Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fortieth Report


COM(02) 511

Commission Communication: "A strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture".

Legal base:
Document originated:19 September 2002
Deposited in Parliament: 7 October 2002
Department:Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 11 October 2002
Previous Committee Report: None
Discussed in Council: 14-15 October 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared, but relevant to the debate recommended on the Floor of the House on the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (decision reported on 3 July 2002)


  12.1  In its Communication ("Roadmap") on the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy[16], the Commission says that one of its aims is to provide the best possible conditions for the sustainable development of European aquaculture, and it lists the production of a strategy for the development of European aquaculture as being among the other actions it intends to take in the second half of 2002. The proposed strategy is now set out in this document.

The document

  12.2  The Commission describes aquaculture as a highly diverse industry of increasing importance, particularly in certain peripheral regions of the Community where alternative employment opportunities are lacking, though it also notes that its 3.4 percent rate of annual growth over the last decade has been less than the world average. Within an overall Community production of 1.3 million tonnes in 2000, the Commission identifies three major sub-sectors:

  • Freshwater fish farming

  12.3  It describes this as a traditional activity, with trout the principal species, worth approximately euro500 million a year. However, the Commission says the sector is now facing a relatively low price for its products in relation to production costs, and that there is unlikely to be major growth in the near future, unless marketing initiatives are taken. It also points out that most freshwater fish are farmed in intensive systems, giving rise to environmental constraints.

  • Marine mollusc farming

  12.4  The Commission says that molluscs account for 60% of the volume of Community aquaculture, but only 30% in value. The sector, which is based on traditional activity, is widely spread through the coastal areas, and can be extremely important locally. However, since farmed molluscs feed on natural resources, they may suffer difficulties linked to fluctuations in supply, and to toxic algal blooms.

  • Marine fish farming

  12.5  This is described as the most recent development, and technically the most complex, with production being dominated by salmon. Despite this, the Commission says that it has been more profitable than any other aquaculture sub-sector; it thus attracted new investors, leading to rapid increases in production and subsequent market difficulties. The sector also suffers from environmental problems, linked to intensive farming, where fish are given industrial feed.

  12.6  Overall, the Commission believes that aquaculture in the Community developed well over the last two decades, partly as a result of the many support initiatives taken. However, it says that there is still room for improvement in areas such as health protection, environmental impact and market instability, and that the recent slowdown in growth must be addressed by such means as better marketing strategies. It adds that private investors are, and have to remain, the leading force, but that the public authorities also have a key role in guaranteeing that respect for the environment and product quality go alongside economic viability.

  12.7  The Communication then addresses in greater depth the main challenges facing aquaculture. The first of these is economic viability, caused in part by market instability, despite the potential which exists for those farmed products able to meet the requirements of the supermarkets. It comments that additional improvements in production efficiency are difficult to achieve at present, with low profit margins leaving few resources for investment in research, development and marketing. It also notes that public financial assistance, though useful initially, has latterly encouraged overproduction. Other considerations include competition from agriculture for the fishmeal used to produce feed for fish farming, giving rise to a need for research to find substitute protein sources; competition with other coastal users for space; the difficulty of launching promotional campaigns, either nationally or on a trans-national basis; and the lack of coherent and specific Community legislation for the sector, leading to competition distortions.

  12.8  Secondly, there is the need to guarantee food safety, animal health and welfare. Although it says that seafood is a source of important nutritional elements, production is nevertheless susceptible to a number of adverse factors. These include dioxin levels in fishmeal; the use of antibiotics (though this has decreased "markedly" in the past decade, due mostly to the development of vaccines); harmful algal blooms; and the need for the effective control of fish diseases. In the latter case, the Commission suggests that the focus should be on prevention rather than cure, but that the use of veterinary medicines is necessary in certain circumstances, with the significant investment needed to develop these limiting their availability.

  12.9  Thirdly, there is the environmental impact of aquaculture, where it points out that the sector is often accused of having negative effects. In particular, it mentions the eutrophication caused by nitrogen and phosphorous releases, which can be significant in the immediate vicinity of a fish farm; the on-growing of wild fish, such as eel and bluefin tuna, which it says could harm these already over-exploited stocks; and the loss of genetic diversity caused by escaped fish inter-breeding with native populations. Other environmental effects include on the one hand the capacity of aquaculture for helping to restock a number of wild fish stocks, and on the other hand its vulnerability to predation by protected wild species.

