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Brussels, 8 April 2009.

Questions and answers – New impetus for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture

What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture, also known as fish farming, is to water what agriculture is to land – in other words, an aquaculture farmer rears aquatic animals or cultivates aquatic plants. European aquaculture is a very varied industry which produces marine shellfish (such as oysters and mussels), marine finfish (such as salmon and sea bass) and freshwater finfish (such as trout and carp). Cultivation of aquatic plants and algae is marginal in Europe.

EU aquaculture: facts and figures

EU aquaculture produces around 1.3 million tonnes per year. This represents 18 percent of the EU production of fisheries products (2005 figures).

Which are the main aquaculture species in the EU?

The main aquaculture species in terms of volume are blue mussel (361 000 tonnes), rainbow trout (203 000 tonnes), salmon (145 000 tonnes), cupped oyster (127 000 tonnes) and Mediterranean mussel (109 000 tonnes).

Source: Facts and figures on the CFP, 2008 edition

Which are the main aquaculture producers in the EU?

By volume, the main producers are France (258 000 tonnes), Spain (222 000 tonnes), Italy (181 000 tonnes), UK (173 000 tonnes) and Greece (106 000 tonnes).

By value, the main producers are France (555 million euro), UK (498 million euro), Italy (476 million euro), Greece (345 million euro) and Spain (280 million euro).

Source: Facts and figures on the CFP, 2008 edition

Which aquaculture products do we import to the EU?

The EU imports a wide variety of aquaculture species and products. The main ones are:

  • salmon from Norway
  • shrimps from the South East Asia and South America
  • fresh water fish such as pangasius and tilapia, primarily from South East Asia.

Which fish/seafood is farmed where in the EU ?

  • Oysters: the production is largely dominated by France. There is also production in other Member States, for instance Ireland.
  • Mussels: the top producers are Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and France.
  • Clams: the production is dominated by Italy; there is also production in Spain and Portugal and a few other Member States.
  • Trout: almost every Member State has trout farms. The main producers are Italy and France, followed by Denmark, Germany and Spain.
  • Carp: the main areas for EU production are in Central Europe. The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Germany are the biggest producers.
  • Eel: main producers are the Netherlands, Denmark and Italy.
  • Atlantic salmon: the main EU producers are the UK (Scotland) and Ireland.
  • Sea bass and sea bream: the main producer is Greece. There is also production in Spain, France and Italy.

How many jobs are created by aquaculture in the EU?

Direct employment in the aquaculture sector is approximately 65 000 full-time jobs. The vast majority of enterprises are small and medium-sized companies.

Which are the opportunities and challenges faced by the aquaculture industry?

The European aquaculture sector has access to dynamic and cutting-edge research and technologies, advanced equipment and fish feed. Thanks to the EU's high environmental and health protection standards, EU aquaculture products respect environmental protection requirements, meet high quality demands and are traceable. While these high standards put EU aquaculture at the forefront of sustainable development in the world, both in terms of social and environmental impacts, they make it more difficult to compete price-wise with third-country producers (e.g. in Asia and in South America).

Competition with imported products is therefore an important challenge. But the sector faces a number of other challenges as well. Competition for space and access to water in coastal areas and river basins are important obstacles to setting up, developing or even maintaining aquaculture production sites. Entrepreneurs have difficulty gaining access to finance and investment. Moreover, the sector remains relatively unknown to investors, public authorities and the general public, and this has an impact on its image and governance.

Why does the Commission want to boost EU aquaculture?

Aquaculture is an important food sector in the EU, which provides healthy products of high quality. It is strategically important for Europe, not least in view of our heavy reliance on imports of seafood. Aquaculture can also play an important role in economic development and job creation in some regions.

What does the Commission propose to do?

The Commission wants to give new political impetus and leadership to the sustainable development of EU aquaculture. Its initiative centres around three strategic objectives to which a number of actions are linked, which the public authorities could take to unleash the potential of the sector. The Commission aims to:

  • help make EU aquaculture more competitive – by supporting research and technological development, ensuring that the sector has access to the space and water it needs for its production and has an equal voice in spatial planning processes, enabling EU aquaculture to cope with market demands and helping the sector strengthen its position on the international scene.
  • ensure sustainable growth – by encouraging green production methods, ensuring high animal health and welfare standards, providing healthy and safe food to consumers and publicising the health benefits of aquaculture products.
  • improve the sector's image and governance – by ensuring a level playing field, reducing red tape, encouraging the dissemination of factual information to the public and the involvement of stakeholders in policy-making, and adequately monitoring the sector.

All these goals should be achieved by EU, national and regional bodies taking measures that fall within their responsibility.

What is the difference between the new initiative and the aquaculture strategy presented in 2002?

In 2002, the Commission presented a Strategy for the sustainable development of aquaculture (COM(2002)511). The measures for implementation at EU level foreseen in the Strategy have been launched. But since then a lot has changed, and not only because the EU has grown from 15 to 27 Member States. The aquaculture sector is a relatively new and fast-changing industry. The economic outlook is evolving very rapidly. Production in some parts of the world has been and still is growing strongly, but overall EU production has remained stable at around 1.3 million tonnes per year.

The 2002 strategy broadly achieved its objectives in terms of ensuring a high level of environmental protection and in providing safe aquatic food from aquaculture, while guaranteeing animal health and welfare. However, the growth of the industry foreseen in the strategy failed to materialise.

Based on an evaluation of the strategy, the Commission decided in 2007 to hold a wide-ranging consultation with stakeholders to identify both opportunities for the development of aquaculture in Europe and obstacles and bottlenecks the sector is facing. The consultation showed unanimous support in favour of a renewal strategy for aquaculture at EU level. The Commission's new initiative aims to give new impetus to the 2002 strategy, and to address the obstacles to growth faced by the industry.

Will there be concrete follow up proposals?

EU aquaculture is covered by the Common Fisheries Policy but is also closely dependent on developments in other policy areas - environment, maritime spatial planning, animal welfare, animal health, food safety, research etc. The Commission has brought together all these policies in its communication, to show the necessary measures that need to be taken at EU, national and regional level to give new impetus to the sustainable development of aquaculture. The aim is not to create new legislation specifically for aquaculture, but to give a strong political impetus to its development.

The Commission wants to make sure that the particular needs of aquaculture are taken into account in the development of sectoral legislation and seeks to address the different bottlenecks that fall under the responsibility of public authorities. The measures outlined in the Communication are mainly non-legislative and should be delivered over a period of two to four years.

The future of EU aquaculture and the future role of the EU will have to be assessed and further discussed in the preparation of the future reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and the review of EU financing instruments after 2013.

Where can I find more information about European aquaculture?

Today's Commission's communication: "Building a sustainable future for aquaculture – A new impetus for the Strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture" (COM(2009) 162) already provides some more detailed elements. This document and additional background information and analysis can be found here :

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