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Cluster story: Fishing and aquaculture

Published on: Tue, 08/02/2022 - 13:30
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    Fishing and aquaculture are a major source of food, as well as important activities for local communities. The EMFF has funded cutting-edge projects focusing on research and innovation as the keys to securing a stable supply of seafood and preserving the marine ecosystem.

    © mariusltu -

    Imagine having technology that would allow fish farmers to monitor the health of each of their fish remotely, or solar powered devices to monitor fisheries, or using robotics to characterise the quality of each piece of tuna before it is canned. These advances and many more are either under development or in use thanks, in part, to innovative projects funded by the EMFF. It is all part of global efforts to maintain or improve the resources provided by the ocean..

    The ocean provides humanity with a major source of food, but, with climate change looming and the global population projected to expand to as many as 11 billion people until 2100, food security will remain an important economic development issue. Facing this calls for putting together a vast amount of resources but also a fair degree of ingenuity to feed at least a third more mouths than today, without inflicting further damage on the environment.

    Looking ahead, the ocean will remain our ally. Not only are fish, crustacea and molluscs delicious; they provide a source of lean proteins, healthy fats and minerals. It’s no wonder that humans have been eating them for millennia. Homo habilis and Homo erectus had already developed fishing skills some 500,000 years ago, while Homo sapiens perfected the technique between 40,000 and 10,000 BCE.

    As for farming, the earliest evidence of the practice dates back to before 1,000 BCE in China. But it was the Romans who took things to a whole different level. The Romans had a penchant for oysters, but the luscious bivalve wasn’t exactly abundant in the warm Mediterranean waters. So, the Romans ended up sourcing them from their conquered territories, where oysters were plentiful. When those oysters soon became scarce due to overharvesting, panic ensued among the fashionable society, until a talented man, who went by the name of Sergius Aurata, devised a system for cultivating them.

    That was then, this is now. Both fishing and aquaculture are quite different from those ancient days, though not one bit less important. The EU is the sixth largest producer of fishery and aquaculture products, behind China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Peru, and, overall, its production, which accounts for around 3% of global production, has been rather stable in the last decades. In 2018, the EU had about 59,000 active vessels landing about 4.5 million tonnes of seafood, with a turnover value of €6.7 billion. The EU aquaculture sector reached a production of 1.2 million tonnes, with a turnover value of €4.1 billion. And these figures only include the production sector. If we looked at the processing and distribution of seafood, the values would be much higher.

    Keeping up with the ever-increasing demand for seafood causes considerable stress on fish stocks. With no property rights on the ocean and its resources, overfishing can easily turn into a tragedy of the commons – a situation in which individual users, who have open access to a resource unhampered by formal rules that govern access and use, act independently according to their own self-interest and cause depletion of the resource through their uncoordinated action. It’s with this concern in mind that the European Commission has devised a system based on quotas and total allowable catches (TACs), where a quantity of a species is allocated to a Member State and/or individual operator. Though the idea initially met a lukewarm response from fishers, who were understandably preoccupied with a potential loss of revenue, over time it’s proved quite effective in avoiding stock depletion, thus ensuring long-term environmental and financial sustainability. By 2050, Earth will have almost 10 billion humans who will eat over 500 billion kilograms of meat. That is 2 billion more people and 177 billion more kilograms of meat than Earth currently has. With land-based meat fraught with climate and environmental impacts, it’s time to determine how much animal protein can be sustainably supplied by the ocean.

    Aquaculture certainly has a role to play. If the ocean does not produce enough wild fish to appease our unquenchable appetite, surely farming it would provide the perfect solution. Or would it? It just so happens that aquaculture has its own challenges. Hyper-intensive farms, for example, may wreak ruin on the marine ecosystem by producing waste that has the potential to build up in the surrounding areas. This can deplete the water of oxygen, creating algal blooms and dead zones. Farmers’ usage of antibiotics to prevent disease might also have adverse impacts on the ecosystem around the cages, including the wild fish. However, the parallel farming of filter-feeders, such as shellfish has been shown to improve water quality. These creatures eat excessive nutrients in the water, which, in turn, prevents the build-up of effluent. Thus, when filter-feeders are integrated into the farming of other species, such as finfish, they consume uneaten feed and fish waste. Known as integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA), this system can offset fish farming’s environmental impact.

    Describing the challenges associated with fishing and fish farming is not meant to cast bad light on the sector. On the contrary, it should remind us that we need to remain focused and never lose sight of sustainability. Both fishing and aquaculture are traditional activities of pivotal importance for local communities and global consumers alike. Further, both fishing and the aquaculture industry are relentlessly pursuing more sustainable approaches to resource management. They recognise technology, research and innovation as the keys to securing a stable supply of seafood, while at the same time preserving the marine ecosystem.

