Good morning and welcome to this event organised by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions.

And thank you for having travelled all the way to Brussels from a vast number of European regions to show support for your regional aquaculture activities.

Two years ago, I addressed an aquaculture audience here in Brussels, but at that time the focus was at the national level. Since then Member States have been working to improve the conditions for aquaculture development. Momentum has been built with changes in national laws and EMFF investments coming on stream. There is growing political and media attention for aquaculture thorough the Food from the Ocean report and again now with the Parliament's own initiative report on aquaculture.

This momentum needs to be passed on to ensure support on the ground at regional level. Practical knowledge and expertise for setting the right conditions to support aquaculture is specific to each region.

Today we bring together successful European aquaculture regions – and regions who want to follow this example. To show that choosing your fish responsibly from your local farmers is not only the best option for you - fresh, local and high quality, but is fully compatible with building towards a more sustainable future.

The big picture is that the global population is expected to be nearly 10 billion by 2050. How will we feed them without putting intolerable strain on our natural environment?

That is why I asked the High Level Scientists to produce the Food from the Oceans report.

The answer lies in farming our seafood. Of course we must continue our work on sustainable wild fisheries, but if we are to get more seafood, it has to come from farming.

The best solution? Plan ahead now to provide more fish in a sustainable, responsible way. Start small, at local and regional scale. Collectively we can farm more fish while preserving and improving our waters and biodiversity. We can reduce our reliance on imported farmed fish, where environmental credentials may not match our strict standards.  At the local scale, it offers citizens high quality, sustainable seafood while supporting local businesses and communities, and at a global scale, we would consume fish with less "food miles" and greater assurance about production standards.

The Food From the Ocean report also highlights that not only can we get more food while preserving the oceans, we can also take steps to mitigate problems like ocean acidification and climate change. Shellfish and seaweed offer smart eco-friendly materials for coastal protection and preserving water quality. The biomass they generate, as well as being food, is ideal input for the tiny, but rapidly expanding blue bioeconomy sector. Thanks to world leading EU funded research in recent years; this sector is spinning out many new high-tech business right here in our regions. They are producing things like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food additives from fish and plants farmed in our waters. This is yet another aspect we can embrace to bring jobs and growth to our rural communities. But it is essential that the right conditions are in place, locally, to help these fledgling businesses.

We will hear more after lunch from the authors of the report and also from innovative aqua-businesses like aquaponics and algae farming on how we need to align ourselves to farm seafood for the future.

In recent years, we have been hard at work at national level, working closely with national authorities to remove barriers to growth. Long licencing procedures and high administrative burdens; difficulties in finding appropriate sites; – all too often barriers like these continue to hold potential fish farmers back.

The good news is that at National level, the authorities are taking steps to cut red tape. These actions are already showing some effects. After more than a decade of stagnation, EU aquaculture is finally showing signs of economic growth. Our latest analysis shows a 4% growth in volume and an 8% growth in value between 2014 and 2015. In fact, by 2015, the sector was farming more fish and generating more value than ever before, building on profits of over 400 million euro in 2014.

As an example of what has been happening at national level, and in addition to the regional examples we will see later today;  

  • The Netherlands, are making life easier for aquaculture producers with online licencing applications
  • Austria has published guidelines on licensing procedures, especially to support new applicants.
  • Ireland has reviewed its licencing procedures with changes expected to follow.
  • New legislation specific to aquaculture licencing is already going through the national parliaments in Croatia, Portugal and Italy.
  • Scotland has an exemplary online aquaculture portal.
  • Estonia's Fisheries Centre is organising training and events to support aquaculture producers.

And a number of countries are really advancing on Maritime Spatial Planning. Spain's interactive online mapping system, with puts aquaculture to the fore, is a great example of this.

We have also launched a mid-term review of our coordination work with the Member States that has helped bring about these and other changes. Member States are also reviewing their own progress towards their objectives in their aquaculture plans.

In the meantime, the challenge now lies at the regional level. We need to make sure momentum is passed to the regions to adapt to the changes coming on stream at national level. Planning and licensing decisions at local and regional level can be greatly facilitated by an active regional authority. The knowledge and expertise of the local authority, when adapted to the new, smoother frameworks should help to make good, efficient decisions and unlock new licences to set up or expand farms.

It would be remiss of me to say that this is not already happening at regional level. It is. Last year Côtes-d’Armor in France issued its first aquaculture licence in 22 years. It was for a mixed trout and algae farm. Finally, some new licences are entering the market here, and I might add, for fish farming that is fully in tune with management of the ecosystem.

There are plenty of other regions supporting aquaculture in many different ways. In Braila, Romania for example, they recently set up a restaurant and fish farm with recreational facilities on the same site. This is such a simple concept that it works well, the same thing happens in many other regions around the EU - quality fish, served fresh on-site.

These are great examples of farming, which are in tune with the environment and in tune with local communities. FARNET, the Fisheries Areas Network, are doing great work in this area,helping communities to embrace aquaculture. Small steps and active Community Led Local Development are what make all the difference. We will hear more form FARNET after lunch, as well as more successful regional examples later this morning.

There are two documents available here today which we hope will make like easier at local level when understanding and applying the EU rules that impact the issuing of licences. There is guidance on the application of the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in relation to aquaculture.

And there is an infographic, with the Farmed in the EU logo, indicating what EU rules must be respected and who the local contact points are for their implementation.

These documents are available in all EU languages for anyone to access on our EU Aquaculture Online website. I encourage you to download them, develop them, and distribute them. Transparency in the topics these documents cover will go a long way to providing better certainty, efficiency and good decision making.

We are also continuing with our 'Farmed in the EU' campaign which many regions have adopted. You might have seen the promotional video on the screens when you arrived this morning. This campaign has been – and continues to be – a real success. Through Farmed in the EU, schoolchildren are discovering their love for tasty and healthy locally farmed fish.

Spain was the first country to launch its national 'Farmed in the EU' campaign off the back of our EU-wide campaign. And I'm looking forward to seeing a similar success story of the planned 'Farmed in the EU' campaigns in Ireland and Croatia later this year.

The EMFF provides 1.2 billion euro exclusively for aquaculture. This money is there to help farms invest, grow, become more innovative and efficient, and also to help attract more private investment. This is complemented by EU funded research on topics like feed efficiency, breeding, environmental management and innovative technologies.

I am confident that as investment gathers pace, research continues to be applied, and with local conditions becoming more supportive, we could see 25% growth by 2020. This is the global target Member States set by laying down their national targets in their aquaculture plans in 2014. The key is to follow with real action at regional level.

The planning, authorisation and ultimately the success of aquaculture in the EU lie in the hands of our regions and Member States. I would like you to think how the success stories shown here today could be replicated in your region; how you can support these local businesses.

This is what will ensure more food from our oceans, rivers and ponds as sustainably as possible. It can help change societies' mind set towards eating and living more responsibly, preserving our natural resources and it can bring new jobs and circulate more money in local communities.

I hope the successes of others discussed today will inspire you and will help further stimulate fish farming where it takes place: not in Brussels, not in national capitals, but in your home region, close to you.

Thank you.



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