Aquaculture Europe 2007 Conference



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Istanbul – Turkey, 25th October 2007

Minister Eker,

Mr Chairman,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to address the Aqua 2007 conference not least because its timing and its focus on aquaculture and competing claims with other marine and maritime activities couldn't have been more opportune – only two weeks after the European Commission adopted its proposals for an EU integrated maritime policy.

The ultimate goal of the EU maritime policy is that of developing a thriving maritime economy by unlocking the full potential of the oceans and seas in an environmentally sustainable manner. To achieve this goal, we need to manage the competing claims for sea space and resources between the different marine and maritime activities, with a view to maximizing their output and preserving the ecosystems of the marine environment in which they are undertaken.

Aquaculture is one such activity of strategic importance to the world and to Europe in particular. We have, therefore, to define our vision of the European aquaculture industry, and its place in the integrated management of sea-related activities that we want to promote. Having said this, I would like to make it clear that although an integrated maritime policy is more relevant to marine than to freshwater aquaculture, the rationale we want to follow is the same for both, especially since the water framework directive provides the basis for the same kind of integrated approach we seek to promote in the sea.

I will therefore firstly outline the objectives of our recently adopted maritime policy and our plans for implementing it. I will then speak of the aquaculture industry, the challenges it faces and how it could feature within the broad framework of the maritime policy and the competing claims from marine and maritime activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Building an EU integrated maritime policy requires a new approach to the wide range of sea related activities. Our actions will be guided by some core principles. First of all, we will follow an integrated approach to maritime affairs, taking into account the need to preserve ecosystems. Subsidiarity –meaning acting at the most appropriate level- is obviously another key principle of the policy, as well as transparency and stakeholder participation.

It is also clear that the implementation of the policy will need to be dynamic. A process of regular consultation with stakeholders which takes stock of progress and assesses shortcomings, will need to be set up in order to feed into the policy making process. We will also need to introduce mechanisms that will facilitate the exchange of best practices.

Let me outline some of the key projects or building blocks contained in the so-called "Blue Paper" adopted by the Commission on 10 October, which are of particular relevance to the aquaculture sector:

Managing the very wide range of marine and maritime activities in an integrated manner requires new governance for sea-related policies. The Commission will therefore promote an integrated approach of maritime affairs at all levels; this will apply in the first place to the Commission itself and to EU agencies with maritime-related functions. Applied to aquaculture, it means that the different pieces of legislation that regulate this sector, such as environmental and health related legislation, would be dealt with in a more coordinated manner.
Of course new governance needs new instruments for integrated policy making. Therefore, we will further the use of spatial planning tools, through various means such as a roadmap for marine spatial planning and pilot actions. These would be fed by marine and maritime data which will thus require steps to be taken towards a European Marine Observation and Data Network.
The Commission will support maritime clusters and regional centres of maritime excellence to raise Europe's competitiveness, particularly among smaller firms which are an important part of Europe's high-tech maritime industries. These clusters are also a means to improve the attractiveness of maritime careers and to boost innovation and spill-over effects between marine and maritime activities.
The Commission will also seek to foster sustainable fishing as well as extending the sustainable use of marine resources.
The "Blue Paper" explicitly mentions the need to promote sustainable aquaculture and the Commission's commitment to issue a revised EU strategy for the sustainable development of aquaculture in 2008.
Actions to mitigate the impact of climate change, particularly on coastal zones will be stepped up.
Finally the Commission will develop a European Strategy for Marine and Maritime Research, which reflects our commitment to excellence in marine and maritime research, technology and innovation.
This research Strategy is not just a project among others. Its purpose is to provide us with the scientific knowledge and advice that is necessary to pursue all the other objectives of the policy. Since it is of particular relevance to the aquaculture sector, it is useful to give you an outline of its content.
The research strategy will address the cross-cutting political priorities of the Blue Paper related for instance to the combined impact of maritime activities on the marine environment and climate change. This will be achieved by establishing cooperation between streams of marine and maritimeresearch that have until now developed separately.
Secondly we will need to further develop cooperation between member states, with a view to enhancing synergies between national research efforts and reaching the necessary critical mass of research funding where necessary. This has already started under the sixth research framework programme with the European Research Area networks (ERA-Nets). It needs to be further advanced, in particular with the so-called ERA-Nets plus within the seventh research framework programme.
Thirdly the strategy will identify the needs for critical marine research infrastructure, including data infrastructure. It will seek ways of financing them.
Finally we need to put in place a well-functioning interface between the marine scientific community, the marine and maritime industries and policy makers. This is necessary to give substance to the European marine science partnership, as called for in the Blue Paper.
Needless to say, all these components are of high relevance to the aquaculture sector, which is confronted with cross-cutting challenges, dispersion of research efforts between member states, and which clearly needs important marine data infrastructure. The aquaculture sector will contribute to the strategy, thanks to its strong research and innovations capabilities, and it will also benefit from it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

to our endeavours is an understanding of our objectives in the aquaculture sector: what is our vision of this sector in the global economy and in the broad framework of marine and maritime activities and how does aquaculture feature in the competing claims between these activities?

One simple equation clarifies this point. The demand for fish and seafood is growing. The FAO has forecast an increase of 43 million tons of fisheries production from 2000 to 2015. In a situation where most wild fish stocks are over-exploited, the bulk of this increase can only come from aquaculture. The fact is, therefore, that world aquaculture production will grow considerably in the coming decades.

Where does Europe stand in this picture and what role can it play in this development? It is precisely to answer this question that we launched last May a consultation on the challenges faced by the European aquaculture sector. The conclusions that will be drawn up from this consultation are currently being assessed and will be formally presented and discussed at a conference organised by the Commission in Brussels on 15-16 November.

