Original publication: October 2014
Authors: Alistair Lane, European Aquaculture Society (EAS)
Courtney Hough, Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP)
John Bostock, University of Stirling Institute of Aquaculture (UoS).
Assistance with data analysis: Koji Yamamoto, University of Stirling Institute of Aquaculture (UoS)
Assistance through peer review: Francis Murray, University of Stirling Institute of Aquaculture (UoS)
Trevor Telfer, University of Stirling Institute of Aquaculture (UoS)
Short link to this post:  http://bit.ly/2KI9hfn
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The Long-Term Economic and Ecologic Impact of Larger Sustainable Aquaculture

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European aquaculture is a diverse activity that covers the production of finfish, shellfish and other aquatic species, including algae, in both freshwater and marine conditions.

Over the last decade, EU aquaculture has seen little or no volume growth (estimated at 0.5% APR), compared to estimated global aquaculture growth of 7% APR over the same period. Bottlenecks and factors inhibiting growth have been identified in the EC Communication on the “Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of EU Aquaculture” that sets out actions to overcome the challenges to sustainable growth.

This study addresses the long-term economic and ecologic impact of an increased EU aquaculture sector.

Section 1 of the study provides an overview of the current status of aquaculture for 4 sub-sectors – coldwater marine, warmwater marine, freshwater and shellfish. Apart from reviewing production data, the study presents the principal technologies and estimates the proportion of 2012 aquaculture production volume of 1.266.045 tonnes, by sub-sector and by technology, in the following table.

Recent reports and consultation with producers have identified the main issues for growth in economic, environmental social and market challenges, assigning the importance of each challenge to the sub-sectors.

2012 EU aquaculture production by production technology

2012 EU aquaculture production by production technology

Principal challenges for the development of EU aquaculture sectors

As identified by the study authors

Principal challenges for the development of EU aquaculture sectors

Climate change is also seen as a potential hazard, as are new diseases. The European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATiP) identified additional strategic risks, including; structuring to avoid boom-bust conditions and unfair competition; adapting policies to understand and incorporate aquaculture; addressing public perceptions and responding to consumer concerns and inadequate financial capacity of SMEs and family firms.

Section 2 provides growth forecasts up to 2030 for EU aquaculture including developments in production technologies, feeds and jobs, which are based on the EATiP 2012 Vision document due to late delivery of national aquaculture strategies.

For coldwater marine species, growth is foreseen to be 100% by 2030, meaning 4% per year over the period, based on solid markets and achievement of potential, representing an additional 192.000 tonnes and a value increase of 587 M€; an increased feed demand of 173.000 tonnes is seen. Similar growth trends are predicted for warmwater marine species, where a production forecast of 240.000 tonnes is made for these species, providing increases in value of 1.200 M€ and feed demand of 160.000 tonnes. Production growth in the freshwater sub-sector is lower at 40%, which is 1.5% per year. Volume growth is 144.000 tonnes providing a value increase of 487 M€ and with an additional feed requirement of 62.000 tonnes. Finally, shellfish production growth is projected at 30% by 2030, an annual growth rate of 1.3%/year, and an additional volume of 197.000 tonnes valued at 427 M€.

Within these forecasts, productivity improvements due to technology, management and feed quality are anticipated for each sector.

The total increase in volume from 2010 to 2030 is therefore 772.000 tonnes in volume (+56%), with a corresponding value increase of 2.7 billion euros and requiring an additional 395.000 tonnes of feeds. For some sectors, new sites will be required for this increase. In others, better use of existing sites with acceptable footprint principle will be evident.

The use of fish protein and fish oils and their partial substitution by terrestrial plants is reviewed. The EU consumption of fishmeal and fish oil for aquaculture feed is estimated to be 3.3% and 8.1% respectively of global use for aquaculture. For both commodities, EU production exceeds the amount used by the EU aquafeed industry at present.

If aquaculture feeds are increasingly sourced from terrestrial materials, this will have implications for land and freshwater requirements, raising issues on biodiversity and other environmental concerns, including the environmental footprint of (EU) aquaculture. Comparative resource use by aquaculture is considered briefly, concluding salmon to be highly competitive with beef and pork and more efficient than chicken.

An ecological impact assessment matrix has been developed, based upon various methodologies reviewed in the literature. The technologies and productions systems have been ranked according to expected growth and associated impact issues. Highest growth is expected in large cage systems in exposed sites and coastal, suspended culture (molluscs). While Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) is expected to increase, economic sustainability will need to be reinforced.

Additional feed requirements for EU aquaculture in 2030 would only exceed EU fish meal fish and fish oil supply if all of the FMFO were sourced in the EU but this is not the case. The potential use of PAPs, GM oil seeds and other marine sources would further reduce any impact on EU fish stocks. If EU aquaculture did not grow, then EU FMFO would be diverted to produce fish and shrimp in 3rd countries, returning to EU consumers in these forms.

Placement of substitutable products on the market (e.g. cod, turbot, sole and potentially tuna) probably has more impact on EU aquaculture than it does on EU fisheries.

