Indicator Specification

Aquaculture production

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: MAR 008
Published 03 Mar 2015 Last modified 04 Dec 2019
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This indicator presents the state and trends in aquaculture production across Europe, showing i n particular: 1: Trends in annual aquaculture production by major environment (marine, brackish and fresh waters); 2. Aquaculture production by country and per environment, and change over time; 3. Production of major aquaculture species (or groups of species); 4. Trends in annual production of major aquaculture species per environment; 5. Trends in annual production of main aquaculture production types i.e. finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants; and 6. Marine and brackishwater production relative to coastline length.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Aquaculture is the farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants like algae. It is a human activity of growing importance worldwide due to its key role in helping to address problems of food supply and food security in the face of the world’s growing population, as well as the dwindling capture of fisheries' stocks. Although aquaculture has been on the rise at a global level, it has remained relatively stable in the EU since the early 2000s. This is expected to change soon since aquaculture is considered a strategic sector with high potential for sustainable jobs and growth in the EU´s Blue Growth strategy, and a process to unlock its development is under way. 

While generating valuable products and incomes, aquaculture may modify ecosystem resilience, increase human health risks associated with food production safety issues, and affect the social and economic development of coastal communities (Buschmann et al 2008). There is concern over its environmental impact and sustainability as the expected increase may often be related with raised pressures on adjacent water bodies and associated ecosystems but also on a more systemic level. 

Aquaculture has documented impacts and may create problems on several biological levels – from genes to ecosystems, with known impacts on almost all aspects of habitats and ecosystems affecting geochemical characteristics of the (coastal) environment, plankton, benthos and benthic organisms, wild fish, and biodiversity. The precise level of impact, however, may vary according to production scale and management techniques, as well as to local and regional hydrodynamics and chemical characteristics.

Different types of aquaculture generate very different pressures on the environment, the main pressures being discharges of nutrients, antibiotics and fungicides. Major environmental impacts of aquaculture have been associated with uneaten feed, fish faeces or dead fish. This is especially the case for high-input/high-output intensive systems, the effects of which include discharge of suspended solids, and nutrient and organic enrichment of recipient waters resulting in the build-up of anoxic sediments, changes in benthic communities and eutrophication, releases of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, the introduction of diseases and escapees in the ecosystem affecting biodiversity, the introduction (deliberate or accidental) of alien species and impacts on wild fauna.

The development in aquaculture also has a direct impact on capture fisheries. The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation (IFFO) estimates that worldwide, out of the 89.5 million tonnes of capture fisheries, 22 million tonnes (almost 25% - 16.5 million tonnes of fish (whole) and 5.5 million tonnes of by-products (fish parts)) were converted into 5.0 million tonnes of fishmeal and 1.0 million tonnes of fish oil in 2008. 81% of all fish oil produced was destined to aquaculture, where it was mainly used in the salmon and trout segment (68%) and 63% of the fishmeal produced was used in aquaculture; mainly to feed salmon and trout, crustaceans and other marine fishes (Chamberlain, 2011)

The environmental pressures exerted by aquaculture are not uniform and consistent data is lagging for a European assessment. Furthermore, the quantification of impact on a wider scale becomes difficult as aquaculture production varies among countries due to different regional production patterns and techniques, ecosystem productivity and cultured species. Also, there are large differences between countries in the rate of growth and development of aquaculture, and also in the sophistication and complexity of its regulation, control and monitoring procedures (Read & Fernandes, 2003). 

This indicator therefore only captures aquaculture production as a proxy of pressure, separating it by environment, type of production and coastal intensity.

Scientific references

Indicator definition

This indicator presents the state and trends in aquaculture production across Europe, showing in particular:

1: Trends in annual aquaculture production by major environment (marine, brackish and fresh waters);

2. Aquaculture production by country and per environment, and change over time;

3. Production of major aquaculture species (or groups of species);

4. Trends in annual production of major aquaculture species per environment;

5. Trends in annual production of main aquaculture production types i.e. finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants; and

6. Marine and brackishwater production relative to coastline length.


Production is measured in tonnes, while marine and brackishwater aquaculture production relative to coastline length is given in tonnes per kilometre.


