A Strategy For The Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture

By the European Commission - Aquaculture is highly diverse and consists of a broad spectrum of species, systems and practices1. Its economic dimension creates new economic niches, i.e. employment, a more effective use of local resources, and opportunities for productive investment.

A Strategy For The Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture - By the European Commission - Aquaculture is highly diverse and consists of a broad spectrum of species, systems and practices1. Its economic dimension creates new economic niches, i.e. employment, a more effective use of local resources, and opportunities for productive investment.


    4.1. Increasing production
    4.2. Competition for space
    4.3. Market development, marketing and information
    4.4. Training
    4.5. Governance
    4.6. Safety of aquaculture products
    4.6.1. Public health issues
    4.6.2. Animal health issues
    4.7. Animal welfare
    4.8. Environmental aspects
    4.9. Research


The contribution of aquaculture to trade, both local and international, is also increasing. The Commission recognised the importance of aquaculture in the frame of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and the necessity to develop a strategy for the sustainable development of this sector2. This strategy will be coherent with the other Communitys strategies and in particular with the European Strategy for Sustainable Development3 and the conclusions of the Gteborg European Council of 15/16 June 2001.

The principal aquaculture products of the Union are fish (trout, salmon, sea bass, sea bream), and molluscs (mussels, oysters and clams). Production rose from 642,000 tonnes in 1980 to 944,000 tonnes in 1990, and reached 1,315,000 tonnes in 2000. This is just 3% of world aquaculture production, but EU is the world leader for some species like trout, seabass, seabream, turbot, and mussels. The value is currently 2,500 million per year. Aquaculture constitutes 17% of the volume and 27% of the value of the total fishery production of the Union.

Europe has skilled aquaculture scientists and good research facilities, which have contributed significantly to the growth of the sector. The farming technology of some species was invented in Europe. However, in the last decade the annual growth rate of EU aquaculture of 3,4 per cent has been slower than the world average (11 per cent). The progress of fish farming has been good but is now tending to slow down, while shellfish culture advancement was rather modest with an average 2,1 percent per year. Aquaculture in the Union is essentially made up by three major sub-sectors, which have different history and characteristics. These are:

  1. Freshwater fish farming. This is a traditional activity that has now to face the problem of the relatively low market value of its products in relation to production costs. Trout is the principal cultured species in value of the Union, worth approximately 500 million /year. Trout farming in the past had viability problems almost everywhere in the Union, in recent times the situation has slightly improved. The carp branch is experiencing a more difficult situation. There is a very large number of other species that can be reared but they run up against the problem of very limited demand. There is unlikely to be a major growth in the demand for fresh water fish in the near future, unless marketing initiatives are taken to change the current trend. In most cases freshwater fish are farmed in intensive systems, so environmental constraints are important.

  2. Marine mollusc farming. Molluscs account for more than 60% of the volume of the Union aquaculture but only 30% in value. This sub-sector is widely spread throughout the Union coastal area and can be locally extremely important in economic terms and for job creation. It is a relatively old traditional activity, often practiced in small and technically simple family-owned facilities. In general the existing technical development is adequate, although there is potential to develop the technology to farm a larger range of species. This is a no feed input activity as farmed molluscs feed on natural resources, and may suffer difficulties linked to the fluctuations of supply, as shellfish yield depends on climatic conditions. Profitability is also affected by increasingly frequent toxic algal bloom, or by specific local ecological problems.

  3. Marine fish farming. is the most recent development, which started in the 1970s, and technically is the most complex. Until the beginning of the 1990s, marine fish farming was more profitable than any other aquaculture sub-sector and this attracted new investors with the consequence of rapid increases in production, causing market difficulties and price reductions. This sub-sector also suffers from environmental problems linked to intensive fish farming, where fish is fed with industrial feed. Production is dominated by salmon, both in terms of quantity and value. In the last fifteen years seabass and seabream farming in the Mediterranean has grown rapidly.

Marginal quantities of crustaceans and seaweed are also farmed in the Union. The latter may have potential for future expansion. Aquaculture development is spread widely over the Union and often in rural zones or peripheral areas depending on fisheries, where alternative employment opportunities are chronically lacking. Little information is available on the socio-economic impact of coastal aquaculture activities in Europe. However a recent study carried out in some Scottish areas4 shows that salmon farming development stopped the decline of the rural population (for the first time in the last century), and that young people found employment throughout the year, while other economic activities like tourism were only seasonal. Aquaculture, and in particular mollusc and cage culture, can be a part-time additional revenue for fishermen or an alternative for workers displaced from the fisheries sector, as marine aquaculture needs employees skilled in working in and from a boat.

In 1998 aquaculture in the EU employed at least 80,000 full or part-time workers, equivalent to 57,000 full-time jobs. Traditional aquaculture plays an important socioeconomic role in some areas. In Galicia (Spain), the European core of mussel and turbot farming, the number of jobs in aquaculture is approximately 13,500, without taking account of indirect employment. In France, oyster farming employs approximately 4,700 people in Charente Maritime and more than 3,000 in Brittany. In the 1980s and 1990s the development of marine fish farming produced thousands of jobs in peripheral areas of Scotland, Ireland and Greece.

Not all the territory of the Union is appropriate for aquaculture development, as many different factors affect output and viability of aquaculture operations (e.g. water quality, availability and cost of space, climatic conditions etc.). It is critical, in considering the location of aquaculture sites, to proceed to a systematic, integrated assessment of both the positive and negative impacts of new aquaculture developments. This is essential before projects are financed with public funds.

A vision for the future

Aquaculture in the EU developed well in the last two decades, and this was partly allowed by the many Community initiatives that have been taken to support this sector. The Union has a vast legal armoury on aquaculture, and activities to enhance the legal framework are progressing. However, there is still room for further improvement, and the recent slowdown of growth must be addressed.

While the overall framework shows a positive potential for further development, aquaculture in the Union has still to cope with some problems, in particular in the context of health protection requirements, environmental impact, and market instability. In the next ten years aquaculture must reach the status of a stable industry which guarantees long term secure employment and development in rural and coastal areas, providing alternatives to the fishing industry, both in terms of products and employment.

To secure employment and well-being, European aquaculture must be an economically viable and self-sufficient industry. The market has to be the driving force of aquaculture development; production and demand are finely balanced and any increase in production in excess of the likely evolution in demand should not be encouraged. The range of products must be enlarged, better marketing strategies have to be implemented. Private investors are, and have to remain, the leading force to put progress in practice, while a key role of the public powers will be to guarantee that the economic viability be parallel to the respect of the environment and the good quality of the products.

The fundamental issue is therefore the maintenance of competitiveness, productivity and durability of the aquaculture sector. Further development of the industry must take an approach where farming technologies, socio-economics, natural resources use and governance are all integrated so that sustainability can be achieved.

1:Aquaculture means the rearing or culture of aquatic organisms using techniques designed to increase the production of the organisms in question beyond the natural capacity of the environment; the organisms remain the property of a natural or legal person throughout the rearing or culture stage, up to and including harvesting. (Council Regulation 2792/99 of 17 December 1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector, OJ L 337 of 30/12/1999)
2:COM(2002) 181 final
3:COM(2001) 264 final

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Source: European Commission - September 2002

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