Aquaculture: effluent water quality from finfish farms (SEBI 022) - Assessment published May 2010
Biodiversity (Primary topic)
- SEBI 022
Key policy question: What are the main trends in aquaculture across Europe?
Aquaculture production in Europe has increased in the EU since 1990, levelling off slightly since 2000 although Norway and Iceland continue to show large increases. This overall increase implies a rise in pressure on adjacent water bodies and associated ecosystems resulting mainly from nutrient releasefrom aquaculture facilities. Annual production in the current version of the indicator is a proxy for the environmental impacts of aquaculture. Work is underway to develop a more advanced indicator to assess the sustainability of aquaculture.
Annual aquaculture production by country in 2001 and 2006
Note: How to read the graph: in Spain the annual aquaculture production decreased from 310 000 tonnes in 2001 to 293 000 tonnes in 2006
FAO FISHSTAT Plus.
Annual aquaculture production by major area
Note: How to read the graph: In EFTA, between 1990 and 2006 the annual aquaculture production increased from 150 000 to 720 000 tonnes
- FAO Fisheries Statistics provided by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Total European aquaculture production has grown significantly in the past 15 years due to expansion in the marine sector in the EU and EFTA countries although this has slowed since 1999. This represents a rise in pressure on water bodies and associated ecosystems resulting mainly from nutrient release from aquaculture facilities. The increase in both production and pressure on the environment has not been uniform across countries or production systems. Mariculture has increased significantly, brackish water production has increased at a much lower rate and freshwater production has declined.
Improvements in the efficiency of feed and nutrient utilisation as well as environmental management have to some extent mitigated environmental pressures.
The biggest European aquaculture producers are found in the EU-15 + EFTA region. Norway has the highest production, followed by Spain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. These five countries account for nearly 75 % of all aquaculture production amongst 34 European countries.
Different types of aquaculture generate different pressures on the environment although the main pressures are discharges of nutrients, antibiotics and fungicides. In addition, wild fish is often used as the basis for fish food. According to one estimate (UNEP, 2004), 4 - 6 kg of wild fish are ground into meal to produce 1 kg of farmed fish.
Intensive finfish production (mainly salmonids in marine, brackish and freshwaters, and sea bass and sea bream in the marine environment) exerts the greatest pressure on the environment.
Precisely this sector has grown fastest in recent years. The cultivation of bivalve molluscs also creates pressures (removal of plankton and local concentration and accumulation of organic matter and metabolites) but these are less severe than those from intensive finfish cultivation. Environmental pressure per unit production in inland waters (e.g. pond aquaculture of carp) is generally less than for the more intensive coastal salmonid production.
The amount of antibiotics used has been reduced drastically in recent years following the introduction of vaccines and improved husbandry practices. Improvements in the efficiency of feed and nutrient utilisation as well as environmental management also mitigate the environmental pressure of marine farms.
The greatest marine aquaculture production in relation to coastline length is found in Spain, France, the Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
Production intensity is on average eight tonnes per km of coastline in EU-10 + EFTA countries compared with two tonnes per km in the EU-10 + Romania + Bulgaria + Balkan region. As production of species such as cod, halibut and turbot becomes more reliable, growth of aquaculture (and related pressures) is likely to continue to increase. At the same time, significant improvements have been made in reducing effluents from fish farms. For example, it was reported (Enell, 1995), that in Nordic fish farms between 1974 and 1994, the loads of nitrogen were reduced from 132 kg per tonne of fish produced to 55 kg/t, and levels of phosphorus were reduced from 31 kg/t to 5 kg/t. Similarly, nitrogen discharge per tonne production in EU aquaculture was three times lower in 2003 than in 1983 (INDENT, 2006).
Enell, M., 1995. 'Environmental impact of nutrients from Nordic fish farming'. Water Science and Technology 31(10):61-71.
INDENT, 2006. Indicators of Environmental integration. Final report. Tender Reference No FISH/2004/12.
UNEP, 2004. Resource Kit for Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns. Available at: http://www.unep.org/PDF/sc/SC_resourcekit.pdf. [Accessed 23 June 2009]
- EEA Core Set Indicator 33 (Aquaculture production): http://themes.eea.europa.eu/IMS/CSI.
Aquaculture production - Assessment 2009
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoKatarzyna Biala
EEA Management Plan2010 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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