The aquaculture industry in the Mediterranean area has grown tremendously since its inception, almost forty years ago. Total aquaculture production including all categories and species has increased from 487,488 tonnes in 1995 to 1,228,457 tonnes in 2007. During the same period production of marine fish species has grown from 61,024 tonnes to 436,401 tonnes, while production of molluscs has decreased slightly from 184,944 tonnes to 174,385 tonnes. Consequently, the share of marine fish species in overall aquaculture output has risen from 13 percent in 1995 to 36 per cent in 2007 while the share of molluscs has dropped from 38 per cent to 14 per cent during the same period while the share of freshwater species production has remained the same at 48 per cent of total aquaculture output.
Egypt, France, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece are the main (inland and marine) producing countries. The average annual growth for the period from 1985–2006 for marine and brackish water aquaculture is estimated at 7.6 per cent. This compares to capture fishery production which was about -0.67 per cent, during the same period, thereby confirming its stagnating situation (FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Statistics and Information Service [FIPS], 2009).
The development of the industry was facilitated by geography (as well as ideal growth conditions, temperatures and physiochemical parameters) and proximity to viable markets. The presence of research institutions was also vital in order to overcome early technical problems. Clearly countries with a beneficial geography and subsidies grew very fast to prominence: the main drivers were no conflicts for space and access to capital. The comparative advantage of EU countries was clearly: 1) proximity to market and 2) a valued national product (justified preference since in addition to freshness there’s an ease of ordering from customers, they can order practically the same day). Producing countries can roughly be divided into levels of development of the activity with the following countries having:
Large and/or organised industry:
- Malta; and
Small industry with growth potential:
- Croatia; and
No significant marine aquaculture to date:
- Syrian Arab Republic; and
- Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
History and evolution of the industry
Aquaculture in the Mediterranean has a long history. Evidence of fish capture and on-growing in ponds and lagoons date back to more than 2000 years ago while friezes from ancient Egyptian tombs (tomb of Aktihep) show tilapia being harvested from ponds as far back as 2500 BC. There is evidence of extensive marine farms in the sixth century BC in Etruscan culture and in Roman times European seabass, gilthead seabream, mullets and oysters were cultivated in ponds and lagoons in Italy. In the twelfth century a resurgence of freshwater aquaculture was seen in central Europe. In the fifteenth century extensive, large-scale aquaculture (vallicultura) was practiced in the coastal lagoons of the Adriatic, a tradition that remains to this day and is a precursor to modern marine Mediterranean aquaculture.
The first successful artificial fertilisations of salmonids are attributed to Jacobi in 1773. The first “marine fish factories” were created in 1878 in the United States of America and in 1883 in Norway and work on the artificial reproduction and fertilization of turbot were done as early as 1894 in England. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, great efforts were made in transferring salmon populations between regions throughout the world (1875: California to New Zealand) and at the same time, trout farming started in Denmark. The industry grew considerably at the end of the 1960s with the formulation of commercial, pellet fish feed. Marine aquaculture started at this time with the production of Amberjack tuna (Seriola) in Japan and trout and salmon in Norway (IFREMER).
Initial research for the breeding of European seabass and gilthead seabream took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in state research institutes of France and Italy. Early research efforts were focused on the controlled on-growing production phase which was carried out in land-based systems using pumped seawater. As the sector developed, on growing production moved into the sea, following technology developed for the farming of salmon and other species in Norway and Japan. Production remained low until the mid 1980s, but then started to grow rapidly, through semi-intensive and intensive culture systems, expanding from 374 tonnes in 1985 to 3,876 tonnes within only five years (FAO, 2008). By that time (1990), Greece was already the leading producer (42 per cent), with Italy (23 per cent) and Turkey (12 per cent), respectively second and third largest.
Modern industrial marine aquaculture was made possible only after technical difficulties in reproduction, larval culture, feeds and cage and basin technology were overcome in the late 1980s. With the main technical barriers to large-scale hatchery production removed, the increase in production during the 1990s was beyond the most optimistic expectations. Sheltered coastlines, along with the favourable climatic and environmental conditions of the Eastern Mediterranean, provided the medium for the industry’s rapid development, while national and EU financial assistance acted as catalysts for its boost. By 1998, the combined production of European seabass and gilthead seabream had surpassed the 100,000 tonnes level (108,800 tonnes), reaching just over 181,000 tonnes in 2002. Production was particularly rapid in Greece, which by 2002 had surpassed the 100,000 tonnes, accounting for 57 per cent of the total European seabass and gilthead seabream aquaculture production (European Commission, 2004; Hellenic Ministry of Rural Development and Food, 2004).
Nowadays, the Mediterranean aquaculture industry consists of various segments, depending on the species produced. There is the long-established and rather traditional culture of shellfish (mussels and oysters), the culture of trout, and the culture of marine fish species. Although much research into the induced spawning and on growing methods of numerous other species was undertaken in the early years, production became focused almost exclusively on high value, high demand species such as turbot, gilthead seabream and European seabass. In fact, it is the commercial culture of the latter species that has provided the big ‘boost’ of the industry over the last two decades.