Council conclusions on aquaculture: prioritising animal welfare as a sustainability measure


Council conclusions on aquaculture: prioritising animal welfare as a sustainability measure

29 March 2024
The European Court of Auditors' call to develop science-based sustainability indicators has been reinforced with Council conclusions, adding animal welfare as a critical measure.

In a special report published in November 2023, the Court of Auditors assessed whether the EU has effectively advanced the sustainable development of its aquaculture sector. A major takeaway was the absence of reliable indicators for measuring sustainability progress, and the need to address this issue. 

The Court concluded that there is currently no way of knowing whether the increased EU funding allocation for aquaculture is actually achieving what it intends to. This is notable as public funding for aquaculture during 2014-2020 was 3 times higher than during 2007-2013.

During the audit process, consultations with the European Commission revealed that environmental performance indicators were being planned for dissemination through the EU Aquaculture Assistance Mechanism.

In its response to the Court’s report, the Council of the European Union acknowledged the gap related to indicators for monitoring sustainable growth within EU aquaculture, and welcomed the Commission’s work to develop such indicators. The Council also encouraged the development of welfare-specific indicators, which was not explicitly mentioned in the Court’s recommendations. This aligns with the unanimous stakeholder position from the Aquaculture Advisory Council that aquaculture policy reforms need to consider animal welfare a key pillar, as it is a critical yet often neglected aspect of sustainability.

In summary, the Council: 

  • Supported the Court’s initiative to improve transparency and accountability around the use of EU public funds;
  • Invited the Commission to cooperate with Member States to develop “suitable indicators and guidance documents” for providing long-term solutions for climate change adaptation of the sector;
  • Highlighted the need to consider animal welfare to both improve the sustainability of aquaculture and adhere to consumer values;
  • Encouraged the Commission to provide scientific guidance for improving aquatic animal welfare and propose straightforward animal welfare indicators.

What does this mean for future EU aquaculture policy?

Published just months after the European Parliament called for animal welfare to be included in the next revision of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), this could signal a strong commitment to prioritise the wellbeing of aquatic animals.

On the other hand, new types of harmful intensive aquaculture are still underway in the EU, including plans to farm octopuses in the Canary Islands. The Commission has remained noncommittal on the topic of octopus farming, yet there is speculation that EU public funds have contributed to the development of this industry

It was also recently announced that intensive bluefin tuna farming developments were supported by BlueInvest, an investment initiative enabled by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The decision to fund both octopus and bluefin tuna farming is controversial as the land-based systems proposed are highly energy intensive, and the carnivorous animals would rely heavily on wild caught fish for feed.

The introduction of sustainability indicators for monitoring the use of EU funds, and specifically animal welfare indicators, could change the way these support mechanisms are operating. The subsidies could become a driver and facilitator of the transition to low-trophic and high welfare production that is needed for European aquaculture to be sustainable. To achieve this, we need to elect animal advocates into office who will be the voice for aquatic animals. 

The 2024 EU elections will be held in June. It is critical for citizens to participate and advance commitments to aquatic animal welfare.

Take part in our campaign Vote for Animals to demand better from your candidates in the 2024 elections, and see which candidates have already taken the pledge for animals.