Industry needs to shape the debate on aquaculture
The aquaculture industry has many positive messages to communicate. For example, fish farming is the most environmentally compatible way of meeting the world's growing demand for protein. It plays a fundamental role in fighting poverty and malnutrition and is the only way to provide an increasing global population access to a healthful source of protein. The industry needs to become much better at getting these and other positive messages across to consumers and the organisations that influence consumer opinion, said Arnault Chaperon in his intervention, so as to improve the image of the industry and to counter messages that denigrate the sector. A better image may in turn lead to better prices. For example, wild seabass was twice the price of the farmed variety in 2013, a difference that Mr Chaperon attributed partly to the image of the farmed product. His point was further substantiated by Véronique Ehanno from the French Interprofessional Committee for Aquaculture Products, who emphasised the need for the industry and its communication campaigns to shape the debate on aquaculture and not to appear defensive. Consumer research in France has shown how 80% of the consumers in a sample were as likely to buy farmed fish as wild (the remainder eschewed farmed fish). The need therefore is to make farmed fish more visible, not only with positive messages in the media, but physically on store shelves, at fishmongers, and in restaurants. Later, during the final session, the importance of positive communication was reinforced by Gilles Doignon of DG MARE who spoke about the EU's aquaculture promotional campaign "Farmed in the EU".
Science is key to improving outcomes
The second session addressed the issue of confidence European aquaculture: confidence in product safety, in feed safety, in environmental issues and in welfare. Catherine McManus from Marine Harvest presented the numerous safety measures that are used in the farming of salmon showing how levels of contaminants (dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs, and mercury) have fallen by approximately half over the eight years to 2013 and are well within the threshold level in even the strictest market. Similarly, antibiotic use has dropped thanks to better husbandry practices and improved vaccines, and in terms of grams per tonnes of live weight, antibiotic use in the company is substantially less than, for example, in the livestock industry. Lower usage of antibiotics has positive implications for the environment. Neil Auchterlonie of CEFAS (UK) showed that confidence in environmental issues is gained from a combination of a legislative framework, a science- supported evidence base and a voluntary approach by the industry. Finally, Nancy De Briyne from the Federation of European veterinarians explained the main welfare issues and the challenges of measuring and monitoring welfare.
Reduce the administrative burden to foster growth
In the third session Niels Alsted discussed the ongoing developments within the fish feed industry and the challenges that still need tackling, notably on ingredients. Javier Ojeda from Apromar (Spain) provided a farmer's perspective on certification and responding to the consumer's choices. Nikos Zampoukas from DG RESEARCH explained the EU research programmes related to aquaculture, giving specific examples, and Lara Barazi from Kefalonian Fisheries (Greece) noted the lack of systematic market studies and consumer surveys and the role of the EU in communicating its positive values and principles.
Richie Flynn, IFA, closed the meeting by stressing that sustainability is the driver and, increasingly, the selling point of the EU aquaculture industry and its products. This conference has shown how the aquaculture sector has become self-aware, responsible and educated but that the legislators need to recognize this and take the measures necessary, notably on simplification, to foster growth.