Policy context and targets

Context description

Over the last 30 years, the EU has introduced many legislative instruments that have led to the implementation of national legislation relevant to the management of the environmental impact of aquaculture. The EU has also introduced environmental provisions in order to safeguard the environmental protection of the aquatic environment. In the context of marine aquaculture, environmental protection measures have been established at three levels: (i) general policy; (ii) specific measures; and (iii) regulations that control specific local conditions. More recently, the EU has developed a strategy for its maritime activities where aquaculture is seen as a strategic sector with high potential for sustainable growth and jobs. 

The key EU environmental policies that aim at securing safe and healthy aquatic environments, of which aquaculture is dependent, are the 2000 Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The general objective of the WFD is to achieve good ecological status and good chemical status for all surface waters by 2015, including transitional and coastal waters. The MSFD aims to reach or maintain good environmental status of the marine environment by 2020 adopting an ecosystem approach.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), for which the latest reform process took place between 2009-2013, is set to ensure the exploitation of living aquatic resources that provide sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions. For this purpose, the EU shall apply the precautionary approach in taking measures designed to protect and conserve living aquatic resources, to provide for their sustainable exploitation and to minimise the impact of fishing activities on marine ecosystems. The new CFP entered into force in 2014 (Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013) and it aims to ensure that "fishing and aquaculture activities are environmentally sustainable in the long-term and are managed in a way that is consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits, and of contributing to the availability of food supplies". 

The new CFP builds on the process initiated in 2002 with the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture (COM-2002/511), which set out policy directions to promote the growth of aquaculture. In 2009, the European Commission published a communication to give new impetus for building a sustainable future for aquaculture by establishing conditions and ensuring compatibility between aquaculture and the environment (COM-2009/162). This new strategy had three key elements:

  • Help the sector become more competitive through strong support for research and development, better spatial planning in coastal areas and river basins, and giving specific help through the EU's fisheries market policy.
  • Ensure it remains sustainable by maintaining its environmentally-friendly production methods and high standards of animal health and welfare and consumer protection.
  • Improve governance and ensure there is a business-friendly environment in place at all levels – local, national and EU – so the sector can realise its full potential. 

In 2013, the Commission adopted strategic guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture (COM(2013) 229 final) where four priority areas have been identified in consultation with all relevant stakeholders:

  •     reducing administrative burdens;
  •     improving access to space and water;
  •     increasing competitiveness- strategy; and
  •     exploiting competitive advantages due to high quality, health and environmental standards.

On the basis of these guidelines, the Commission and EU Member States will collaborate to help to increase the sector's production and competitiveness under a new governance scheme. EU countries are asked to set up multi-annual national strategic plans for the promotion of sustainable aquaculture, seek complementarity with the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and exchange of best practices.

Aquaculture has been identified as one of five value chains that can deliver sustainable growth and jobs in the EU´s Blue Growth strategy (COM (2012) 494 final). In addition, in July 2014, the European Parliament and the Council adopted legislation to create a common framework for maritime spatial planning in Europe (Directive 2014/89/EU). Aquaculture is considered one of the sectors that Member States will have to include in these plans in a way that responds to the sector's needs and minimises its impacts on the environment and other human activities. 

Information on the structure of the aquaculture sector and on the technologies employed is required to ensure an environmentally sound industry is developed. Regulation (EC) No 762/2008 was established to require detailed statistics on the industry and covers: (a) the annual production (volume and unit value) of aquaculture; (b) the annual input (volume and unit value) to capture-based aquaculture; (c) the annual production of hatcheries and nurseries; (d) the structure of the aquaculture sector.

Furthermore there is an increasing need to control the introduction of species and develop strategies to minimise or mitigate the impacts of alien species in the aquaculture sector as described under Council Regulation (EC) No 708/2007 concerning the use of alien and locally absent species in aquaculture. This Regulation outlines a proposal for regulation of alien and locally absent species by establishing a new system for assessment and management of the risks associated with the introduction of new organisms for aquaculture. Regulations (EC) No 535/2008, which lays down detailed rules for the implementation of (EC) No 708/2007) and Regulation (EU) No 304/2011, which amend Council Regulation (EC) No 708/2007) also play a role in species introduction control and impact mitigation.

