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.