Aquaculture Advisory Council general assembly meeting, 8 September 2020

EM6 20 AQ AAC GAAmbitious programme of work for 2021

This article was featured in EUROFISH Magazine 6 / 2020.

The annual general assembly of the Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC) in September this year was held online due to the pandemic. The virtual setting had, however, no impact on the level of debate which has characterised this organisation’s meetings. In his address, Virginius Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, welcomed the advice and recommendations made by AAC for the Commission and the Member States to guide the development of sustainable aquaculture in Europe. He stressed that aquaculture as a low carbon source of high-quality protein plays a key role in meeting the objectives of EU strategies, including the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy, and the Biodiversity Strategy.

In this respect, one essential tool made available by the European Commission with the full support of AAC is the revised strategic guidelines for the development of sustainable aquaculture in Europe, which will be adopted by the end of this year.

Clara Aguilera, member of the European Parliament and member of the PECHE and AGRI Committees, shared her perspective on the Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy stressing the importance of the transition period, financial resources allocation and on the impact assessment needed for the proper implementation of these policies. As for the Farm to Fork Strategy, Ms Aguilera pointed to the paucity of references to aquaculture in the document and emphasised the role of the European Parliament and of stakeholders in remedying this. In response to comments made by the AAC members requesting equal support opportunities for agriculture and aquaculture, Ms Aguilera renewed her wish to cooperate with sector representatives and follow AAC recommendations to raise awareness about aquaculture’s potential and thus contribute to its growth.

Pandemic or not, next year promises to be busy for members of the AAC

In addition to the four recommendations on the revision of the strategic guidelines for the sustainable development of aquaculture, the AAC published two recommendations on the proposal for a delegated act to amend Annex III to Regulation 853/2004 (Norovirus 2) and on the revaluation of the risk assessment of parasites in farmed fish products. Priorities in the AAC working programme for next year include analysing the implementation of the Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable development of European Aquaculture (national strategic plans, procedures simplification, competitiveness enhancing); discussing environmental issues and sustainability concerns (ecosystem services provided by aquaculture, EU Nature, WF and MSF Directives, defining sustainability in aquaculture); examining the role of the EMFF (analyse how the fund has been spent on aquaculture and the effectiveness of the spending); and highlighting aquatic animal health and welfare (availability of veterinary medicines, of vaccines and antimicrobial resistance, improving fish welfare) among others.

The discussion which followed focused on the role of AAC in achieving Green Deal objectives. The conclusions of the several ad-hoc debating groups were almost unanimous in that despite the efforts made the EU aquaculture sector is not growing as expected mainly because of multiple layers of unrelenting regulations and excessive administrative burden. These constraints, mentioned also by Dr Ralph Döring, Vice-chair of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), discourage investments, deter young people from joining aquaculture development effort, and increase the vulnerability of EU aquaculture to third countries’ imports. At the end of the day, aquaculture can certainly generate sustainable food with respect for animal welfare and biodiversity issues, but firstly it must produce more.