However, an assessment of the current situation of the sector and the challenges that lie ahead provide some interesting contributions to the issue of competing claims.

The European aquaculture sector has considerable strengths. We have world class research and technology. Our aquaculture industry is innovative and it is responsible. The legal environment regulating aquaculture is in some aspects conducive to its development, for example by providing clean water and the required health protection to consumers; but it also induces constraints that competitors in developing countries do not face. Being a young industry, which is engineering a revolution in the production of seafood, brings with it challenges, concerns and some misperceptions from society.

We need to recognise the challenges it faces, particularly with regard to the environment, and we need to respond to societal concerns regarding its development. Fortunately we do have the scientific and technological means to address these challenges and to ensure a sustainable development of the aquaculture sector. There is room in Europe for a thriving aquaculture sector, combining both high level production of standard products and niche production of higher added value, and higher quality products. With its strong science and technology, Europe should also play a central role in the export of sound and competitive aquaculture technology. Europe should also use its institutional capacity in to promote sustainable aquaculture practices beyond its shores.

Sustainable development of the aquaculture will continue to take place in the context of competing claims. I will mention four such claims:

The competition for marine or inland space;
The competition for clean water;
The competition for fish feed and fish oil; and
The competition for public research funds
The competition for space is a critical challenge for the aquaculture sector. Being a late comer in the occupation of coastal and marine space and due to perceived environmental problems related to it, aquaculture can be at a disadvantage in the arbitrations made by national and local authorities for the attribution of marine space.

A solution to this problem can be found through science-based marine spatial planning that takes into account the pressure and the impact on the environment of all sea-related activities in a given area as well as the interactions between these activities.

Such spatial planning, fed by cross-cutting marine data and research, can help counter misperceptions and sometimes unequal treatment of aquaculture in the allocation of marine space. But it can also help to address real environmental problems, such as the biological and genetic risks related to escapes of farmed fish to the wild. Although not completely understood, these risks cannot be ignored, and we need more science to better assess them and avoid a disproportionate application of the precautionary principle.

Spatial planning can also assess the feasibility of locating in the same marine areas both aquaculture and sea-based energy production activities, which can be a way to move from competition for space to synergy in space occupation.

The development of new technologies like offshore aquaculture and recirculation systems are also highly promising avenues to address the lack of space for aquaculture activities and we will continue to support their development through research and pilot projects.

Where this is feasible, integrated multi-tropic aquaculture combining fish and shellfish farming is another way to optimise space occupation and to promote sustainability.

of sustainable production practices, it improves its standing in the competition for marine space. In that regard, the efforts displayed by the aquaculture industry in the "Consensus" exercise, to define a set of good practices in relation to sustainable aquaculture, must be commended and supported.

The competition for clean water is another crucial challenge. Aquaculture needs clean water but it also affects the quality of water in the marine environment in different ways. In particular, impacts from fish farming differ from those of shellfish farming. The water framework directive and the marine environment directive (which is still in the approval process) provide a sound legal framework to ensure availability of clean water, by taking into account all activities affecting the environment. The aquaculture industry itself needs to promote good practices for sustainable aquaculture in relation to water discharges, and to make optimal use of technological progress to minimise the effect of aquaculture on water quality.

The aquaculture industry is well placed in the competition for fish feed and fish oil because it can generally afford to pay relatively higher prices than other agricultural sectors for these products. Yet the development of aquaculture production worldwide will challenge the sustainability of the production of fish feed and fish oil in particular. This challenge must be addressed with the full deployment of our research capabilities to find vegetable substitutes to the proteins or the fish oil component in the farmed fish diet. We also need to assess and exploit the possibilities offered by proteins from organisms lower in the tropic chain like krill, as well as the possibilities offered by biotechnology. Finally the efficient use of fish feed to maximise absorption and to minimise losses by farmed fish should be pursued and I have no doubt that this is high on your agenda of good practices for sustainable aquaculture production.

This brings me to the fourth competing claim, that for public research funds. Research and technology are at the centre of the new EU maritime policy and they are clearly critical for aquaculture as well, if we are to reconcile economic development and environmental sustainability. Competition for public research funds between different industries and research streams is unavoidable. But the aquaculture sector has shown its ability to compete for public research funding and I am not too worried in this regard. The setting-up of a European Aquaculture Technology Platform bringing together the industry, the researchers, and all stakeholders in the aquaculture sector, can be a formidable vehicle to integrate the aquaculture agenda in the European strategy for marine and maritime research. I therefore strongly encourage you to develop this as a bottom-up process, starting by taking into account the industry needs, and this in the spirit of inclusiveness that the Commission seeks to promote.

Let me however stress that our marine and maritime research strategy should not be seen only in terms of competition for public research funds. Indeed it also seeks to create synergies that will benefit all different streams of marine and maritime research. This will be done by addressing cross-cutting challenges that cannot be dealt with by one specific sector. We will also seek to maximise our marine research potential by fostering cooperation between member states and facilitating closer cooperation between their research efforts. Finally the development of the marine research infrastructure, particularly data infrastructure, is an enabling factor for all marine research sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By launching an EU maritime policy, the European Commission has laid the ground for a more integrated and sustainable development of all marine and maritime activities. We want to avoid negative interactions and to promote mutually reinforcing development between these activities. I am convinced that the European aquaculture industry has all that it takes to grow as a thriving economic sector that will occupy its well-deserved place in the new framework set by the EU maritime policy. We will be working actively to make this happen.

I thank you for your attention.


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