Organic salmon can be difficult to find in European shops, and people do not know much about organic fish in general. New research highlights the need for updating EU regulations. This could create clearer regulations for organic aquaculture and increased consumer trust.
“The EU has a strong desire to see organic aquaculture grow. This will require regulations that are conducive to this growth. And consumers must be made more aware of what organic farming entails. Many consumers think organic fish is the same thing as wild fish,” says Åsa Maria O. Espmark, Senior Researcher at Nofima.
Espmark coordinated the EU project OrAqua, in which researchers from several European nations collaborated to formulate new scientific recommendations for updating current regulations for organic aquaculture in Europe. As a part of the project, the researchers also conducted a survey on consumer perception and understanding of organic aquaculture, which found that many people do not understand what organic aquaculture is.
“Organic production essentially means maintaining full control of production, no use of synthetic drugs or pesticides, and strict regulation of production conditions and water quality. In other words, an organic fish is also considered a domesticated animal, and is not the same as a wild fish. Knowledge of this nature shows how important it is to have broad awareness of what constitutes organic aquaculture,” says the senior researcher.
In OrAqua, researchers focused on the farming of all commercial European species of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and seaweed/kelp. Farmed fish species included salmon, trout and sea bream. Espmark reveals that major disparity exists with regard to applicable rules for the different species in terms of breeding, genetics, slaughtering, etc. For example, there is a regulation which applies solely to prawn and shrimp.
She says it was important to incorporate organic principles in the recommendations, but stresses that some exceptions are completely unavoidable.
“We need to acknowledge that some things are just not possible. For example, it is important that organic production contains nothing artificial, while in fish farming the use of nutritional supplements – such as amino acids produced by fermentation – is absolutely necessary. The health and welfare of the fish must come first,” says Espmark.
Water oxygenation is not permitted in organic aquaculture, which limits fish density and results in lower production. Water recycling is likewise not permitted based on the regulations.
Espmark explains that there are demands for organic production to be based solely on fish stock and biological materials with an organic origin. But this is being met with opposition from several parts of the industry as it will result in substantial changes for many of those involved.
“We recommend dispensation in this area,” says the researcher, explaining that “since the goal is to increase the proportion of organic farming, a proscription of this sort is counteractive.”
The report from Nofima was submitted to the EU earlier this year. The project is funded by the European Framework Programme 7 (FP7).