Monday, June 15, 2015

15/06/2015: Planning on the move in UK aquaculture

by Roy Palmer, Aquaculture Without Frontiers, Australia

(First published in International Aquafeed, May-June 2015)

"That aquaculture has a philosophical base in the East and a scientific base in the West has far-reaching implications.

"In the East, it is culture, it is life: culture to improve life by providing food and employment. It is embedded in the social and economic infrastructure. All that science can and must do is to make this culture more effective.

"In the West, aquaculture is science and technology, embodied in industry and providing profits: money. It has no social infrastructure. In this, the West has much to learn from the East."


- Elizabeth Mann Borgese (1918-2002), Seafarm, The Story of Aquaculture, 1980
Nothing explains the differences between Asian countries and Western countries and the way they interact with aquaculture better than this quote. 

Looking at Aquaculture in UK these points come through very strongly because whilst there can be no doubting that governance is important you get to appreciate how complex it can make business. It is like the wagon has put itself ahead of the horse and, of course, the more complicated you make things the harder it is for people to achieve.

Aquaculture policy in the UK is a devolved matter, with the separate administrations of Wales, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland responsible for its collective oversight. This governance arrangement means that the elements of the UK approach reflected in the Multiannual National Plan will vary to reflect differences in priorities and policy approaches.

The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) created the ‘United Kingdom Multiannual National Plan for the Development of Sustainable Aquaculture’ last year. This plan identifies that Aquaculture is one of the UK’s key strategic food production sectors acknowledging that it helps to underpin sustainable economic growth, both in rural and coastal communities and in the wider economy. It highlights that the UK is committed to continue supporting industry-led sustainable growth of aquaculture. 

Additionally to this Plan Seafish Authority have commenced an aquaculture review to investigate the services provided by Seafish in relation to the UK aquaculture market to show how the role of Seafish has changed and developed over the years, to make recommendations on where Seafish should/could be focusing on aquaculture (both domestic and imported); make recommendations on how Seafish could most appropriately invest in aquaculture technical and information needs and assess potential gains from such investments. 

The outcomes are to be fed into the discussions on the new Seafish Corporate Plan, which will run from April 2015 to March 2018, and will detail how the Seafish levy should be spent. The Seafish panels agreed that aquaculture should be included in the new Corporate Plan and the review has highlighted that most of the levy for this sector comes from imported warm water prawns. It was also identified that Seafish should focus on the development of the domestic sector through supporting national strategies. 

Seafish has now just appointed an aquaculture manager, Lee Cocker, to help support the growth of the industry in the UK. 

Aquaculture within England, Northern Ireland and Wales differs significantly from Scotland both in terms of scale of production and species cultivated. Scotland is undoubtedly the major player in the production of farmed Atlantic salmon (over 95 percent) which dominates the UK finfish production figures. Although primarily marine based, Scotland’s industry also incorporates a significant freshwater production sector. Collectively the English, Northern Irish and Welsh industries place greater emphasis on shellfish and trout production.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs and hence is the major agency for aquaculture.

Industry have had concerns for some time that agreed plans have not been acted upon and this is holding back potential for aquaculture growth in England. The issue here is that unlike Scotland, where Government does take the lead on aquaculture development, there is no lead in England and no reference point. 

Additionally, the industry has been complaining about the aquaculture regulatory burdens. The industry regards itself as over-regulated and the fact that certain reports have not been published restricts the implementation of an English development plan; the regulatory background is fundamental and if this is seen to be onerous it will limit investment. It has been mentioned that this regulatory burden exercise is more to do with allowing those who want to engage with the regulator to do so as there is no clear route for engagement.
Whilst volumes are not large by world standards the main species grown in England are Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Salmon, Carp, Tilapia, Catfish, Turbot, Native Oysters, Pacific Oysters, Mussels, Clams and Cockles.

Marine Scotland is the directorate of Scottish Government responsible for marine and fisheries issues in Scotland. 

Aquaculture is a major employer and one of Scotland's most important exporters with industry worth being more than £430 million to the Scottish economy.

The Crown Estate manage virtually all the seabed around the UK out to the 12nm limit, so fish farming operations specifically require a Crown Estate lease. They manage the seabed, but are not a regulator of and have no statutory function in relation to the fish farming industry but they take much interest in Scotland because of the volume of business. The Crown Estate also continued to work with government to create a detailed and up-to-date web-based overview of the Scottish industry for the general public and stakeholders. 

The bulk of marine aquaculture is in Scotland and is mainly salmon and shellfish, chiefly mussel production. Experimental cultivation of farmed salmon began in 1969 and has since developed into a substantial rural industry, with an estimated 8,000 jobs provided by salmon farming and related support industries, mainly in remote locations where alternative sources of employment are scarce. Virtually all production takes place in the inshore waters of the west coast and the Western and Northern Isles, where the most favourable conditions for aquaculture are to be found. Alternative species, such as cod and halibut, are being grown in commercial quantities and organic farming is also on the increase.

