Aquafeed’s crucial role in the sustainable development of EU Aquaculture

The European Commission intends to boost aquaculture through the Common Fisheries Policy reform, where it identified the need to increase competitiveness as one of the priorities. FEFAC supports the goals set out by the Commission and aims to proactively convey the key messages as regards the aquafeed’s role in the sustainable development of EU aquaculture.

In a FAO report published in December 2013 on the expected global fish consumption by 2030, the figures indicate that the demand for fish is expected to substantially increase. Given the fact this increase in demand cannot be met through fisheries, because of the already critical pressure being put on wild sea food resources, there lies a crucial role for aquaculture to sustainably increase its activities. Fish farming provides an efficient way of producing high nutritional value animal products with limited input and is currently the fastest growing animal food producing sector. On a global scale, aquaculture has in fact passed the turning point of being the main supplier of seafood. Unfortunately, aquaculture in the EU has not seen any significant growth in the last decade, even though neighbouring countries like Norway and Turkey have seen noteworthy expansion. The EU currently imports two thirds of its seafood consumption from third countries, with EU Aquaculture only supplying 10% of the EU market.

FEFAC, therefore, fully supported the objectives set out in the Common Fisheries Policy reform, which aimed to enhance the growth and competitiveness of EU aquaculture through sustainable development, where aquafeed of course plays a key role. Cooperation between fish farmers and the whole aquaculture supply industries led to the creation of EATIP (European Aquaculture Technology & Innovation Platform) which developed a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda for EU policy makers in order to boost the development of the EU aquaculture sector in a level playing field vis-à-vis 3rd country competitors. It should also not be forgotten that fish farms and fish feed production sites are mostly located in remote rural and coastal areas with few job alternatives, thereby giving the development of aquaculture a socio-economic importance in supporting local economic growth and providing job opportunities.

It is well-known that dependency on marine raw materials for aquafeed production will eventually lead to depletion of precious marine wildlife as well as socio-economic pressure on local fishing communities. The innovations in feed formulations in the last decade have already gradually allowed fish farmers to improve the feed conversion rate to such an extent that they can now be considered net marine protein producers, without compromising fish health and welfare. In addition, investments in animal nutrition research and development have stimulated the inclusion of more vegetable proteins and oils as well as feed additives and minerals, thereby allowing a substantial replacement of fish meal and fish oil in farmed fish diets. The search for more sustainable alternatives is ongoing and looks very promising; however, the industry and academic investments in scientific research do require commitments from policy makers, the retail sector and environmental NGOs.

In April 2014, FEFAC organised a workshop in Brussels which illustrated that consumer-friendly feed solutions such as krill, algae and insects are potential feed alternatives to fish meal and fish oil, though each resource has its own challenges which may prevent it from becoming a sustainable, large-scale supply of nutrients. As a first step of the TSE roadmap towards partially lifting the feed ban on animal proteins, the EU reauthorized use of the highly digestible and protein-rich non-ruminant PAP (processed animal protein) for fish feed in June 2013. Despite its excellent nutritional profile and guarantees as regards safety, non-ruminant PAP is only very marginally used in EU aquaculture due to market resistance often based on unfounded myths, which were already demystified in a FEFAC, FEAP and EFPRA joint communication ((14) PR 6). Non-ruminant PAP in fact perfectly meets the nutritional requirements of carnivorous fish species such as salmon, trout and sea bass and above all does not take up any additional land. For EU aquafeed manufacturers it is unexplainable that imported farmed fish fed with non-ruminant PAP are not hindered by any market or consumer resistance at all, especially considering the PAP often enough originates from the EU, whereas EU aquafeed manufacturers face stricter market demands all the while simultaneously being criticised for the use of fish meal.

It is therefore clear for FEFAC that EU farmed fish supply chain actors, including environmental NGOs concerned with the state of threatened fish colonies, need to cooperatively defend the inclusion of non-ruminant PAP in fish feed for the benefit of the sustainable development of EU aquaculture and the protection of fish colonies.