EU’s Aquaculture Advisory Council advocating for small-scale producers

Ola Öberg, president of the Swedish producer organization Recirkfisk.

The E.U. has long given its due to artisanal and small-scale fisheries, with high-level consideration to their contribution to human wellbeing, food provision, and environmental stewardship, as well as the challenges they face from climate, economic, and political changes. But the same understanding is not extended to small-scale aquaculture, according to Ola Öberg, president of the Swedish producer organization Recirkfisk, whose membership includes farmers of species including sturgeon, eel, Arctic char and trout.

Öberg heads up the European Union’s Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC), which In December 2022, delivered a series of recommendations to the European Commission on ways it can better support small-scale aquaculturists.

Öberg told SeafoodSource the E.C. needs to reconsider its efforts to support and protect small-scale aquaculture, in the manner similar to its approach to artisanal fishing. He called for a more-equitable approach that would create a more level playing field in terms of fair consultations on issues of relevance to the sector, including funding decisions.

“The participation of small-scale fisheries is encouraged, but there is no such provision for small-scale aquaculture farms. We highlighted this to the commission, who suggested that we come up with a recommendation on the definition and realities of small-scale aquaculture,” Öberg said.

The recommendation, which took over a year to draft and receive consensus approval from the AAC’s membership, defines small-scale aquaculture as “enterprises employing fewer than 10 people and with an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total not exceeding EUR 2 million [USD 2.2 million].”

Within the document, recommendations were made to both the E.C. and member-states. For the commission, recommendations include setting up a study to assess how a mix of different scales of aquaculture primary production would contribute best to societal values; supporting professional organizations to increase an exchange of competencies between small-scale producers in different member-states; acknowledging innovations and valuing applied research undertaken at farm level by farmers; valuing applied research at the same level as other published research to enhance career opportunities for researchers; and enhancing the dissemination of E.U. research so that small-scale producers can access and understand it. Support also needs to be given to producer organizations to help them inform small-scale producers about the benefits of engaging more in events and dissemination activities.

For E.U. member-states, the group’s recommendations included involving the AAC in defining the type of data to be collected and analyzed by the E.U. Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), and supporting producer organizations to increase hands-on competence exchange between primary producers.

In setting out the rationale for their definition and recommendations, the AAC said the small-scale aquaculture primary producers face higher production costs per kilogram of product and deliver value for society in terms of paying taxes, providing jobs and food security, producing quality food, gastronomical and biological diversity, cultural values, and a positive climate impact.

“I wanted to highlight the value of small-scale farmers and their contribution to society, because they do a good job that is not always recognized,” Öberg told SeafoodSource. “In Sweden, our aquaculture industry is mostly small-scale, but we work under the same regulations and expectations as our neighbor Norway, which is the largest salmon-farming country in the world. Our entire output makes up just 1 percent of Norway’s, so we cannot compete on volume or price, but [must] work within a niche.”

According to the AAC, there are more than 39,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) people employed in aquaculture in the E.U., working in 15,000 individual enterprises. More than 80 percent of these are micro-enterprises, often family-run, employing less than 10 employees. In the shellfish farming sector, almost 99 percent are micro-enterprises. Such jobs add value to local society and cannot be decentralized due to the nature of fish and shellfish farming, Öberg said.

Small-scale fish and shellfish farmers are required to multitask, undertaking everything from planning, husbandry, production, harvesting, packing, maintenance, sales, marketing, grant applications, and finance. Generating regular cashflow to buy feed, energy, and other supplies is often difficult and producers are leaving the industry, Öberg said.

 “Small pond farms have suffered economically and disappeared at an alarming tempo, with a decrease of up to 90 percent in some regions in the last 20 years,” the AAC said. This has a negative effect on the cultural landscape, natural ecosystem, and biodiversity.

One of the major burdens for fish farmers is keeping up with the intricacies of E.U. legislation and  completing related paperwork to show compliance. Such activity includes licensing, animal health and welfare, staff health and safety, product safety and traceability, food safety, environmental control, veterinary inspections, certification audits, and maintaining farm statistics.

“Unfortunately, administrative costs are not size-dependent,” Öberg said. “Acknowledgement of our issues and a more level playing field would help to restore the balance.”

Photo courtesy of Ola Öberg/LinkedIn


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