There is also commercial potential in seaweed around Scotland and research in line with the Scottish Government's draft National Marine Plan is aligned to a commercial production pilot project. A macro-algae forum has been established to assist co-ordination and dissemination of information on all macro-algae related work to industry and other key stakeholders.

The Scottish Government supports Scotland’s aquaculture industry to achieve sustainable growth targets, with due regard to the marine environment, by 2020. The targets are to increase:

Marine finfish production sustainably to 210,000 tonnes (In 2013, it was 165,256 tonnes - 163,234 salmon, 1964 Marine rainbow trout, 56 Halibut and 2 Sea trout)
Shellfish production (especially mussels) to 13,000 tonnes (In 2013, it was 6,757 tonnes). 

The Welsh Assembly Government is responsible for the licensing of fish farms in Wales.
Wales has invested in regionally distinct, sustainable aquaculture technologies with positive commercial outcomes according to Government presentations. This has involved a structured discussion between stakeholders and government over a circa 10 year period, involving the production of several strategy documents. Sizeable public (EU) investments have been required to kick start new aquaculture developments in Wales via Fisheries instruments and Structural funding.

In a quick snapshot of the Welsh Aquaculture Industry it is recognised as having a long established “traditional” fish farming sector (trout for table / stocking / recreational fisheries) and seabed shellfish cultivation. Recent industry growth via companies engaged in systems design and manufacture; land-based production of high value marine species; extensive cultivation of blue mussels (largest such industry in the UK); development and production of specialty aqua-feeds; breeding technologies for warm water finfish and specialist consultancy services

Northern Ireland
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Northern Ireland Fisheries Division is responsible for the licensing of fish farms in Northern Ireland.
The Aquaculture Industry in Northern Ireland continues to develop and at present there are 80 licensed fish farms (covering 90 sites), of which 48 are licensed for the cultivation of shellfish (47 marine and 1 land-based) and 32 for the cultivation of finfish (30 inland and 2 marine).

The main shellfish species cultivated are mussels (Mytilus edulis) and Pacific Oysters (Crassostrea gigas) although a small quantity of Native oysters (Ostrea edulis) and clams (Venerupis semi-decussata) are also grown. The main finfish species cultivated are salmon (Salmo salar), rainbow trout (Oncorhyncus gorbuscha) and brown trout (Salmo trutta).
In 2012 the aquaculture sector produced 4920 tonnes of shellfish valued at £4.53 million and over 946 tonnes of finfish valued at £4.12 million. In total the aquaculture sector directly employs 73 full time and 40 part time employees.

A lot of time and effort has been going into research on Oysters as since the 1990’s, massive mortalities of Crassostrea gigas (Pacific oyster) were related to a combination of environmental factors, such as the state of the oyster and the presence of pathogens in the sea. The recently detected variant OsHV-1 µvar is the major pathogen associated with the massive mortalities that have hit oysters since 2008. 

Characteristics that differentiate these mortalities from previous summer mortalities are their recurrence in the last five years, ubiquitously around the French coast, and at a high degree of intensity. Mortalities also affect seed more than juveniles and to a lesser degree, adults. They occur in waves during the summer, following the south - north temperature increase and begin once temperatures reach 16˚C. Mortalities were also reported in many other production countries. The Island of Ireland and the UK are also affected, but to a far lesser extent. 

It is suspected that these differences in mortality are caused by colder sea temperatures, a lower degree of intensification of oyster farming and the implementation of appropriate sanitary measures to contain the spread of OsHV-1 µvar. International research into the causes of these massive mortalities allowed a better understanding of the virus and how it affects the oysters. 

It has been suggested that remote setting techniques could be developed in Northern Ireland, to locally produce seed on artificial collectors, this would have the advantage of reducing shellfish movements and the spread of diseases. More specific to the Island of Ireland, this technique could compensate for the shortage of hatchery seed experienced by producers situated in “disease free” compartment areas. This is seen as a massive market opportunity to grow market sized oysters for the French market and also to produce oyster seed and juveniles at the best cost rate in the “disease free” compartments. For these reasons, this may be the right time for Northern Ireland to further develop and invest in the oyster industry.

The market for bulk oysters is also very good as a result of French production losses averaging 50,000 tonnes. The only commercial hatcheries situated in “disease free” compartment are situated in the UK and are running under capacity so they cannot supply every oyster farmers situated in bays with similar sanitary status. A report has been created to give a good understanding to Northern Irish oyster farmers about the French situation. An overview of research carried out about the disease in France has also been given, following a path of progression from the first records of mortalities, the summer mortalities and the massive mortality outbreak since 2008. Then, from what was learned in France, the report looks at what practices or aquaculture technology can be used to reduce the impact of mortalities in Northern Ireland.

As is often the case that as one market struggles another prospers from the same issue.
References available on request

Read the magazine HERE.

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