Aquaculture sector thriving in the European Union

The performance of the aquaculture sector in the European Union is improving across the board, with all sectors displaying strong economic growth, according to the latest report from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).

The 2018 Economic Report of the EU Aquaculture Sector is a comprehensive overview of the latest production figures, value, structure, and competitive performance of the sector at both country and E.U. level between 2008 and 2016.

Analysis shows that sales volumes amounted to 1.4 million metric tons (MT), valued at EUR 4.9 billion (USD 5.6 billion) in 2016, which was an increase of six percent in volume and eight percent in value compared to 2014. Profits doubled during this time, reaching EUR 800 million (USD 917.2 million) total in earnings before interest and tax.

Of the 28 countries making up the E.U., the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Italy, and Spain accounted for around 75 percent of aquaculture production. 

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the European Fisheries Partnership in Brussels, prior to the report being released, E.U. Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella stressed the need for sustainable fish farming to flourish and confirmed the European Union’s commitment to large-scale expansion of aquaculture by member-states.

“It is an industry that creates economic growth, employment and economic stability, especially in rural areas and along coastal areas,” Vella said.

The aquaculture sector is made up of around 12,500 companies, which are mostly micro-businesses employing less than 10 employees. The total number of employees was 73,000 in 2016, a figure that has remained stable for several years. However, one major change is a significant growth in the number of full-time equivalent people employed, which rose from 36,000 in 2013 to just under 44,000 in 2016. 

In terms of products, the analysis is broken down into marine fish, freshwater fish, and shellfish. Marine fish is the largest of these categories, with a value of EUR 2.7 billion (USD 3.1 billion) in 2016. Shellfish weighed in at EUR 1.1 billion (USD 1.3 billion) and freshwater fish at EUR 1 billion (USD 1.2 billion). 

The main species in terms of value were Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, and European sea bass. The U.K. accounted for 91 percent of the value of salmon, and Greece for 47 percent of the value of sea bream and sea bass. 

Trout production was dominated by Italy (19 percent), Denmark (17 percent) and France (14 percent). Carp, an important species in Eastern Europe, was mainly produced in Poland (24 percent), Czech Republic (23 percent) and Hungary (14 percent).

In the shellfish sector, France and Spain were the most important countries in terms of production volume and value. France accounted for 86 percent of oyster production, Spain for 45 percent of mussel production, and Italy for 80 percent of clam production. In terms of the number of businesses, Portugal was the leading country, while Spain registered the largest number of employees. 

Strong regional differences were found in the average annual wage, which was EUR 25,000 (USD 28,500) in 2016, having risen just 3.5 percent since 2014. However, the range of annual salaries varied between EUR 3,000 (USD 3,420) in Bulgaria to EUR 65,000 (USD 74,100) per year in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Under the terms of the E.U. Common Fishery Policy , member-states were required in 2014-2015 to prepare multiannual strategic plans with the aim of decreasing the E.U.’s dependence on seafood imports. Through their plans, countries were required to simplify administrative procedures, secure sustainable development and growth of aquaculture through coordinated spatial planning, enhance the competitiveness of E.U. aquaculture, and promote a level playing field for E.U. operators.

In analyzing progress on the plans, the report found that more than half of the projected actions were underway in most countries, and that all would be concluded within the deadlines set by those countries, which vary between 2020 and 2025. 

Overall, the value of aquaculture production in the E.U. is predicted to increase from EUR 2.85 billion (USD 3.25 billion) in 2013 to EUR 4.09 billion (USD 4.66 billion) by the end of 2025. Countries predicted to experience the largest increase in value through their national programs include Belgium (156 percent) Herzegovinian (132 percent), Ireland (122 percent), and Lithuania (111 percent). 

Photo courtesy of European Committee of the Regions


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