Exchange of national practices

Exchange of national practices

Exchange of national practices

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Exchange of national practices


In the framework of the Open Method of Coordination the European Commission facilitates the exchange of information and good practices among Member States through a series of technical seminars.

During these seminars experts had the opportunity to exchange experiences and practices on how EU law is applied in each Member State:


Criteria and thresholds for requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive lists intensive fish farming as one of the activities for which Member States can decide whether a fully-fledged assessment is required. Criteria and thresholds for requiring a full Environmental Impact Assessment in accordance with articles 5 to 10 of the Directive are defined by the Member States.

Main criteria employed

Different criteria are sometimes combined (e.g. the main criteria may be the production volume, but different thresholds might be defined depending on the location or the farm); in some cases, the same Member State might apply different criteria depending on the type of production (e.g. production volume for marine farms, surface area for freshwater farms) or the geographical area (e.g. when competence is devolved to regional authorities, different regions might apply different criteria and/or different thresholds).

In three Member States, an EIA is always required, while in one MS no fixed criteria are defined, but the decision is taken on a case-by-case basis.


Even when the same criterion is applied, different thresholds can be defined. Thresholds for production volume range between 10 tonnes/year for freshwater farms to 3.500 tonnes/year for offshore cages. In most cases, the threshold for marine farms falls between 100 and 1.000 tonnes/year, while the threshold for freshwater farms is usually lower, between 10 and 100 tonnes/year.

Differences are less pronounced the case of surface area: for extensive farms, the threshold is usually set within a range of 5 to 50 ha, while for intensive systems the typical range is 2 to 10 ha.

The EIA Directive refers to "intensive fish farming" in its Annex II. The European Commission interprets intensive fish farming as a subset of aquaculture activities where the biomass produced is beyond that which could be naturally supported without the provision of additional feed; in accordance with the directive, it is up to the Member State to determine whether a specific type of aquaculture involves intensive techniques and is subject to screening; additionally, Member States can of course go beyond this requirement and also require other types of farming – including e.g. extensive activities not using feed, such as shellfish farming or extensive ponds – to perform an EIA.

NB: this information refers to farms located outside Natura 2000 or similar protected areas. The relevant requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directives apply to all types of aquaculture activities which might have an impact on a protected species or habitat, irrespective of whether they are intensive or extensive.

Water charges related to freshwater use

Aquaculture requires varying amounts of water depending on the aquaculture method, which in turn depends on the requirements of the species being farmed. Marine aquaculture, representing about 75% of EU seafood production, including shellfish, is not considered in this context.

Article 9 of the Water Framework Directive concerning the recovery of costs for water services is the basis for the charges, where they exist. The directive states that Member States should take account of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services, including environmental and resource costs in accordance with the polluter pays principle and relevant economic analysis. Member States may decide not to apply these provisions on the basis that the water use does not deteriorate the quality of the resource.

Out of 17 Member States providing information on water charging structures, 9 Member States have charges in place for freshwater use in aquaculture; some implement discharge fees in addition or as an alternative to charges for water provision. These fees are associated with dissolved and suspended matter in the water at the discharge point and they represent another key part of some Member States' water management approach. They can also offset the charges paid for water provision (e.g. by installing a particular type of filter at the discharge the charges for water input can be reduced). In most cases, Member States that did not provide detailed information either do not implement water charges or have a low volume of freshwater aquaculture production.

The following criteria are used by MS implementing water charges:

  • By volume of water required
  • By flow rate (m3/sec)
  • By volume drained
  • By feed quantity declared
  • By fish production volume
  • By the content and concentration of certain materials in the water discharged

Water use in freshwater aquaculture in the EU falls broadly into two categories. Extensive farming in ponds (e.g. carp) and intensive farming (e.g. trout) in recirculating or flow through systems.

Intensive flow-through aquaculture systems, which are often used for trout, require large volumes of water for operation. However, it should be noted that their impact on the water resource remains low; these facilities typically divert a portion of the flow from a natural river, which then flows through the growing area before being filtered and returned to the river again. Unlike other uses of water (e.g. irrigation), the full volume of water diverted is returned again after filtering, so that the actual impact on the flow of the river is very limited. Since the typical charging models are based on the volume and/or the flow rate of the water provided to the facility, this type of aquaculture potentially faces the most significant charges for water use if the return of the diverted water (discharge) is not taken into account by the charging model.

Intensive recirculation systems may also divert water from existing water bodies, but they make highly efficient use of water, thanks to continuous filtering and cleaning. They require very little water input after the initial or occasional filling of the system. The low demands on fresh water resources from these systems mean that any water charges in place have a limited impact on business costs.

An important factor which appears to influence the setting of water charges at the national level is the relative abundance of freshwater in northern European Member States compared to the southern European Member States. The requirement for a continuous flow of water under tighter resource constraints seems to make the impact of water charges greatest for flow-through aquaculture in southern Member States.

This summary was compiled from water charges information provided by Member States

NB: the information presented on this page has been collected on a voluntary basis to facilitate discussions and exchange of experiences. This document cannot under any circumstances be regarded as the official position of the European Commission or any Member State. Neither the European Commission nor any Member State takes any responsibility, nor are liable for any error or omission.