture sector: current status and future challenges’;
  • Position of 17 April 2020 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulations (EU) No 508/2014 and (EU) No 1379/2013 as regards specific measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in the fishery and aquaculture sector, which was adopted as Regulation (EU) 2020/560;
  • Position of 6 July 2022 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 as regards specific measures to alleviate the consequences of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine on fishing activities and to mitigate the effects of the market disruption caused by that war of aggression on the supply chain of fishery and aquaculture products, which was adopted as Regulation (EU) 2022/1278;
  • Resolution of 4 October 2022 on striving for a sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture: the way forward.
  • Resolution of 11 May 2023 towards a strong and sustainable EU algae sector.

 

Marcus Ernst Gerhard Breuer / DANA DIVERA TWISK