Indicator Specification

Aquaculture production in Europe

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: MAR 008
Published 07 Jun 2018 Last modified 09 Feb 2021
14 min read
This page was archived on 09 Feb 2021 with reason: Other (Discontinued indicator)
This indicator presents the state of and trends in aquaculture production across Europe, showing in particular: 1. trends in annual aquaculture production by continent to show Europe’s place within the global dimension; 2. the relative importance of aquaculture type (fish, molluscs, aquatic plants) between continents; 3. trends in annual European aquaculture production by major environment type (marine, inland) and culture type (fish, molluscs, aquatic plants); 4. trends in the annual production of major aquaculture species per environment type; 5. aquaculture production by country and per environment type; 6. marine production relative to coastline length as a measure of potential environmental impact.
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Aquaculture is the practice of farming fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants such as seaweeds and microalgae. It is a human activity of growing importance worldwide because of its key role in addressing problems of food supply and food security in the face of the world’s growing population. Although aquaculture has been increasing on a global level, it has remained relatively stable in the EU since the early 1990s. This is expected to change soon, however, since aquaculture is considered a strategic sector with high potential for sustainable jobs and growth in the EU's Blue Growth Strategy.

Although aquaculture can generate valuable products and incomes, it may also modify ecosystem resilience, increase risks to human health 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 in aquaculture activities may be associated with increased pressures on adjacent water bodies and associated ecosystems, and also with increased pressures 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 the geochemical characteristics of the (coastal) environment, plankton, benthos and benthic organisms, wild fish and biodiversity. Different types of aquaculture generate very different pressures on the environment, and the precise level of impact may therefore vary according to production scale and management technique, as well as local and regional hydrodynamics and chemical characteristics.

Major impacts may especially result from high-input/high-output intensive systems, the effects of which include the discharge of suspended solids; the nutrient and organic enrichment of recipient waters resulting in the build-up of anoxic sediments; changes in benthic communities and eutrophication; the release of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals; the introduction of diseases and escapees to the ecosystem, affecting biodiversity; the introduction (deliberate or accidental) of alien species; and impacts on wild fauna. The development of 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. Of all fish oil produced, 81 % was destined for 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 a lack of consistent data makes a European assessment difficult. Furthermore, the quantification of impacts on a wider scale is difficult as aquaculture production varies among countries because of different regional production patterns and techniques, ecosystem productivity and cultured species. In addition, 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 and Fernandes, 2003). 

This indicator therefore captures aquaculture production as only a proxy of pressure, separating it by environment, type of production (species group: pisces (fish), mollusca (mostly shellfish) and aquatic plants (mostly seaweeds)) and coastal intensity.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

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

1. trends in annual aquaculture production by continent to show Europe’s place within the global dimension;

2. the relative importance of aquaculture type (fish, molluscs, aquatic plants) between continents;

3. trends in annual European aquaculture production by major environment type (marine, inland) and culture type (fish, molluscs, aquatic plants);

4. trends in the annual production of major aquaculture species per environment type;

5. aquaculture production by country and per environment type;

6. marine production relative to coastline length as a measure of potential environmental impact.


Production is measured in thousand tonnes or per cent (%) of total production, while marine aquaculture production relative to coastline length is given in thousand 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 to safeguard the environmental protection of the aquatic environment. In the context of marine aquaculture, environmental protection measures have been established at three levels: (1) general policy; (2) specific measures; and (3) regulations that control specific local conditions. More recently, the EU has developed a strategy for its maritime activities in which aquaculture is seen as a strategic sector with high potential for sustainable growth and jobs. 

The key EU environmental policies that aim to ensure safe and healthy aquatic environments, on 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 by adopting an ecosystem approach.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), for which the latest reform process took place between 2009 and 2013, is set to ensure that the exploitation of living aquatic resources provides sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions. For this purpose, the EU shall apply a 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:

  • to help the sector become more competitive through strong support for research and development, and better spatial planning in coastal areas and river basins, and by giving specific help through the EU's fisheries market policy;
  • to ensure it remains sustainable by maintaining environmentally friendly production methods and high standards of animal health and welfare and consumer protection;
  • to improve governance and ensure that there is a business-friendly environment in place at all levels — local, national and EU — so that 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 were identified in consultation with all relevant stakeholders:

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

On the basis of these guidelines, the Commission and EU Member States will collaborate to help increase the sector's production and competitiveness under a new governance scheme. Using these guidelines, Member States have developed or are now developing multiannual national plans (MANPs) for the development of sustainable aquaculture. These MANPs outline how each Member State intends to foster growth in the aquaculture industry.

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 that an environmentally sound industry is developed. Regulation (EC) No 762/2008 was established to provide detail on the statistics about the industry required and covers: (1) the annual production (volume and unit value) of aquaculture; (2) the annual input (volume and unit value) to capture-based aquaculture; (3) the annual production of hatcheries and nurseries; and (4) 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 the regulation of alien and locally absent species by establishing a new system for the assessment and management of the risks associated with the introduction of new organisms for aquaculture. Regulation (EC) No 535/2008, which lays down detailed rules for the implementation of (EC) No 708/2007, and Regulation (EU) No 304/2011, which amends 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 related 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 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), national and aquaculture producers' association levels (Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP)) 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). International conventions also directly address the environmental impact of marine aquaculture. These conventions are 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 is known as PARCOM.


No specific targets exist for aquaculture. Its development should however be in line with the objectives of the WFD to reach good ecological and chemical status of all surface waters by 2015, and those of the MSFD to reach good environmental status of the marine environment by 2020.

To stimulate aquatic production, EU Member States prepared national strategies for ambitious growth, aiming to produce an extra 300 000 tonnes by 2020, i.e. an increase of 25 % (Summary of the 27 Multiannual National Aquaculture Plans, European Union, 2016).

Related policy documents



Methodology for indicator calculation

Data for aquaculture production (tonnes produced per year) are retrieved from the FAO's FISHSTAT (Fisheries Statistical Collection: Aquaculture Production, Global Aquaculture Production), based on specific queries for country, fishing area, environment, species and time. The environment type (i.e. marine or inland), species or species group, and production type (i.e. finfish, molluscs or aquatic plants) are the categories 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 exist. It has been aggregated at the level of the EU-28 or 'all countries' (i.e. EU-28 plus EEA member countries) and the data are presented by either country groupings or individual countries, by environment, by type of production or a combination of these.

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

The 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 the EU level in the form, and in accordance with, the standards required for indicator development. Unfortunately, while there are information and statistics on production levels, there is no information on the rates of nutrient and chemical discharge, or the number of escapees that is necessary to assess genetic pollution, the incidence of disease or even the food conversion ratio, which could be used as potential indicators.  

Therefore, production acts as a useful, but coarse, indicator of the pressures resulting from aquaculture, 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; it does not account for the aggregation of production in certain areas; and the determination of coastline length is problematic and relies upon a 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: 3

Frequency of updates

This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.


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


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