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Document 52016AE3425

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Removing obstacles to sustainable aquaculture in Europe’ (Exploratory opinion)

OJ C 34, 2.2.2017, p. 73–77 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 34/73

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Removing obstacles to sustainable aquaculture in Europe’

(Exploratory opinion)

(2017/C 034/11)




European Commission, 29/04/2016

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union


Exploratory opinion

Committee Bureau decision:




Section responsible

Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment

Adopted in section


Adopted at plenary


Plenary session No


Outcome of vote



1.   Conclusions and recommendations


The EESC is deeply concerned that EU aquaculture has not improved its situation despite the provisions designed to promote it in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the common market organisation (CMO) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).


The EESC notes that the main cause of slow administrative procedures applicable to the practice of aquaculture, and the unavailability of locations, is the complex implementation of EU environmental legislation, mainly the Water Framework Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the rules on the Natura 2000 network by the public administrations of Member States and their regions. This situation leads to requirements for aquaculture undertakings that are excessively costly economically and, paradoxically, do not ensure greater environmental protection.


The EESC calls on the European Commission to comply in full with its obligations regarding coordination of the shared competences in the field of aquaculture, including the simplification of administrative procedures and the involvement of the departments of national and regional public administrations responsible for aquaculture.


The EESC calls on the European Commission to ensure that the Member States make use of the guidelines on the application of European environmental rules, as an essential means of reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and, at the same time, to ensure that the quality of water and ecosystems is preserved.


The EESC stresses that, unless the issues concerning administrative procedures and the availability of locations are resolved, EU aquaculture will not be able to properly harness the funds available through the EMFF, as was the case with the former European Fisheries Fund (EFF). The Committee is also concerned that measures to reduce the budget deficit in the Member States mean that the financing of sustainable aquaculture initiatives that could generate growth and jobs is being neglected.


The EESC calls on the European Commission to launch the Aquaculture Advisory Council as a matter of urgency and to actively support its effective operation. This forum will only be effective if the stakeholders concerned and European and national public administrations cooperate in it, especially the European Commission.


To identify the extent to which the objectives have been achieved, the EESC urges the Commission, in collaboration with the Member States, to monitor closely the multi-year national strategic plans for aquaculture, and to ensure that all departments of national public authorities with responsibilities for the environment are involved in these.


The EESC warns the Commission that the next few years will be critical for the future of aquaculture in the European Union. The efforts the Commission has made to draw up a regulatory framework that favours sustainable aquaculture could yet come to naught if the situation is not monitored strictly and if a solution is not found for the current bottlenecks which, as mentioned above, occur in public administration departments in Member States that were not involved in drawing up the respective multi-annual national strategic plans for aquaculture.

2.   Background


The current regulations on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the common organisation of the market in fishery and aquaculture products place unprecedented emphasis on sustainably developing aquaculture in the European Union.


The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) has a specific budget for developing sustainable aquaculture. For the 2014-2020 period, the budget amounts to the generous sum of EUR 1,2 billion.


The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has, over recent years, issued two opinions on aquaculture (1)  (2). In both opinions, the EESC stressed the relevance of the sector to the European Union and urged the Commission and Member States to foster responsible, sustainable aquaculture.


The Commission published a set of strategic guidelines in 2013 on developing sustainable aquaculture in the European Union, set out in document COM(2013) 229 final. The aim of those guidelines was to steer Member States through the process of setting national objectives for sustainable aquaculture, taking into account their respective starting points, the prevailing national conditions and their institutional arrangements.


Among other proposals, the directives recommended that Member States should draw up multi-annual national strategic plans for aquaculture that would set out shared objectives and, where possible, establish indicators to assess the progress made towards achieving those objectives. The plans should serve to boost competitiveness in the aquaculture sector, support its development through innovation, stimulate economic activity, foster diversification, improve quality of life in coastal and rural regions and ensure a level playing field for aquaculture operators when it comes to access to waters and land.


All the Member States with an aquaculture sector presented their multi-annual national strategic plans in 2013. The majority of the measures and actions proposed in those plans were subsequently incorporated into the respective operational programmes for financing through the EMFF. This was to make it easier to put the measures and actions into practice.


The new CFP provides for the establishment of an Aquaculture Advisory Council which would take up the mantle of the former Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture (Group 2: Aquaculture). The task of the council will be to facilitate debate on issues relevant to aquaculture and to present recommendations and suggestions to the European institutions. In parallel, a Market Advisory Council is also being set up. It will focus on marketing aquaculture and fishery products more effectively.

3.   General comments


The FAO has stated that global food production needs to increase by approximately 70 % by 2050 in order to feed the 9 billion-strong population that will, according to forecasts, be inhabiting the planet by then. The FAO attaches special importance to aquaculture as a food source with the potential for growth and recommends promoting it as a provider of food, employment and wealth.


The consumption of fish and other aquatic food products is recommended on the grounds of their nutritional value and their importance for maintaining good health. Ensuring that people have access to a diet sufficiently rich in aquatic products is a social priority. Annual per capita consumption of aquatic products in the European Union is around 23,9 kg, and slowly growing.


The EESC confirms that the European Union has a trade deficit in aquatic products for human consumption. The internal market requires 13,2 million tonnes of aquatic products per year, of which only 10 % comes from EU aquaculture, in comparison to 25 % from extractive fishing and 65 % from imports. The percentage of imports has been on the rise, although it has stabilised in recent years. In any case, this situation is indicative of a marked imbalance that places the European Union in a position of weakness with regard to its present and future food security.


