Sustainable aquaculture, eco-friendly fishing, decarbonising highly polluting maritime transport and restoring fish populations are crucial to building a blue economy that is climate-neutral and contributes to sustainable food systems
The blue economy employs close to 4.5 million people and generates around €650 billion in turnover and €176 billion in gross value added in the EU. Aquaculture – fish farming - accounts for 20% of fish and shellfish supply in the EU. The sector is composed of 15,000 enterprises and employs 70,000 people. As part of the blue economy, fisheries and aquaculture are key to boosting the COVID-19 economic recovery, creating jobs and offering sustainable development opportunities to coastal and rural populations. Yet red tape and insufficient investments continue to hinder the full development of a European aquaculture sector.
A European eco-label for aquaculture products and a one-stop-shop for licenses are key proposals put forward by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) in its opinion on ‘Sustainable blue economy and aquaculture’, adopted at its plenary session on 1-2 December. The opinion contributes to the new communication on sustainable blue economy and the strategic guidelines for sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture published by the European Commission (EC) in May 2021.
Rapporteur Bronius Markauskas (LT/EA), Mayor of Klaipėda district municipality, said: “Sustainable investment is crucial for the successful development of the blue economy. It is necessary to finance innovation and the development of new products, invest in smart solutions, and support new technologies. Aquaculture should also be recognised as a specific policy area and have a clear definition. Regional governments could make a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Green Deal by effectively managing cohesion and environmental innovation funds, and local and regional authorities should be equal partners of central governments. Therefore, it is necessary to promote and support local participatory initiatives, which combine regenerating marine resources with preserving local livelihoods, the traditions and cultural heritage”.
The growth of the aquaculture sector in Europe is hampered by excessively lengthy and complicated authorisation procedures and limited access to waters. The Committee therefore proposed a one-stop-shop for aquaculture licenses, as well as training modules for local authorities on EU permit granting in order to speed up business development and compliance with EU rules. The CoR reiterated its previous call to develop a European eco-label for aquaculture products.
The EU's assembly of cities and regions also called for the future Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to cover fisheries and aquaculture products, and for the European Commission to propose new legislation to prevent fish imports that do not match the EU's social and environmental standards.
CoR members also called for a clear definition of the term 'sustainable aquaculture', specific guidelines for the sustainable development of aquaculture and a detailed EU action plan for the sector. The Committee also reiterated its call for the European Commission to submit a proposal to Member States on how local and regional authorities should be involved in identifying, developing, planning and managing blue economy policies in order to strengthen dynamic blue economy ecosystems.
On the financial front, EU local leaders reiterated the call to use 10% of the budget from the current Framework Programme for Research and Innovation on marine and maritime objectives. The Committee welcomed the BlueInvest platform but stressed that aquaculture has difficulties benefiting from EU funds and called for a review of the current procedures, at the same time as regretting that Interreg budget for territorial cooperation has been reduced.
The Committee asked Member States to include investments in the blue economy within their Resilience and Recovery plans that will set the priorities for post-pandemic investments, but regretted that regional governments had not been sufficiently consulted in the development of Member States fisheries, blue economy and aquaculture strategies.
The CoR also highlighted the increased importance of protecting the world's maritime resources. There is a pressing need for radical change to reduce human activity on the seas and to protect our oceans, which make up more than 90% of the world's inhabitable space and absorb 26% of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Maritime transport emissions have increased by almost 32% over the last 20 years, and the development of a clean maritime transport and sustainable shipbuilding industry is a pre-requisite for achieving climate-neutrality by 2050. The Committee therefore supports the European Commission’s objectives of potentially reducing SO2 and NOx emissions from international shipping by up to 80% and 20% respectively within 10 years.
Blue Economy refers to all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coastal areas and includes sectors such as fisheries, shipbuilding, and 'coastal' tourism as well as blue biotechnology and offshore renewable energy production. The development of a sustainable blue economy is key to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #14.
The sector directly employed close to 4.5 million people in 2018 and generated around €650 billion in turnover and €176 billion in gross value added (Source: EC). Emerging activities such as ocean energy, marine biotechnology and robotics are developing quickly and will play an important role in the EU’s transition towards a carbon-neutral, circular, and biodiverse economy. For more information on the 2021 annual economic report on the EU blue economy click here.
EU aquaculture accounts for about 20% of fish and shellfish supply in the EU and directly employs about 70,000 persons. The sector consists of around 15,000 enterprises, mainly small businesses or micro-enterprises in coastal and rural areas. Overall EU production has been more or less stable since 2000, whereas global production has been growing between 5% and 7% per year. The main aquaculture-producing EU countries in terms of volume are Spain, France, Italy and Greece.
Aquaculture production is very diverse in terms of both species farmed and methods of production (sea cages, ponds, raceways, on-land recirculating aquaculture systems). Around 100 different species are currently farmed in aquaculture operations around the world. In the EU:
· more than 45% of aquaculture production is shellfish
· more than 30% of aquaculture production is marine fish
· more than 20% of aquaculture production is freshwater fish
Despite of the diversity of aquaculture, the EU aquaculture production is largely concentrated on a few species, the most important being mussels, salmon, seabream, rainbow trout, seabass, oysters, and carp. Algae production is still limited in the EU but is increasing. (Source EC).
Alejandro Maya Toro
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