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09/08/2018

Aquaculture, challenges and objectives for 2050

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

On May 8th, the Spanish Business Association of Marine Aquaculture Producers (Apromar) published production data in Spain which wasn't particularly encouraging.

Though production totaled 64,866 in 2016, output declined by 1%, to 64,168 in 2017. Apromar spoke about “stagnation” and expressed its “concern” about data it considers to be “unfortunate” since, in its opinion, “Spain has the capacity, knowledge and enthusiasm” for the sector to flourish. In fact, they are convinced that this trend can be reversed by committing to innovation and strategic plans which address the main problems faced by the fishing sector: unfair competition from non-EU countries, innovation and sustainability, and consumption.

In terms of species, European sea bass takes the lead (21,269 tons, -9.3%), followed by trout (17,948 tons, +1.2%), gilt-head bream (13,643 tons, -0.8%), turbot (8,546 tons, +15.5%), sea bass (1,932, +7.4%) and sole (830 tons, +9.3%).

In view of this data, Apromar has underlined the need to be proactive. "Spain has the means and the technology to reverse this trend," said the Chairman, José Carlos Rendón. Through the Aquaculture Marine Experimentation Network (Rema), which has multiple RDI initiatives, collaborating with institutions and universities, Apromar is developing several projects. The most recent one addresses the normalization of fish farms with sea cages to avoid escapes. It's also implementing a Strategic Communication Plan which answers the question "What is aquaculture?" as there is some hesitation towards consuming these products.

It’s also worth noting the importance of the Raised in Our Seas seal for distinguishing Spanish aquaculture products from the rest and which will receive 1.7 million euros in investment this year. That investment is important for ending unfair competition from aquaculture production from non-EU countries which is hurting the sector, as those products don't have the same environmental, social and quality requirements as in the EU. In that regard, the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries has approved a resolution highlighting the importance of aquaculture and asking the European Commission to balance legislation among fisheries and to unify the requirements for European and imported products.

The report drafted by Carlos Iturgáiz, from the Partido Popular, suggests introducing "clear and uniform" criteria to grant licenses to farms, implement standard procedures to manage disease and effectively organize spaces. Iturgáiz spoke about the "European paradox," i.e. while EU producers must respect all of the quality standards imposed by the EU, many countries import and consume products which adhere to low standards. “Companies must participate in equal, not similar, conditions,” he says. Moreover, he says that the report focuses on developing an industry that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable and fair. This is important, since we're talking about a sector in Spain that is a leader in the EU, accounting for 20% of the region's fishing output and employing around 85,000 people. This resolution, which was approved by the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries (21 votes in favor, 2 against) will be discussed at the next Parliament meeting in June.

Another movement that's supporting Apromar is Crecimiento Azul (Blue Growth). This strategy aims to support sustainable growth by marine-related industries. It recognizes the importance of the seas and oceans as drivers of Europe's economy and their amazing potential for innovation and growth. It is the contribution from the European Union's Integrated Maritime Policy for achieving the objectives to Horizon 2020 for smart, sustainable and integrated growth. Precisely for this reason, Apromar signed a protocol to drive blue growth through innovation and scientific research and aquaculture technology with the Secretary-General for Fisheries. Both organizations will coordinate their activities related to the "blue economy" with a view to accelerating business projects for growth and internationalization.

The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment will fund the projects, while Apromar will create a space for sharing knowledge on aquaculture that will bring together companies and technology centers from the sector as well as others that create expertise to support the opportunities that are identified.

Problems and challenges facing aquaculture

One of the challenges facing aquaculture products is consumer perception.

"Anisakiasis is a public health problem, given the increase in prevalence in recent years around the world, due on the one hand to higher frequency in caught fish, and on the other to the use of new habits which include eating raw or insufficiently cooked fish." It's worth highlighting AENOR, the Spanish Association for Standardization and Certification, and its important role in proper certification, which helps increase trust and transparency and helps with due diligence. AENOR's certification "responds to the terms stipulated in Regulation 1276/2011.”

According to a study by Marija Banovic, an Associate Professor at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, consumers not only require correct certification, but also natural products which respect the environment. They need aquaculture products that have positive health implications. They also want products which are easy and quick to prepare. In this regard, "The aquaculture industry needs to convince consumers that its products are an excellent source of sustainable, healthy, quality foods." Legitimate concerns and contradictory messages about the intensification of aquaculture and its concerns should be assuaged with specific (non-generic) messages that can battle the competition and be defended among consumers. They must also promote a unique production process, increasing the visibility of products with traceable, healthy alternatives but which are also viable in modern diets (protein) and responsible consumption.

2050, increasingly far away

"Between now and 2050, aquaculture's productive capacity must increase by 57%,” according to the General Secretary for Fisheries, Alberto López Asenjo. To that end, it's important to coordinate innovation with sustainability. That's where the "blue growth" strategy comes into play. But how can greater output and greater biomass be coordinated? This is, indubitably, another of the questions that weighs on the sector's future. James Gavigan, an EU scientific advisor, says that 9 billion people in 2050 will need more food. To that end, he underlines the need to strengthen and enhance the visibility of sea products, underlining the nutritional properties they offer, and to create a sustainable fishing route for greater ecological efficiency in biomass production.

"Greater production of foods from the ocean can reduce pressure on agriculture to achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (end hunger; achieve food security; improve nutrition; protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems). From a political standpoint, the subsidiarity is compatible with the implementation of greater efforts, and enabling the EU to guarantee equal conditions and greater attention to mariculture, similar to that of agricultural policy and a broader food policy. A framework of mariculture policies must leverage current efforts (e.g. the implementation of the EU's strategic aquaculture directives from 2013), giving them greater strategic priority."

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