Fish welfare a high priority in EU’s new Aquaculture Strategy to 2030
After continued advocacy by NGO stakeholders for better fish welfare in aquaculture, the European Commission finally took a major leap towards the better protection of fish welfare with the publication of the long awaited Strategic Guidelines on Sustainable and Competitive Aquaculture. These guidelines will steer policy initiatives and the use of subsidies in the EU aquaculture sector for the period 2021 to 2030 and will be a reference point in global initiatives on sustainable aquaculture. They provide a common vision for the Commission, EU Member States and stakeholders for the further development of aquaculture in the EU as a sector which is both sustainable and competitive, and contributes to broader policy objectives, notably in the context of the European Green Deal.
While the previous guidelines from 2013 did not even contain the word ‘welfare’, the new guidelines have for the first time a dedicated section on animal welfare:
The stand-alone section on fish welfare includes the following objectives:
- Support authorities, experts and stakeholders to develop together a code of good practice on fish welfare including farming, transport and slaughter.
- Set common, validated, species-specific, and auditable fish-welfare indicators including farming, transport and slaughter.
- Research and innovation especially into species-specific welfare parameters and nutritional needs.
- Provide training to aquaculture producers and other operators.
Fish Welfare as an Enabler
Our calls for fish welfare improvements have also been taken up in other sections of the guidelines.
The role that welfare plays in improving fish health has been put at the heart of the fish health section, including the following objectives:
- Map good husbandry practices, in particular environmental enrichment, and organise training on this.
- Prevent the emergence of disease and parasites.
- Focus research on supporting the natural defense mechanisms of the fish, especially the microbiome and the impact of stress on immune function.
The following objectives in the environment section are also focussed on and aligned with welfare improvements, in particular:
- Encouraging diversification into new species especially non-fed and low-trophic species.
- Encouraging diversification away from monoculture systems.
- Encouraging new feeding systems to be respectful of ecosystems and biodiversity, while being appropriate for the health and welfare of the fish, and specifically limiting reliance on the use of fishmeal and fish oil.
- Good husbandry practices are highlighted as the route to reducing the use of veterinary products and other polluting chemicals.
Promoting EU Aquaculture
The guidelines also set out the approach for the EU’s promotion of the EU’s aquaculture sector. There are promising priorities established for promotional and communication campaigns, as well as targeting technical support, including:
- Promoting organic aquaculture
- Development and promotion of new products especially from traditional systems.
- Communication objectives are focussed on lower footprint products especially low-trophic species.
- A separate strategy specifically to support the growth of algae production in the EU will follow.
Following the publication of these guidelines it is up to the EU Member States to update their national aquaculture plans to match the new ambition of the guidelines. It is now on the Commission, and on Member States and stakeholders to work towards these objectives and implement these initiatives in concrete and meaningful ways in the next years.