Aquaculture: sustainable food production, preserving natural marine and freshwater habitats
Aquaculture is very important for producing food sustainably and safely without destroying natural marine and freshwater habitats. In fact, it does quite the opposite as aquaculture helps to restore these habitats, replenishing wild stocks and rebuilding populations of threatened and endangered species. As the demand for seafood has increased, aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, has made it possible to produce food in coastal marine waters, the open ocean and ponds in semi-natural conditions. So controlled farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants and algae is, in essence, an environmentally responsible source of food. The breeding, raising and harvesting of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants are practiced with strict rules, safety and security procedures and best practices.
Marine fish farming is typically done in net pens in the water or in tanks on land, while freshwater aquaculture primarily occurs in ponds or other artificial systems. In artificial facilities, living conditions are strictly controlled by the producer, such as water quality, oxygen level, temperature and feed. In inshore aquaculture, the fish are cultivated in a more natural environment. In this case, the producer enhances production through actions such as regular feeding and protection from predators.
Plant and insect-based feeds are being developed to increase efficiency and ensure nutritious, healthy, safe and sustainable food. The use of good husbandry practices and associated biosecurity measures are a priority for fish farmers to ensure high levels of health and welfare. Vaccination at the freshwater stage of the farmed salmon cycle, before fish are exposed to the more open marine environment, has reduced antimicrobial usage to a minimum.
Aquaculture requires good environmental conditions, such as high-quality water. This is of primary importance for the growth and health performance of the fish. Therefore, EU Member States’ fight against water pollution, in line with the zero-pollution ambition defined in the European Green Deal, is particularly important to aquaculture. Aquaculture can clearly be a food production method with low carbon and environmental footprint when properly managed.
Aquaculture also pays close attention to fish welfare because of the increasing public interest in high-welfare fish products. Keeping fish under good welfare conditions also has economic benefits for the industry through reduced costs and better-quality products. Current aquaculture practices in the EU that follow existing regulations guarantee high levels of fish well-being. Further improvements are possible with the onset of new science-based sound knowledge.
The Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP) represents the united voice of the European aquaculture production industry, with 24 members drawn from 23 States across the European continent. The Federation has been active and involved in promoting and participating in European research projects since 1995, covering a range of interests and actions that contribute to the innovation and development of the European fish farming sector. Current projects promote resilience to climate change, environmentally friendly organic and conventional aquaculture of major fish species and low trophic level organisms in Europe to meet future challenges linked to the growing consumer demand for high-quality, responsibly produced food.
The EU aquaculture sector can play a key role in contributing to the green transition to sustainable food systems set by the European Green Deal, developing the bioeconomy and the circular economy, and protecting biodiversity. Aquaculture can be a solution, closing the gap between consuming and producing seafood with healthy and sustainable products for EU citizens. The mission is to ensure that EU aquaculture reaches at least the global growth rate in an environmentally sound, socially acceptable and economically viable way.