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Farmed in the EU

Farmed in the EU

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Fish farmed in the EU: a healthy, fresh and local alternative

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.

Farmed fish is local fish

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.

How fish farming works

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.

Why do we need fish farming in the first place?

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.

What are the major species farmed in the EU?

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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How are fish farmed?

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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Is it true that aquaculture can damage the environment?

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.

Is farmed fish really as healthy as wild fish?

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.

It takes more than one kg of wild fish to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. So does it make sense to feed farmed fish with wild fish?

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.

What is the EU doing to support aquaculture?

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:

  • high quality, health and environmental standards.
  • improving access to space and water
  • reducing administrative burdens for the sector
  • increasing competitiveness

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.

Event in Brussels

Seafood Expo Global held in Brussels on May 7, 2014

Event in Milan

Event to Promote European Aquaculture held on May 22, 2015

FARMED IN THE EU, School Project - Learning about European Aquaculture

It may be the fastest growing sector in food production worldwide, but aquaculture, or fish farming, remains surprisingly unknown to many outside of the industry.

The “Farmed in the EU” school project has been designed to raise awareness of the aquaculture sector among Europe’s teenagers (12-18 years old). The project will bring students closer to fish farming and find out how it affects their local community. They will explore its role in food production and in preserving the environment. And they'll discover the different business and career opportunities aquaculture offers.

There is plenty of scope for student research and discovery of the different marine and freshwater fish, molluscs, crustaceans and algae which are produced and the different traditional and more modern production methods used.

The project is currently being piloted in 20 schools across 10 EU countries (Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom).

It’s back to school for aquaculture producers

A key part of the project is an on-site visit by a local fish farmer, providing students with the opportunity to talk to an expert, to build on their own research, and to take part in a fun and interactive visitor session.

A project kit has been designed for teachers to give you everything you need to help them plan and run the project, from the first lesson, through the visit, to the follow up activities which can focus on anything from Nutrition & Cooking, Science & Technology, or Communication and Arts. 


Get Involved

All schools are encouraged to participate.
The material produced by your students will be regularly posted on our social media accounts.

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School Kit

More details about this project can be found in this booklet.

Please note that no costs can be covered by the European Union.