  12.10  The remainder of the Communication is devoted to the actions which the Commission proposes to meet the three main objectives identified in the document.

    (i) Creation of long-term secure employment, particularly in fisheries-dependent areas

  12.11  The Commission suggests that the aim should be to increase employment in aquaculture by between 8,000 and 10,000 full-time job equivalents over the period 2003-08, and that this should involve the following sub-objectives:

  • Increasing the rate of growth to 4% a year, with particular attention being given to molluscs, through a refocussing of public aid, research on species diversification, encouraging organic and "environmentally friendly" aquaculture, and research into finding alternative protein sources for farmed fish.

  • Solving the competition for space, by developing closed water recirculating systems to reduce water demand, greater use of offshore cage technology, offshore mollusc rafts, and the incorporation of aquaculture developments within integrated coastal zone management plans.

  • Promoting market development by increased use of official quality marks, promotional campaigns, developing new tools to gather statistical information on production and markets, and the further development of farmers' partnerships.

  • Improved training, particularly for women, so as to increase the quality and number of work opportunities

  • Improving the governance of the sector, through greater stakeholder participation and more use of self-regulation and voluntary agreements.

(ii) Ensuring that products are healthy, safe and of good quality

  12.12  The Commission says that this is essential, and should involve the application of the new approach to Community hygiene legislation put forward in December 2001[17]; provisions concerning dioxin and antibiotic residues; more research on, and control of, toxic algal blooms and aquatic animal diseases; a regular updating and simplification of aquatic animal health legislation; the modification of veterinary pharmaceutical legislation; and initiatives to improve the welfare of farmed fish.

(iii) Ensuring an environmentally sound industry

  12.13  The Commission says that aquaculture products must be acceptable to consumers, not only as regards price and quality, but as regards their environmental cost, where it is often perceived in a negative light. This means:

  • mitigating the effect of wastes by integrating aquaculture into coastal and river basin management; placing production facilities in areas with good water exchange; using improved feed methods, and better effluent treatment equipment;

  • managing the on-growing of wild fish;

  • developing guidelines in order to minimise the escapes of non-indigenous species, and funding research on the potential risks of transgenic fish in containment facilities;

  • applying the principles of integrated pollution prevention and control;

  • carrying out environmental impact assessments, and adapting these to type and scale of the proposed development and the sensitivity of the receiving water;

  • greater use of extensive fish farming;

  • attempts to re-stock from local broodstock to avoid the risk of harmful genetic interactions with wild populations, and the development of fish farms specifically to support the stocking of inland waters.

The Government's view

  12.14  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 11 October 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the proposed strategy is broadly in line with the UK's policy to encourage the development of efficient, competitive and sustainable aquaculture whilst protecting the health status of UK farmed fish, wild fish and shellfish. He points out that the sustainable use of the marine and rural environment, and the prosperity of the economies and communities in the areas concerned, is central to that policy[18]. However, he adds that thought needs to be given to the impact on the strategy of enlargement, since some of the candidate countries have developed a significant production capacity in marine and/or freshwater fish. Consequently, although the Minister says that the UK would in principle welcome most of the proposals in the Commission strategy, it will be necessary to examine carefully any legislative proposals it eventually puts forward.


  12.15  Because of the somewhat different nature of the activities involved, this strategy raises rather different issues from those in most of the other aspects of the Commission's proposals for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which we considered on 3 July 2002, and which we understand are now to be debated on the Floor of the House on 21 November. Moreover, as the Communication is in fairly general terms, and likely to be followed later by more specific proposals, we would normally have cleared it without any recommendation for its further consideration. However, it is evident from the Commission's "Roadmap" Communication on the CFP that it sees aquaculture as part of its overall approach, and, for that reason, we think this document is relevant to the wider debate we have recommended on the "Roadmap" and the other reforms proposed by the Commission.

16   (23511) COM(02) 181; see HC 152-xxxv (2001-02), paragraph 1 (3 July 2002). Back

17   (21499) 10427/00; see HC 28-iii (200-01), paragraph 1 (17 January 2001) and HC 152-xxv (2001-02), paragraph 1 (23 April 2002). Official Report, European Standing Committee C, 24 April 2002. Back

18   Details are included in the Government's first Marine Stewardship Report "Safeguarding Our Seas: A Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of our Marine Environment". Back

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