Annual aquaculture production in the European Union amounts to 1,2 million tonnes. Of that, 65,4 % comes from offshore aquaculture and 34,6 % from onshore aquaculture. Its first-sale value is some EUR 4 billion. Forms of production are varied, ranging from traditional ponds or lagoons to other more technical methods, including the use of tanks or cages in the open sea or recirculating systems.


The EMFF Regulation was approved and published in May 2014. The Commission did not definitively approve Member States’ operational programmes for the EMFF until autumn 2015, a year and five months late.


The European Court of Auditors published a study in 2014 on the efficacy of the support provided to aquaculture by the former European Fisheries Fund (EFF). The Court concluded that the EFF had not supported the sustainable development of aquaculture effectively. At European level, the support measures were considered to have been poorly designed and supervised and to have failed to provide a sufficiently clear framework for aquaculture development. At national level, the support measures had not been designed or applied correctly and the national strategic plans and their operational programmes had not provided a sufficiently clear basis for promoting aquaculture.


Aquaculture in the European Union currently directly employs 85 000 individuals, but this figure is no longer growing. The EESC welcomes the Commission’s view that each percentage point increase in the consumption of aquaculture products in the EU would create between 3 000 and 4 000 full-time jobs. Moreover, it should be noted that there are around 200 000 indirect jobs in aquaculture-related industries, processing and ancillary activities.


The EESC welcomes the fact that the Member States have developed multi-annual national strategic plans for aquaculture and have presented them to the Commission. The EESC holds the view, however, that the relevant economic, environmental and social actors were not sufficiently involved in their drafting, in contrast to the participation of public administrations and, within them, the government bodies directly responsible for aquaculture.

4.   Specific comments


The EESC notes that the external trade imbalance in aquatic products produced in the European Union is unacceptable, both from an economic point of view, given the trade deficit that this entails, and from a social point of view, given the missed opportunities for employment.


The EESC notes that the growth of aquaculture production in the European Union levelled off around 2000, and growth has not yet returned despite the efforts of the various European, national and regional institutions. Volume production remains stagnant despite a slight rise in aggregate commercial value.


In its 2013 Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture, the Commission correctly sets out the reasons why EU aquaculture production has reached an impasse while in the rest of the world it continues to experience rapid growth. The two main reasons highlighted in the report were the complexity of the administrative procedures for aquaculture activities and the difficulty in gaining legal access to locations for farms or extending these.


The EESC acknowledges the efforts made by the Commission to assist national and regional administrations in applying EU environmental rules without placing an unnecessary burden on aquaculture farmers. To that end, guidelines have been published on the relationship between aquaculture and the Nature 2000 areas and the Water Framework Directive. Additional guidelines that cover the relationship between aquaculture and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive are also being drawn up. However, the Committee notes the lack of knowledge and shortcomings in implementing these guidelines on the part of national and regional administrations with environmental responsibilities.


The EESC notes that, as a result of the delay in adopting the EMFF Regulation and approving Member States’ operational programmes, operators in Member States will not actually be able to start using EMFF funds until late 2016 at best, a delay of almost three years.


Reports such as that published by the European Court of Auditors in 2014 state that sustainable aquaculture development has been stalled by the lack of suitable maritime spatial planning and by the complexity of the authorisation procedures. The Court also noted that the main growth objectives for the aquaculture sector had not yet been met and that growth had remained stagnant for many years.


The EESC welcomes the fact that the EMFF budget for developing sustainable aquaculture is almost triple that provided under the former EFF.


The EESC stresses the difficulties faced by Member States that are the primary producers of EU aquaculture products in providing co-financing for EMFF funds owing to the budget restrictions that they have imposed in an effort to meet their deficit-reduction promises.


The EESC agrees that there is an absolute need for a European forum — like the former Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture — in which all stakeholders can participate to discuss the situation faced by the aquaculture sector and to provide consensus-based recommendations to the European and national institutions. It therefore welcomes the creation of the new Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC), which will represent a wide range of economic, social and environmental stakeholders, as well as researchers and consumers. It regrets, however, that the establishment and launch of the AAC was delayed, as that led to a three-year gap between the termination of the Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture and the launch of the AAC.


The EESC expresses concern that the Commission will not retain the same level of participation in the new AAC as in the former Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture. The Commission itself provided the executive secretariat of the former Advisory Committee, whereas the secretariat of the new AAC will be completely external to the Commission. This could affect the power of the AAC to bring European public administrations together and to disseminate its recommendations. The EESC is concerned that the Commission could be considered simply one participant in the AAC, when it should be continuing to play a leading role.


The EESC notes that the Member States’ multi-annual national strategic plans for aquaculture have yet to bear fruit. Under most of the plans, the mechanisms for monitoring results are not being used.


The EESC notes that the inadequate results to date of the implementation of the multi-annual national strategic plans for aquaculture can be attributed to the fact that the bottlenecks preventing sustainable aquaculture development are not being addressed with sufficient vigour. These obstacles are occurring mainly in public administration departments in Member States that were not involved in drawing up the strategic plans and, consequently, are not aware of them. The active involvement of these departments in implementing the strategic plans is therefore required.


The EESC calls on the Commission to urge public administrations in Member States and their regions to take account of all three aspects of sustainable development — environmental, social and economic — when implementing EU environmental rules, while balancing these against the need to improve food security in the European Union.

Brussels, 19 October 2016.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS

(1)  EESC opinion on ‘Building a sustainable future for aquaculture — A new impetus for the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’ (OJ C 18, 19.1.2011, p. 59).

(2)  EESC opinion on ‘Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture’ (OJ C 67, 6.3.2014, p. 150).