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European Commission


Brussels, 7 May 2014

Questions and Answers about fish farming in the EU

One of the world's fastest growing food sectors, aquaculture accounts for about half of the fish eaten worldwide every year. Without fish farming there would not be enough fish to feed the world population. This would mean having to take more fish from our seas and jeopardising the long term sustainability of our wild fish stocks.

How are fish farmed?

Shellfish such as mussels and oysters are grown on ropes, poles or table-like structures. They require clean water to feed on the nutrients suspended in the water. Marine fish such as salmon and sea bass are farmed in large net pens suspended from the sea's surface. Freshwater fish such as trout are usually farmed in a series of tanks through which river water is diverted. Other freshwater fish such as carp are farmed in large lakes and ponds.

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What are the major species farmed in the EU?

Approximately 50% of the aquaculture production in the EU is shellfish. Mussels and oysters are the most popular shellfish. Marine fish such as salmon, sea bream and sea bass represent about 27% of our fish farm produce whilst freshwater fish such as trout and carp account for 23% of fish farmed in the EU. The species farmed in the EU are very diverse and include clams, scallops, lobsters, and sturgeon (caviar). Algae production is a developing sector.

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Why do we need fish farming in the first place?

Eating fish is good for your health, but there are not enough wild fish and shellfish to meet existing demand. Sustainable fishing goes hand-in-hand with fish farming. Only together can they produce enough fish to meet the demands of the growing global population without jeopardising the long term future of our wild fish stocks.

In the EU we rely on imports for 68% of the seafood we eat. A significant proportion of which comes from fish farms. Only 10% of our consumption is farmed in the EU. Bringing more farmed fish to our plates means less pressure on wild fish stocks, less reliance on imports, and more jobs and growth in our local economies.

How big is fish farming in the EU?

More than 80,000 people are already directly employed in European aquaculture, and this figure is expected to grow as more and more of our seafood is provided by EU fish farmers

European Union aquaculture produces around 1.25 million tonnes, more than 20 % of total EU fisheries production, with a total value of EUR 3.6 billion. Its share of total world aquaculture production is 1.5 % in terms of volume and just under 4 % in terms of value

The EU is also a major consumption market of seafood products in the world with 12.3 million tonnes consumed in 2011. Per capita EU consumption is 24.5 kg.

Seafood consumption varies a lot from one Member State to the other. Northern Member States are more focused on processed fish while Southern Member States still favour fresh products and devote a larger part of household expenditures to fish.

What is the EU doing to support aquaculture?

Through its recently reformed Common Fisheries Policy the EU will prioritise support to the aquaculture sector. A recent set of published guidelines present the common priorities and general objectives for Europe's fish farming sector. Four priority areas were identified:

  • high quality, health and environmental standards

  • improving access to space and water

  • reducing administrative burdens

  • increasing competitiveness

The EU will make financial support available to make sure that fish farmers have the best possible conditions in which to operate and be successful in. The EU will also invest in research on the interactions with the environment, on health and nutrition of farmed fish, and on reproduction and breeding – all key elements for the sustainable development of European aquaculture.

Is farmed fish really as healthy as wild fish?

EU legislation sets strict rules, including maximum levels for contaminants, to ensure that our food is safe. These limits are the same for both farmed and wild fish whilst a strict system of official controls ensures that only healthy food arrives on our tables whether it comes from the EU or from abroad.

Is it true that aquaculture can damage the environment?

Like any other human activity, aquaculture must be managed sustainably and responsibly. Like any kind of food producers, fish farmers are bound by environmental and health standards. The EU's environmental standards are among the strictest and most effective in the world. But fish farmers must also play a wider proactive role in protecting the environment: for instance aquaculture ponds help preserve important natural landscapes and habitats for wild birds and other endangered species.

Shellfish contribute to cleaner coastal waters by absorbing nutrients which could otherwise damage water quality when they are present in too high concentrations. Ultimately, sustainability is also good business and fish farmers are at the forefront in monitoring and protecting the environment to ensure that there is no damaging impact.

It takes more than one kg of wild fish to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. So does it make sense to feed farmed fish with wild fish?

The fact that carnivorous fish such as salmon depend on wild fish for feed inevitably presents a challenge for sustainable aquaculture. By improving the availability and use of alternatives, and increasing feed efficiency, the amount of wild fish consumed per kilo of farmed fish produced is continuously decreasing. In addition to sustainability considerations, there is also a clear economic incentive for farmers to reduce the use of wild fish used, as this is one of their main production costs.

However, it is worth remembering that half of the EU aquaculture production in volume comes from shellfish, which do not need any additional feed. Non-carnivorous fish such as carp also figure in the mix.

More information

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