The EC Directives affecting the marketing of veterinary medicinal products also regulate aquaculture procedures. These EC Directives and Regulations pertaining to the marketing of veterinary medicinal products establish Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) and Marketing Authorisations (MAs) for chemicals administered to fish.

Linked to legislative and regulatory measures, institutional measures such as Codes of contact and Codes of Practice have been and are being established at international (FAO), national and aquaculture producer's association level (FEAP - Federation of European Aquaculture Producers) as mechanisms of self-regulation. The FEAP Code of Conduct for European Aquaculture was agreed in 2000 and contributed to the development of National Codes of Practice by many European Aquaculture Associations and was incorporated into the European Code of Sustainable and Responsible Fisheries Practices. This was adopted by the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture in 2003 (EC, 2004). The International Conventions (OSPAR, HELCOM, Barcelona Convention) also address directly the environmental impact of marine aquaculture. These conventions comprise: the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic; the Helsinki Convention (HELCOM) for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area and The Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution. The most important outcome from the OSPAR system affecting marine aquaculture is known as PARCOM.


No specific targets exist for aquaculture. Its development should however be in line with the objectives of the Water Framework Directive to reach good ecological and chemical status of all surface waters by 2015, and those of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to reach Good Environmental Status of the marine environment by 2020.

Related policy documents

Key policy question

Is aquaculture production increasing?



Methodology for indicator calculation

Data for aquaculture production (tonnes produced per year) is retrieved from the FAO FIGIS Data Base - Fisheries Statistical Collection: Aquaculture Production, Global Aquaculture Production based on specific queries for country, fishing area, environment, species and time. The environment (i.e. marine, brackish and freshwater), species or species groups and production type (i.e. finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants) are those used by the FAO.

The analysis covers the EU-28 and non-EU countries that are part of the EEA Eionet network for which production data exists. It has been aggregated at EU-28 or "all countries" (i.e. EU-28 + EEA member countries) level and the data is presented either by country groupings or individual countries, by environment, by type of production or a combination of these. The following analyses have been made:

1) Annual aquaculture production by major environment over time in the EU-28 and all countries (data can also be filtered to country level);

2) Aquaculture production per country and environment - current situation;

3) Percentage change in aquaculture production, in the EU-28 and all countries level, and per environment (data is also shown per environment and can be filtered to country level);

4) Major aquaculture species across all environments for all countries - current situation;

5) Annual aquaculture production of main species in marine waters over time, at EU-28 level (data can be further shown at all countries level or filtered by individual country);

6) Annual aquaculture production of main species in brackish waters over time, at EU-28 level (data can be further shown at all countries level or filtered by individual country);

7) Annual aquaculture production of main species in freshwater over time, at EU-28 level (data can be further shown at all countries level or filtered by individual country);

8) Annual aquaculture production of finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants over time, at EU-28 level (data can be further shown at all countries level. It is also shown per production type and can be filtered to country level); and

9) Marine and brackish aquaculture production relative to coastline length (coastline retrieved from World Resources Institute (Coastal and Marine Ecosystems- Marine Jurisdictions: Coastline length Units: Kilometers)).

Methodology for gap filling

not applicable

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

Same species can be reported under different environments.

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty

The pressure that aquaculture exerts on the environment remains difficult to quantify at EU level in the form and standards required for indicator development. Unfortunately, while there is information/statistics regarding production levels, there is no suitable information available regarding rates of nutrient and chemical discharge, and amount of escapes to assess genetic pollution or incidence of disease and even food conversion ratio that could be used as potential indicators.  

Production thus acts as a useful, coarse indicator of pressure but variations in culture species, production systems and management approaches mean that the relationship between production and pressure is non-uniform.

By presenting production relative to coastline length, it is possible to determine a more comparable value of production density. This is potentially a better indicator of pressure than a single production value, but there are difficulties with this indicator. It is inappropriate for landlocked countries; it does not apply to freshwater production; it does not consider the area of coastline that is potentially suitable for production; and the determination of coastline length is problematic and relies upon uniform scale being used for each country's determination.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Ana Tejedor


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
MAR 008
Version id: 2

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years


DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)


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