Aquaculture for all

A Breath of Fresh Air on European Aquaculture

Nutrition Health Biosecurity +12 more

Huge demand and high prices have led to a booming Asian aquaculture industry, but over in the EU an industry fraught with legislation is beginning to stagnate. Adam Anson, reporting for TheFishSite, discovers how the EU plans to turn this trend around.

Ever since 2002, when the EU first formed its strategy for sustainable aquaculture development, ongoing advancements have helped to build a high-tech industry with fully integrated businesses. Throughout the 27 nations, the EU now turns over a total of 3 billion euros annually, catering for 65,000 jobs and producing 1.3 million tonnes of fish. Though it can be said that the last seven years have seen reasonable growth patterns, by comparison with its Asian counterparts it has been poor.

European consumption demands approximately 12 million tonnes of fish, a figure far larger than its production capacity. Vast amounts of money are being generated from this growing market, but these demands are increasingly met from foreign sources. The EU is not fulfilling its potential. In response to these trends, the European Commission recently produced a report which aimed to identify and address the causes of this stagnation, with a view to ensuring that the EU remains a key player in this strategic sector.

Summarising its findings the report declared that the challenges for the EU aquaculture sector are numerous. It listed "limited access to space and licensing"; "industry fragmentation"; "limited access to seed capital or loans for innovation in a risky context"; "pressure from imports" and "insufficiency of medicines and vaccines." Significantly, one of the core reasons that it gave for the low level of success was: "stringent EU rules, particularly on environmental protection, which generate competitive constraints vis-à-vis competitors in Asia or Latin America."

The situation is one that is mirrored across many livestock sectors in Europe. Local farmers are being priced out of local markets by cheaper foreign goods. Whilst many European sectors can boast sustainable farming practises they cannot say the same for sustainable economic practises. Regardless of how ethical a company is, without profit the ethics will not succeed into the future. This is the challenge that is currently being posed to European farmers.

However, according to the European Commission, Europe needs to take this competitive weak spot and turn it into something beneficial. It is the dynamic and cutting-edge research sector; the advanced equipment and fish feed; the qualified and trained entrepreneurs and innovative enterprises; as well as a solid environment and health protection legal framework, which will help to take Europe into a more profitable future.

"The appropriate measures must be put into place to ensure that our industry can take a lead role in the "blue revolution", says the report. Whether this concerns the production of aquatic food itself, technology and innovation, or the setting of standards and certification processes at EU and international level",

Where Problems and Solutions Converge

In order for the EU's vision of a sustainable global aquaculture industry to succeed it must first develop a means for it to be economically viable. It must also be able to compete with the Asian industry by catering for high-value products as well as the expensive.

The Commission suggests that advanced research and technology can help the EU reach these goals, keeping one step ahead of the rest of the world whilst maintaining highly sustainable practises. This technology and know-how could also be sold on the global market in order to help tackle sustainability and safety challenges worldwide. Under the latest advice, the commission says it will further support excellence in research and technological development in aquaculture, to promote private initiatives in this area and to expand the opportunities for its financing.

The increasing competition for space represents a major challenge for further developing or even maintaining all forms of coastal aquaculture, as well as freshwater fish-farming. Area choice is crucial and spatial planning has a key role to play in providing guidance and reliable data for the location of an economic activity, giving certainty to investors, avoiding conflicts and finding synergies between activities and environments with the ultimate aim of sustainable development.

To combat this the Commission says that it will promote the development of maritime spatial planning and Integrated Coastal Zone Management and invites all Member States to develop marine spatial planning systems. Member States will also be invited to ensure that terrestrial land planning fully integrates the needs and values of freshwater aquaculture.

In order to Enable the aquaculture business to cope with market demands the report proposes that the EU must first assess and address needs of the aquaculture sector, in particular regarding producer organisations, inter-professions, consumer information and marketing instruments such as labelling of aquatic food products. Organic aquaculture and Eco-labelling Schemes will also be heavily promoted throughout the EU and the Commission says that it will continue efforts towards international cooperation on labelling and certification issues, notably with the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The report adds that an innovative industry is also an opportunity for the associated sectors (e.g. equipment, fish feed, animal health industries) to expand and export their know-how to other parts of the world.

, One of the big issues for the EU is to establish conditions for sustainable growth in aquaculture. By persuing a high level of protection for the natural environment and demanding high standards of consumer safety from all foods of aquatic origin, manufactured in, or outside the EU - the Commission believes that this can be achieved. According to the report, it also plans to continue to monitor developments in terms of escapees, whilst adding the possibility of action at a higher EU level. New technologies will be introduced to ensure clean water and decreased effluent.

The Commission aims to produce a high-performance industry through optimal husbandry conditions, good health and adequate fee. The intention of this is to ensure that all aquatic animals have the right conditions for optimal growth, whilst contributing to obvious ethical implications. High welfare standards have also been identified as an essential part of the plan. Using a species specific approach the Commission will seek greater advice of what constitutes fish welfare. Within two years it plans to have launched a full evaluation, taking into account new transport regulations. Industry welfare initiatives are also expected to be widely encouraged.

As part of the welfare push, the Commission intends to address the need for veterinary medicines which are currently lacking within the EU. Whilst it is of "upmost importance to allow controlled and prudent use of medicines on farm animals", the Commission accepts that the limited variety of authorised veterinary products remains a "major problem". The lack of access to high quality, sustainable feed stuff poses a similar problem, which the Commission plans to counteract by improving the EU feed laws through increased availability of necessary additives and imposing the new Animal By-product Regulation.

The image and governance of the sector also needs to be improved says the report. Whilst stakeholders should be consulted over image problems it is the national authorities who have the largest role to play. The Commission says that better implementation of EU legislation should ensure a level playing field among economic operators on decisions affecting the development of aquaculture.

Reducing administrative burden is also essential to promote development. Whilst the Commission intends to continue simplifying the legislative environment, member states are to be encouraged to simplify licensing procedures also.

Better regulation and governance can be achieved by ensuring stakeholder participation and getting the appropriate information through to the public. Meanwhile the commission will attempt to raise the profile of aquaculture and create a forum for dialogue between the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform and member states' research managers.

Adequate monitoring of the industry will also be essential. "Public policies need to be supported by reliable indicators", says the report. The Commission intends to cooperate with the Food and Agriculture Organisation in developing reliable indicators of industry progress.

In all the report says that European aquaculture should see a bright future, both modern and dynamic. The report describes an industry built on a product that is safe, sustainable, environmentally friendly and of high quality, but evident challenges must first be overcome. In order for this to happen, the report says that "all sectors, private and public, will have to be committed to the future of the European aquaculture sector"

Further Reading

- You can view the Commission's full report by clicking here.

April 2009

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