    It’s exactly for this reason that in its Farm to Fork Strategy the European Commission has emphasised that farmers, fishers and aquaculture producers need to transform their production methods more quickly, and make the best use of nature-based, technological, digital, and space-based solutions to deliver better climate and environmental results, increase climate resilience and reduce and optimise the use of inputs (e.g. pesticides, fertilisers). These solutions require human and financial investment, but also promise higher returns by creating added value and by reducing costs. To follow up on the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Commission has published the Strategic Guidelines for a More Sustainable and Competitive EU Aquaculture that provide a vision for the further development of aquaculture, in a way that contributes to the European Green Deal and economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Further, in the past few years the EMFF has funded several state-of-the-art projects with the potential to innovate the sector and safeguard the marine environment. Entrefish aimed to increase innovation and sustainability of SMEs in the fish and aquaculture sectors, by improving the skills of the people working in the sector, attracting new highly skilled workers, and developing and supporting the needed multidisciplinary approach to sustainability (environmental, biological, social, economic, managerial aspects). FTL-FISH demonstrated the commercial viability of introducing light-emitting devices into fishing gear to lower non-target bycatch in fishing activities. NetTag aimed to reduce and prevent marine litter derived from fisheries by using acoustic systems, which help fishers to localise and recover their lost gears; and by promoting better practices on-board regarding management of fishing waste. ENSAMBLE created a network between local communities of fishers in Tunisia, France and Italy to foster community-led local development approaches, as well as exchange of best practices. While not dealing with fishing itself, SpecTUNA is working on automating the tuna preparation step prior to canning, in order to provide information on the quality characterisation of each of piece by using hyperspectral image analysis and robotics. MUSSELPRO is developing a top-notch mussel processing system based on advanced imaging technology and artificial intelligence, which can be programmed according to the characteristics of each batch of mussels. The project promises to deliver 20% shorter processing cycles, resulting in 15% energy savings and 20% higher output. SMART-HATCHERY introduced a paradigm change in the current feeding processes of marine fish and shrimp farming, through a new generation of microdiets, as well as the use of an artificial-intelligence-based system aimed at increasing feeding efficiency, reducing waste and improving water quality. EASY FEED pioneered the use of an innovative organic feed formula for aquaculture, based on quinoa and spirulina, to reduce the sector’s dependence on marine resources. DEMO-BLUESMARTFEED is aiming to curb feed costs in the aquaculture industry, by developing a “smart system for feeding control”, which is based on vision cameras and acoustic devices. STARFISH 4.0 is bringing to market an innovative a solar-powered device to monitor the activity of small-scale fisheries. BIOGEARS is developing biobased ropes for offshore aquaculture, to replace the plastic ropes that are currently used. SEASTAR is working on innovative underwater infrastructure to allow fish farmers to monitor the health of each fish remotely, in real time, and to gather relevant data for accurate risk assessment and forecasting.

    More info on fishing and aquaculture

    Complete list of EMFF-funded projects

    Project name

    Start Date

    End date

    Total budget in €

    EU contribution in 

    Blue Academy for Professionals of the Seafood Industry (BAPSI)





    Biobased gears as solutions for the creation of an eco-friendly offshore aquaculture sector, in a multitrophic approach, and new biobased value chains (BIOGEARS)





    Catching the Potential: Setting the Standard for Sustainable Fishing Training (CTP)





    FISH chitinolytic biowastes FOR FISH active and sustainable packaging material (FISH4FISH)





    Support InnovaFeed in its next level innovation and industrial deployment across Europe (InnovaFeed BEW 2019)





    Demonstration of an IoT 4.0 mussel processing system for an advanced seafood canning industry (MUSSELPRO)





    Demonstration of intensive shellfish farming in OPEN waters with resilient and affordable MODulEs (OpenMode)





    Development and commercialisation of safe, effective and user-friendly photonics based sea lice removal system for salmon farms (Photolicer)





    Real time monitoring and SurvEillance of Aquaculture farmS with neTworks of underwAter sensoRs (SEASTAR)





    Smart Feeding Systems for Hatcheries (SMART-HATCHERY)





    Demonstration of an autonomous connected device and digital tools for safety of artisanal fishermen and sustainable management of small-scale fisheries (STARFISH 4.0)





    Blue Education for Sustainable Management of Aquatic Resources (BLUE SMART)





    Sustainable entrepreneurship for stronger skills and new employment in fishery’s and aquaculture’s SMEs (Entrefish)





    Disruptive and forward-looking opportunities for competitive and sustainable aquaculture (INvertebrateIT)



    860,995 688,797

    Eco-aquaponics systems – 100% sustainable and profitable EU fish-farming (EASY FEED)





    Automated modular system for cutting and classifying frozen tuna using hyperspectral characterization (SpecTUNA)





    Demonstration project of a smart technology for monitoring the delivery of feed for a sustainable aquaculture (DEMO-BLUESMARTFEED)





    Follow The Light – LED devices to lower non-target catch in retail supply chain (FTL-FISH)





    Fish substitute from algae to preserve marine wildlife and develop algaculture (SEAFOOD ALGTERNATIVE)





    Replacing soy with Pekilo protein in aquafeed (AquaPekilo)