Substantial changes to EU aquaculture development needed

The EU market is one of the largest in the world for seafood, with average annual per capita consumption levels at around 25 kg, according to the EU Fish Processors and Traders Association (AIPCE-CEP). Worldwide, average seafood consumption is 17.8 kilograms (kg) per person annually, which represents 15.7 percent of animal protein intake.

Official EU statistics show that consumption varies from 4.6 kg/person/year in Bulgaria to 61.6 kg/person/year in Portugal.  Amongst the most important seafood importing countries, consumption in Spain is 44.8 kg/person/year, France 34.2 kg/person/year and Italy 25.4 kg/person/year.  

Since 2006 the total EU market requirement has stabilized at around 12.5 million metric tons (MT) of seafood, with exports of 1.6 million MT.  

Imports account for 64 percent of the market (9.2 million MT), fisheries for 27 percent (3.9 million MT) and aquaculture production for just 9 percent (1.3 million MT). 

A significant proportion of seafood imports originate from non-EU aquaculture sources including Norway, Turkey and the Faroe Islands, together with non-European sources such as salmon from Chile, and shrimp and fish from Asia.

AIPCE-CEP points out that the dynamics of supply and demand are likely to alter significantly in the coming years. For instance, the current dependency on imports from Asia will come under pressure as the growing middle classes in Asian countries create larger domestic markets for products that are currently exported to the EU. In addition, consumption is predicted to increase within the EU as a result of the growing recognition that seafood plays a vital part in preventing and relieving diet-related illness.

A combination of these factors means that EU aquaculture production will need to be stepped up to fill the potential supply gap, in order to ensure food security. However, to make this happen substantial changes to both strategic and practical approaches to aquaculture development are needed.

In November, EU aquaculture producers met in Brussels at the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP) “Aquaculture in Motion’”conference, to debate how fish and shellfish farming can develop and become successful within the “Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture,” published by the European Commission in April 2013.

Participants from 20 countries discussed the guideline’s four priority areas, which are the need to simplify administrative procedures for licensing, coordination of marine spatial planning, enhancing the competitiveness of EU aquaculture, and promoting a level playing field across the EU.

The guidelines are to be used by Member States when drawing up their strategies and multi-annual plans, and whilst a few countries are well ahead with these, others have fallen behind.  In the U.K. for instance, differences in approach by the devolved administrations have led to slow progress.

Richie Flynn, from the Irish Farmers’ Association, spoke about the key performance indicators of progress, pointing out that success will bring sustainable self-sufficiency in seafood, jobs in production and processing, rural economic prosperity, the development of new technology, and guaranteed quality and food safety for the consumer. 

He feared that too many member states are drawing up their plans under duress to meet deadlines, with no real consultation with producers, and no clear actions as a result.  Flynn also questioned the rate of progress in setting up the commission’s proposed Aquaculture Advisory Council, and examined its role and effectiveness in coordinating future dialogue and progress.

In order to achieve a productive, sustainable, competitive European aquaculture sector, FEAP believes that EU and national regulators, producers, researchers and NGOs must all play their part. It acknowledges that national plans are the responsibility of each member state, but asks that Europe remain responsible for assuring a level playing field, for ensuring that clear and accurate information reaches the consumers and the media, that aquaculture products are effectively promoted, and for improving research and development throughout the industry. 

FEAP concluded that it is time for immediate and firm action, if we want future generations to eat healthy European fish.

EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki recently stated that: “EU aquaculture has a bright future ahead of it in providing consumers with high quality and healthy products from farmed shellfish, marine and freshwater fish.”  However, her words will be nothing more than the usual vague aspirations and platitudes unless the commission gets the building blocks right!


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