Aquaculture vital for plugging the gap in the EU’s seafood needs

05 Jun 2013

Aquaculture has a vital role to play in helping the EU to meet its demand for seafood, but expansion of the industry in Europe is hampered by bureaucratic inefficiency.

For example, it can take seven years to get a licence for a new aquaculture farm in an EU country, compared with just six months in Norway, says Viktoria Varga Lences, DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission.

Meanwhile, she added, obtaining a licence for a new agriculture farm in the EU takes 4-6 months and even for an offshore wind farm it only takes 18 months. The waiting time to obtain a licence for a new fish or shellfish farm should be no more than one month, she argued.

Viktoria Varga Lences was giving the keynote address on the second day of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain’s 44th annual conference which was held at Fishmongers’ Hall in London from 21-22 of May.

In her address, Viktoria Varga Lences said that (in 2010) aquaculture production in the EU accounted for 1.3 million tonnes of fish and shellfish worth €3.1 billion, and provided 80,000 direct jobs. Fifty per cent of production was shellfish, 28% was marine finfish and 22% was freshwater finfish.

However, domestic aquaculture produced just 10% of the EU’s seafood consumption, she said; a massive 65% of the seafood required by its 500 million or so consumers was imported. Capture fisheries produced 25% of EU seafood consumption and the gap between landings and consumption was widening.

Seventy-five per cent of EU fish stocks are overfished, according to Viktoria Varga Lences. “The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform [which was being negotiated at the time of writing] aims to ensure that EU fish stocks are replenished and fished sustainably,” she said. “However, even at maximum sustainable yields, capture fisheries alone will not meet our growing seafood demand.”

Filling the gap
Aquaculture is seen as a means of filling the gap and there will be other benefits too. In addition to lessening the EU’s dependence on imports, Viktoria Varga Lences said that aquaculture expansion would create much needed jobs in both coastal and inland areas.

“With current labour productivity, every 1% of our seafood consumption produced by EU aquaculture will help create 3-4000 full-time jobs. This will have an important local impact in mostly coastal and rural areas.”

In addition to direct jobs, boosting aquaculture production in the EU will lead to additional jobs being created in areas such as processing, she said.

While aquaculture production in the EU has been stagnating, in other areas of the world such as Asia it has been booming. Indeed, the EU is importing more and more aquaculture products such as warmwater shrimp and freshwater fish from Asia.

To overcome the challenges facing the aquaculture sector, the European Commission has drawn up a set of strategic guidelines. A mix of measures has been identified such as administrative simplification, spatial planning, market organisation, diversification, better labelling and information.

The Commission will also establish an Advisory Council for Aquaculture, a consultation body which will bring together all relevant stakeholders to provide legitimate, reliable and useful recommendations to policy-makers.

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