Looking for sustainable options?
Try fish farmed in the EU
Looking for sustainable options?
Try fish farmed in the EU
We all know that fish is packed with protein, it’s good for the heart and a rich source of vitamins and nutrients. At the same time, it is no secret that we are overfishing our seas, and are putting our fish stocks in danger.
Fish farming, or aquaculture, can help to relieve this burden on wild fishes when it comes to satisfying our ever growing demand for fish – both in the EU and worldwide. One of the world's fastest growing food sectors, fish farming accounts for about half of the fish eaten worldwide every year with that figure on the rise. Simply put, without aquaculture 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.
On top of providing us with good quality protein for our diet, aquaculture products are local – and can help to develop our local economies. In the EU we currently import 68% of the seafood we eat and only 10% of our consumption is farmed here. 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. Through its newly reformed fisheries policy and targeted financial support, the European Union will support the sector's growth, create more job opportunities, and make sure that all farmed fish produced in Europe continues to be high quality, healthy, and sustainable seafood.
Aquaculture means farming of marine food and includes the cultivation of freshwater and marine animals, as well as, more recently, different types of algae. Practised across Europe, it produces many species of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and algae. A range of different farming methods are being used fort that - including traditional ones such as ropes, nets, and tanks, or more sophisticated ones like water recirculation systems. Around half of the EU's production stems from shellfish, with mussels and oysters being the most popular, whilst marine fish such as salmon, seabream and seabass, make up about another quarter of production. Freshwater fish such as trout and carp make up about another fifth.
Just like in agriculture, the first priorities remain producing healthy food for consumers as well as protecting the welfare of the animals and respecting the environment. Fish farmers depend on clean water and sanitary living conditions. In many cases, the fish or shellfish can find the nutrients that they need in the environment but where necessary, the farmers provide additional feed to ensure a balanced and healthy diet. All of this is done in adherence to the strict European environmental and consumer protection standards so that fish farmed in the EU is sustainable, fresh, safe, locally farmed and easily traceable.
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 they can 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.
Approximately 50% of the aquaculture production in the EU are 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 also include clams, scallops, lobsters, tilapia, sturgeon (caviar), and even intensively targeted wild species such as turbot, cod and sole. The algae production is developing.
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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 on 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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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. Ultimately, sustainability is also good commercial agreement and fish farmers are at the forefront in monitoring and protecting the environment to ensure that there is no damaging impact.
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 stems from the EU or from abroad.
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. The Commission intends to assist the sector in further improving this situation.
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.
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:
The EU will make financial support available (under the so-called EMFF) 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.
Fish farming is healthy, sustainable and can help tackle overfishing and protect wild fish stocks. That was the message delivered by European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, at a specially organised event at the Seafood Expo Global held in Brussels on 7th May 2014.
Fish farming has a huge role to play in the sustainability of European and world wide fish stocks, but only 10% of EU seafood consumption is farmed in the EU and 68% is imported from third countries.
If we ate more European farmed seafood products, that would mean less pressure on wild fish stocks, less imports from outside of the EU and more jobs and growth for our communities. That was the conclusion drawn by Commissioner Damanaki and her special guests at the European Commission stand, Italian celebrity chef Gianfranco Vissani and respected Scottish chef Kevin MacGillivray.
Commissioner Damanaki said, “Our farmers take great care of their fish and shellfish all the way from tiny juveniles until they reach harvest size. Their fresh farmed fish meets not only our high consumer protection standards, but also the quality standards in taste and texture demanded by top chefs.”
The idea that sustainably farmed fish can alleviate the pressure on wild fish stocks is a vital one for the future of seafood consumption in the EU. Sustainable fish farming means producing fish and shellfish while at the same time ensuring that EU waters stay clean, and our ecosystems rich and healthy. Fish and molluscs farmed in the EU are also local, ensuring availability, more freshness and lower CO2 emissions due to transport.
‘Farmed in the EU’, a spin off the Inseparable campaign, will help highlight positive stories from the world of aquaculture, and share interesting facts and figures to challenge some of the myths about fish farming. From September, the campaign will also involve schools in 10 Member States.