The future of EU aquaculture: a growing and promising sector challenged by recurrent issues

Tuesday 19 December 2017

On the 21st of November, an exchange of view took place during the Committee on Fisheries of the European Parliament on the report ‘Towards a sustainable and competitive European aquaculture sector: current status and future challenges’, which will be drafted by MEP Carlos Iturgaiz (Spain, EPP). In his speech, Mr Iturgaiz highlighted the importance of aquaculture in the European Union and some of the drawbacks this sector currently encounters.

In the European Union, aquaculture represents 20 % of the fish production, and around 85 000 people are directly employed by this sector[1]. Aquaculture is often seen as a solution to the depletion of our oceans and to overfishing[2]. The European Union is nevertheless only the 8th aquaculture producer in the world with 1,25 million of tonnes produced each year, behind countries such as Indonesia or India.[3]

The EU never adopted a specific legislation addressed to aquaculture comparable to the one in place for the fisheries sector. Aquaculture is driven by guidelines or general strategies, which leave space for each Member State regarding the implementation of the rules. In 2013, the European Commission adopted Strategic Guidelines and pointed out four priority areas to focus on, notably the administrative burden, the lack of competitiveness of the European sector, linked to the high standards with whom European producers need to comply[4].

During the debate, different MEPs reiterated the need to tackle these priorities, as they remain major issues for the sector. Indeed, the administrative burden is still the most significant problem of aquaculture, with complex and long procedures for producers to get licences and authorizations. Besides, the lack of competitiveness of the European sector has also been mentioned and it is mainly due to the fact that European products are more expensive than the ones originating from third countries. Higher prices are due to the very high labour, environmental and quality standards, with which European producers need to comply. Nowadays, around 57 % of the aquaculture products consumed in the European Union are imported from third countries[5]. In the meantime, these high standards ensure the quality of the European products to consumers. In 2016, Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, highlighted the high quality of the European products and was optimistic about decreasing imports in the coming years.[6]

Over the next 10 years we can increase the value of the EU aquaculture sector by 30% - without compromising on our environmental standards. We can reduce our dependence on imports – currently 65% of the fish we eat. We can revive European regions, and create well-paid European jobs.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

During the debate, it was also stated that, because of all these issues, the EU aquaculture production is stagnating while seafood consumption is increasing. However, several MEPs highlighted the growing importance of this sector and its significant potential. In particular, MEP Werner Kuhn mentioned aquaponics as an interesting and innovative system that deserves to be supported by research and innovation funding. A representative of the European Commission also pointed out the need to innovate in this sector, and agreed on the fact that aquaponics could represent a sustainable solution.

Aquaculture is a significant sector with great growing potential in the coming years. This report could be a ‘push’ to finally adopt an EU legislation on aquaculture and harmonize the sector in order to develop its full potential.


[2] For more information, see a previous article published on AliénorEU website:





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