organic aquaculture production of the European Union

Report reveals that European production of organic mussels is increasing while fish production is stagnating

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A new report of the European Market Observatory for fisheries and aquaculture (EuMOFA) reveals that the organic aquaculture production of the European Union (UE) has increased by 60% in five years (2015-2020), mainly due to a growth in organic mussel production. Total organic aquaculture production at EU 27 level is estimated at 74,032 tonnes in 2020, which accounts for 6.4% of the total EU aquaculture production.

Organic production from finfish, however, is stalling or even decreasing, mostly due to the limited demand and technical difficulties to apply the EU organic regulation, the report says.

Based on data collected for this study (using EU and national sources), the main species produced are mussels (41,936 tonnes), accounting for more than half of the total organic aquaculture production, followed by salmon (12,870 tonnes), trout (4,590 tonnes), carp (3,562 tonnes), oyster (3,228 tonnes) and European seabass/gilthead seabream (2,750 tonnes).

The main EU producers of organic aquaculture are Ireland (salmon and mussel), Italy (mussel and finfish), France (oyster, mussel, and trout), the Netherlands (mussel), Spain (mussel and sturgeon), Germany, Denmark and Bulgaria (mussel).

Other findings

Likewise, the study also has revealed a significant increase in organic mussel production, mainly from the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, France, Spain and Bulgaria was experienced. The organic mussel production accounted for 41,936 tonnes in 2020 (10% of EU mussel production), compared to 18,379 tonnes in 2015.

Also, an increase in organic oyster production at EU level (mainly produced in France): about 3,220 tonnes produced in France in 2020 compared to less than 900 tonnes in 2018; and the decrease or stagnation for most of the finfish species.

It was found a slight decrease in organic salmon production; this is mostly due to a decrease in the Irish production (12,870 tonnes in 2020 compared to a peak of 16,481 tonnes in 2017) and to Brexit (the UK produced 2,400 tonnes in 2015). The trout production, in the other hand, is stable: 4,590 tonnes in 2020 compared to 4,700 tonnes in 2015 (EU 27).

About the decrease in organic carp production, is estimated at 3,562 tonnes in 2020 (7,000 tonnes in 2015); the main EU producers of organic carp being Hungary, Romania and Lithuania.

With regard to European seabass/gilthead seabream is the only finfish group on an increasing trend: 2,750 tonnes in 2020 (2,000 tonnes in 2015), mostly from Greece.

Barriers to growth for organic aquaculture

For shellfish, in most cases there are limited differences between conventional and organic in terms of production methods. Thus, shifting to organic is not complex for producers, although it increases the administrative burden.

The main barrier to market growth for the organic shellfish segment is to be found in the somewhat limited market incentives for producers in terms of price premium or demand from customers.

In addition, the evolution of the EU organic regulation on the quality of water suitable for organic production adds some uncertainty for producers to establish their strategy on organic production.

Technical difficulties

Organic production of finfish has not increased because of the limited demand from the marketand the technical difficulties in producing under the organic scheme, including the availability of organic feed and juveniles.

In addition, the organic scheme may not be in line with the production method developed by producers (for instance extensive pond polyculture in some Eastern EU countries or closed recirculating aquaculture systems) or national requirements (for instance requirements for the largest aquaculture sites in Denmark).

Another difficulty that stakeholders face when establishing a clear communication strategy toward their clients is the competition with other certification schemes (for instance Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the latter may also apply to shellfish production in the Netherlands) and the fact that organic scheme only covers aquaculture products and not wild caught products (farmed products account for about a quarter of EU seafood production and consumption).

The EuMOFA report proposes prospects for growth of organic aquaculture in the EU. These prospects are differentiated for shellfish and finfish, with “optimistic” prospects (if the present difficulties are addressed) and a “pessimistic” prospects (if the present difficulties are not addressed).

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