EU member states must instigate aquaculture revival

Europe’s new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform package contains a strong focus on aquaculture and reviving a sector that has stagnated for more than 20 years. But while this is the first time that a CFP has recognized the need for such an effort and tools are now in place to aid production increases, the European Commission says it’s down to the EU member states to deliver crucial change.

Currently, European aquaculture output totals 1.3 million metric tons (MT) with a value of EUR 3.6 billion (USD 4.9 billion). At the same time, only 10 percent of Europeans’ seafood consumption comes from EU aquaculture but if the domestic utilization could be increased by just 1 percent then that would create between 3,000 and 4,000 full-time jobs, said Dario Dubolino of the EU Commission, DG Mare.

Speaking at the recent Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) 45th Annual Conference in London, Dubolino said that to boost Europe’s ailing aquaculture industry, the bloc should follow four Strategic Guidelines: reduce administrative burdens; facilitate access to water and space; improve competitiveness, and exploit competitive advantages. As these guidelines are voluntary and intended to assist the member states in defining their own national targets, the commission advises that all stakeholders — commercial and non-commercial — are engaged at a local level.

It’s widely agreed that red tape has been the biggest barrier to aquaculture expansion in Europe. At present, it takes two to three years (but sometimes as many as seven years) to obtain a license for a new aquaculture farm, compared to four to six months for an agricultural farm or 18 months for an offshore windfarm, said Dubolino, who also pointed out that it takes just six months to get an aquaculture licence in Norway.

“We do not believe it takes as long as this anywhere else and this is a key reason why our aquaculture production has stayed the same for the last two decades. Reducing the administrative burdens could help stop this trend,” he said.

The commission also hopes that by using spatial planning to identify the best location for farm sites, member states will enable EU aquaculture to become more sustainable and socially acceptable as well as carry less risk for investors. To this end, a Maritime Spatial Planning Directive will be unveiled in the near future.

To increase the competitiveness of EU aquaculture products, the commission wants producers and retailers to emphasize that products are “locally-produced” and will encourage them to put more information on consumer-facing labels. In addition, it is advising the pursuit of organic and other marketable certification schemes.

“Generally speaking, European consumers are willing to pay a premium for local products because they are perceived to adhere to higher standards of safety and environmental protection,” said Dubolino.

However, it’s now down to the member states to take up the challenge, he said. Each must adopt a Multiannual National Plan for the period 2014-2020, based on the specific conditions and needs at a national level. These plans will define the member states’ objectives and the measures through which they aim to achieve them.

Upon approval of their plan, they will have access to the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which is expected to total EUR 6 billion (USD 8.2 billion) over a seven-year period.

“There isn’t much we can do in terms of imposing rules and regulations for the benefit of the aquaculture industry,” said Dubolino. “What we are doing is giving member states the tools to implement change. We can promote and push a little bit, but we can’t impose.”

The United Kingdom’s six-week EMFF public consultation closed on 12 May, but with funding expected to be between EUR 136 million (USD 185.1 million) and EUR 200 (USD 272.2 million) over the aforementioned seven years – most of which will go to implementing the discard ban — the U.K. government is keen to look at additional EU funding pools to finance other fishery and aquaculture programs, said George Eustice, U.K. fisheries minister.

Eustice told SAGB delegates that there is “potential to grow the U.K. aquaculture sector,” and that he is also keen to look at the possibility of creating a producer organization specifically for aquaculture.


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