European Commission proposes to regulate aquaculture of of non-native species

The European Commission has proposed measures to regulate the introduction of non-native species in aquaculture so as to prevent their possible negative impact on the surrounding environment
April 7, 2006

The European Commission has proposed measures to regulate the introduction of non-native species in aquaculture so as to prevent their possible negative impact on the surrounding environment. Non-native or alien species, such as rainbow trout or Pacific oyster, have played a crucial role in the rapid growth of the European aquaculture industry. However, the EC says that in some cases, the introduction of non-native species can have an adverse impact on ecosystems and cause significant loss of biodiversity. These measures would therefore regulate the introduction of such species through the setting up of a permit system. The Commission proposal, which was subject to wide consultation with stakeholders, would not only enhance the protection of ecosystems but would also contribute to the continued development of the aquaculture industry.

“Aquaculture plays an increasing role in our fisheries sector. Diversification is essential to its continued development, as is the need for a balanced and healthy environment. These measures will help ensure that the two are more compatible.”, commented Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

The core of the present proposal is the establishment at national level of a system of permits for all new species which are introduced for aquaculture. Under the proposed measures, all projects to introduce a non-native species would have to be submitted for approval to a national advisory committee, which would determine whether the proposed introduction was ‘routine’, or not. In the case of non-routine introductions, an environmental risk assessment (ERA) would have to be carried out. Only movements which are assessed as being low risk could then be granted a permit. If the risk was considered to be medium or high, the advisory committee would enter into dialogue with the applicant to see whether adequate mitigation procedures or technologies which could reduce the risk to an adequately low level were available.

In the case of non-routine movements, the proposal provides for quarantine procedures, and in certain cases, the national authorities may also require a pilot release to be implemented prior to full-scale commercial introduction. The proposed regulation also sets out a number of requirements concerning contingency plans, monitoring procedures, and the keeping of national registers.

The scope of the current proposal is limited to movements of fish stocks which fall under the Common Fisheries Policy. Ornamental fish are therefore not concerned by these measures. The spreading of parasites and pathogens is already covered by Community legislation on animal health, so this issue is not addressed here either. The Commission is aware of the problems potentially posed by genetically modified organisms, but believes that these are best addressed by the substantial and evolving Community legislation specific to this field.

Non-native fish and shellfish species are species that are brought from an area, sometimes located on another continent, to an aquaculture installation in the EU. Such species represent a real economic opportunity for European aquaculture, both as a form of diversification, and for their characteristics which may make them better suited to rearing in captivity than native varieties. However, their introduction into European ecosystems has, in some cases also led to a loss of biodiversity. Addressing this issue thus represents a major step forward in the process of integrating environmental concerns into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The EC says that new measures should not lead to undue delays as strict time limits are set out in the proposal. Member States will decide who pays, but it is envisaged that industry will normally bear the cost. Aquaculture operators could form associations to share the costs. As the permit can cover a five-year period, costs should not hinder the future development of aquaculture.

The measures contained in the present proposal have been informed by an extensive consultation exercise carried out over a period of several years. They build on the voluntary codes of practice formulated by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission (EIFAC), as well as on existing Community instruments for biodiversity protection. In 2001, in its Biodiversity Action Plan for Fisheries, the Commission undertook to examine the impact of the introduction of non-indigenous species on the wider environment. The EU 2002 Strategy for Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture included a commitment to introduce management rules to address the possible negative consequences of such movements.

The proposed Regulation will make a real contribution to achieving the objective of halting biodiversity loss as set out in the EU’s 6th Environmental Action Programme and in the EC Strategy for Sustainable Development. The proposed measures will also contribute to implementing the Community’s international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the follow-up process to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.