Section 3 looks at economic considerations and public support to the sector. Of the €1.24 billion programmed under the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) Axis 2 (2007-2013), only €518 million (43%) had been committed across all Member States in 2011. Delays in EFF implementation included limited co-financing and a late launch, mainly due to delays in validating the Operating Programmes. Under Axis 2, aquaculture represented 27%, inland fishing less than 1% while fish processing and marketing had the vast majority with  72%.

Based on the categorisation of the sector, expert interviews, reports and dedicated workshops on future scenarios for European aquaculture, an estimation of the trends in technology use by 2030 is summarised as:

  • A productivity/competitiveness drive toward larger cages, particularly offshore, as an increasing trend for both Mediterranean and Coldwater farming.
  • A stagnation or decline in coastal pond aquaculture, principally because of lower yields and space availability.
  • An increase in indoor recirculation systems for marine hatcheries and nurseries but less likely for final ongrowing due to cost comparison with cage production.
  • Stable or increasing freshwater pond production, dependent on market demand, diversification and recognition of environmental services.
  • Probable decline in intensive freshwater flow-through systems, due to market demand, water availability and diversification towards specialised markets.
  • An increase in freshwater recirculation systems, notably for high-value species and for those that can be produced at high density.
  • A continued domination of supported/suspended cultivation systems for shellfish production, with further decreases in bottom culture techniques.

Increased activity is foreseen for multi-trophic aquaculture systems, where species are combined (e.g. salmon, seaweeds, mussels…) within a complementary area so as to best use space and to mitigate environmental impact.

The last section addresses policy issues. Few individual Member States have policies on aquaculture development, so the CFP remains central. The major effects of public policies are related to the environment, water use, disease treatment and control and food safety. Furthermore, aquaculture is an evident component of many recent and new European strategies, including Blue Growth and the Bioeconomy. The reformed CFP will contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The key issues relating to the sustainable development of European aquaculture are addressed in the new CFP but, in many cases, implementation is dependent on national and local motivation and decision, particularly for licensing. Assuring the coherence of multi- annual national strategic plans should provide the basis of these positions, although local authorities, where licencing issues are generally decided, will be involved in implementation.

Challenges for SMEs include the cost and time of obtaining licences, investments in working capital and modernisation, access to skilled employees in remote areas, and having sufficient information to support market strategies and pricing over long production cycles.

Policy recommendations include the need to quantify multi-annual strategies, providing a clearer growth forecast with adaptations to  the Data Collection Framework, assessment and quantification of the environmental services provided by aquaculture, uniform availability of vaccines, therapeutic agents and other products required for fish welfare and a clear allocation for aquaculture within the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) independent of the importance of fisheries in Member States.

Aims and approach

This study provides an assessment of the impact of increased growth of the European aquaculture sector, by identifying the challenges to growth and how these may be overcome. It comprises 4 main chapters – the current status of EU aquaculture and the challenges to achieve robust growth; the consequences of a larger EU aquaculture sector; economic considerations and public support to the sector and sustainable development criteria and public policy measures.

The general approach was to provide an assessment of the current production of finfish and shellfish (in the sub-sectors of coldwater marine fish culture, warmwater marine fish culture, freshwater culture and shellfish cultivation), accounting for diversity in terms of geographical location, cultivated species, technologies for production and emerging species with strong potential. Based upon FAO national and species production statistics, the authors selected 11 technologies for marine and freshwater production of the most important finfish and shellfish species. Production data for 2012 by country and by species was then categorised into each of these technologies, so as to provide new data on the most used production technologies. Consultation with the sector, supported by the Vision document of the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATiP), was used to identify the core challenges – economic, environmental, social and market – and to rank each in terms of their importance to each of the above sub-sectors.

In the absence of specific data for aquaculture development for Member States, resulting from a delay in the adoption of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (and with the unlikeliness that all plans will be received before October), the future growth of the aquaculture sector is based upon the growth scenarios developed by EATiP. These growth scenarios are based upon expected developments (increase, stagnation or decline) in production volumes for each of the major species in each sub-sector, and linked to expected developments in production efficiency, and feed use. The growth forecasts are complemented by linking them to the identified challenges.

The use of marine proteins and oils in aquaculture feeds is summarised by the authors and based on current literature. A detailed description explains the partial replacement of marine proteins and oils over recent years by terrestrial plants and the potential use of other feed ingredients such as non-ruminant processed animal protein, GM plants, algae, bacteria and krill. The EU fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) market is described with predictions on how an increased demand for FMFO would impact this.

Various methodologies and examples of environmental impact indictor identification and assessment have been brought together and presented by the authors. On this basis, an impact ranking system has been developed for each of the production technologies. Predicted growth in the use of these technologies up to 2030 has enabled the identification of environmental issues that will accompany this growth. Available information on the uptake of public subsidies in the sector (mainly the European Fisheries Fund – EFF) has looked to identify technologies that have benefited from this support.

The final chapter reviews the major public policy measures to support sustainable growth and provides recommendations for policy makers.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/529-084

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