European aquaculture offers good quality products, respecting strict environmental health and consumer protection standards. The excellent quality of EU seafood should constitute a major competitive advantage for EU aquaculture. However, EU production is stagnating, in contrast with strong growth in other regions of the world.
In 2010, the value of EU aquaculture production was € 3.1 billion. 22% of the volume behind came from freshwater aquaculture. When we look at our total seafood consumption, 25% comes from EU fisheries, 10% from EU aquaculture and 65% from imports.
Each percentage point of current EU consumption produced internally through aquaculture would help create between 3,000 and 4,000 full-time jobs. Aquaculture represents a relatively small part of the EU economy but it has the potential to boost growth and jobs in EU coastal and inland areas. The numbers can be larger depending on how we could see the implications for processing jobs as well. For the Commission, aquaculture is one of the pillars of the EU's Blue Growth Strategy.
* * *
The proposal for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform and the accompanying financial proposal (EMFF) both aim to promote sustainable aquaculture. A new mechanism that we will introduce is the open method of coordination. This is a voluntary process for cooperation based on Strategic Guidelines and multiannual national strategic plans identifying common objectives and, where possible, indicators to measure progress towards these goals.
This meeting today is well timed. In the coming weeks the Commission will publish Strategic Guidelines for the promotion of aquaculture, defining what we see as the main challenges and priorities for the sector. The Guidelines will define general objectives and a strategic framework that will help national and local authorities work together to help aquaculture achieve its potential. Member States will be asked to prepare national aquaculture plans, taking into consideration the specific starting conditions, challenges and potential in each country. We will then help them coordinate their activities and exchange best practices and know-how.
We have identified four key challenges for aquaculture in the Guidelines. We need to reduce the administrative burden and uncertainties for aquaculture producers. We need to facilitate access to space and water. We need to increase the sector's competitiveness and we need to help ensuring a level playing field by exploiting EU aquaculture's competitive advantages. These objectives are relevant for all types of aquaculture. Today, we can focus in particular on how they affect EU freshwater aquaculture, and what role we see for the diversification of aquaculture sites.
Diversification – the theme you have chosen as the main focus for this meeting - represents a key opportunity to improve the competitiveness of freshwater aquaculture, and more needs to be done to realise this potential.
Many farms already exist where producers also diversify their activities with ecotourism, angling and other recreational services. Business diversification can represent significant opportunity for freshwater fish farmers, and we should help them to identify what is possible, and then to implement the best ideas.
Another key dimension is that extensive and semi-intensive freshwater aquaculture offers valuable landscape management and habitat conservation services that are beneficial for society and for the environment. Existing pond-based farms represent a good example of how an economic activity can meet the conservation needs of a habitat or species. We believe it is important that these services are recognised, and that corresponding extra costs or loss of income are adequately compensated.
The Commission's proposal for the new EMFF, which is now being negotiated with the European Parliament and the Council, foresees incentives for both forms of diversification. We propose that the fund should provide support for the development of complementary activities as a new form of income, as well as for aquaculture providing services in terms of environmental conservation and landscape management.
Across Europe, different economic activities compete for access to space and freshwater. Integrated spatial planning and water basin management can help meet the needs of aquaculture and minimise its impacts, and we encourage Member States to follow this approach. The environmental services offered by pond-based aquaculture should be adequately recognised in this context.
Two other objectives from our Guidelines are relevant to all kinds of aquaculture: reducing administrative burdens and ensuring a level playing field.
We hear horror studies of aquaculture producers waiting many years to obtain a licence. 2-3 years is perceived as somehow "normal". In some Member States it can be even longer. However, data reported in a European Parliament study suggest that the average licencing time for aquaculture farms in Norway used to be 12 months and has been reduced to 6 months with the introduction of a single contact point. If we want EU aquaculture to be a competitive and attractive sector, we need to improve this situation. We need to cut red tape while maintaining the existing high level of environmental and consumer protection.
In our consultations, stakeholders also highlighted the need to ensure a level playing field. European consumers are often willing to pay a premium for a product that is safe, high quality and sustainable. Today, these characteristics of EU aquaculture products are often not sufficiently known by consumers, and the general public is not always aware of the contribution to biodiversity and land management. Better information – including through new labelling provisions as proposed in the Common Market Organisation Regulation – can help extract more value from our aquaculture products; and there also needs to be better communication efforts to inform about the wider contribution of EU aquaculture to the economy and society as a whole.
The fragmentation and limited representation of the EU aquaculture sector – which is almost exclusively composed of SMEs - have always represented a challenge, in particular for traditional freshwater aquaculture. This issue is addressed in the proposed reform of the Common Market Organisation through the establishment of Producers Organisations.
The proposed Aquaculture Advisory Council will also help: we expect it to become the reference point for exchanging good practice and formulating recommendations that help EU and national policy makers to better address the needs of the industry, consumers, and citizens. We also hope that it will provide a useful platform for producers, consumers and environmental NGOs to work together productively.
* * *
In essence, we want to do everything we can to create a more favourable environment for freshwater aquaculture. The reformed CFP provides the legislative underpinning, and the next generation of partnership contracts with the Member States that will be in place from 2014 should give a further targeted financial boost.
On the basis of our future work with the Member States around their new national plans, we hope to help the relevant actors to identify concrete action already next year.
Our overall target is to bring about more sustainable growth and jobs in this sector, and as soon as possible.