Is there something fishy about the EU seafood industry? II Compfight/Shutterstock

European Aquaculture – Picking up the slack?

The FEAP (2013) (Federation of European Aquaculture Producers) notes that the EU market is the largest in the world for seafood. Per capita annual consumption levels have increased regularly in recent years to around 24 kg. Aquaculture provides 1.3 million tons, split between fish and shellfish, representing nearly 25% of EU ‘landings’ (fisheries & aquaculture). The total quantity of 13 million tons for consumption has been quite stable since 2006. It is to be noted that a significant proportion of these imports comes from non-EU aquaculture including both European sources (Norway, Turkey and Faroe Islands) and non-European sources (e.g. salmon from Chile, shrimps and fish from Asia). Fishery landings are expected to be stable in the coming years – that’s why the current import level of 9.4 million tons (63% of supply) can be reduced only if EU aquaculture grows. Achieving this requires substantial changes to both strategic and practical approaches to aquaculture development. Furthermore, the EU is increasingly sensitive to issues affecting the security of food supply; agriculture is being asked to undergo ‘sustainable intensification’ so as to increase output. The challenge facing the EU is how to achieve these goals in the face of global competition.

TABLE 1: Europe’s largest players in aquaculture in order of output (2010)





1 008 010



252 351



224 400


United Kingdom

201 091



153 486


Russian Federation

120 384



113 486



66 945


Faroe Islands

47 575



46 187



289 264



2 523 179


(FAO, 2012) 

Market Trends in the European Seafood Market

The amount of seafood produced within the EU, to meet local market demand, has declined substantially over the last two decades. In the 1990’s, imports accounted for approximately 40% of demand, whereas today that figure is closer to 65% and is showing no sign of falling. As the emerging powerhouse economies of the Far East grow wealthier, their demand for seafood will continue to increase greatly. It shouldn’t be forgotten that, for example, the middle class in China is expected to quadruple to 600 million citizens in the next five years. This, together with an inevitable increase in fuel prices, will reduce the availability of cheap seafood from outside Europe. This, in turn, will have significant implications for the European market and for Irish seafood producers (Department of Agriculture, 2012a). 

The EU absorbs 80% of Irish seafood exports. A recently produced report estimated that in 2011, Europeans had hypothetically eaten the total annual quantity of fish locally produced by EU fisheries prior to July 2, relying after this date on fish sourced from foreign waters. This date is seven days earlier than the one calculated for 2010 and more than one month earlier than for 2000, indicating a growing dependency on foreign fish (Miller D, 2010). Species that were considered speciality items on the European market only a few years ago are now major commodities, such as Nile Perch and pangasius. 

On the back of consumer demand throughout the European market, several certification schemes have been rolled out and accepted as offering a progressive means for organisations to demonstrate their active role in the improvement of fish stocks, of these schemes the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Friend of the Sea (FOS) certification schemes are the most popular. Fish consumption in the EU is currently of 13 million tonnes per year, which represents 20 kg per person per year. It varies substantially from region to region, the highest being in Portugal at 55kg and lowest in Central and Eastern Europe, being less than 5 kg per person per year in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Overconsumption in the EU is set to increase by 1.5 million tonnes by 2030 (sustainability, 2012).

The EU is by far the largest single market for imported fish and fishery products owing to its growing domestic consumption. However, it is extremely heterogeneous, with markedly different conditions from country to country. EU fishery imports reached $44.6 billion (USD) in 2010, up to 10 percent from 2009, and representing 40 percent of total world imports. However, if intraregional trade is excluded, the EU imported fish and fishery products worth $23.7 billion (USD) from suppliers outside the EU, an increase of 11 percent from 2009 (FAO, 2012).

The EU’s appetite for seafood rapidly grows and this can hardly be satisfied by increased European production, combined with steadily ferocious Asian consumption. It makes me wonder: will Europeans be able to afford to keep seafood on the menu 30 years from now? 

Edited by: Réka Blazsek 
Photo credits: Shutterstock