Policy and Regulation

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The European Union acknowledges the potential of the aquaculture sector to secure its position in the global market, become a reference to circular economy, and create thousands of jobs in Europe

The European Union acknowledges the potential of the aquaculture sector to secure its position in the global market, become a reference to circular economy, and create thousands of jobs in Europe. The European Union has encouraged sustainable aquaculture through policies and research initiatives. The lighthouse of these policies is the Blue Growth Strategy (2012), the Integrated Maritime Policy’s contribution to achieve the goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

This initiative includes additional strategies such as the EU Atlantic Action Plan (2014-2020), Horizon 2020 (under which framework IMPAQT is developed) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), among others.


New Strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture (2021-2030): a common vision for EU countries, the aquaculture sector and other stakeholders to support the green transition

Recently, the European Commission has adopted new strategic guidelines and EU countries have reviewed their national strategies in light of these. Through the Strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture for the period 2021-2030, the Commission provides a common vision for EU countries, the aquaculture sector and other stakeholders to develop the sector in a way that contributes directly to the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy. Therefore, the sector is working towards a green transition in the blue bioeconomy by promoting research and innovation, precision aquaculture systems, organic aquaculture, as well as production concepts away from monoculture such as IMTA.

These guidelines were developed to help building an EU aquaculture sector that is competitive and resilient; ensures the supply of nutritious and healthy food; reduces the EU’s dependency on seafood imports; creates economic opportunities and jobs, and becomes a global reference for sustainability. They should also help EU consumers make informed choices of sustainable aquaculture products and to ensure a level playing field for aquaculture products marketed in the EU.

The heart of IMPAQT, IMTA, is acknowledged as an aquaculture system with lower environmental impact to be applied as one key action of the green transition, with a desirable environmental impact (e.g., lower carbon and environmental footprint, take advantage of all the nutrients and organic matter available which usually end as waste). IMPAQT project, in collaboration with the H2020 European projects AquaIMPACT, ASTRAL, and iFishIENCi, has made a relevant contribution to stress multi-trophic systems as a sustainable solution for the aquaculture industry, highlighting the circularity embedded. This was carried out by participatin in the European consultation regarding the update of these guidelines. Their participation was a high-value action, since the inclusion of this approach as key to apply to achieve a more sustainable aquaculture sector.

Five key messages regarding IMTA in Europe

Despite the efforts undertaken by the European Union and the aquaculture stakeholders in recent years, certain messages remain about IMTA in Europe which need to be addressed and understood:
1. IMTA has seen slow development, in part through a poor understanding of the principles of IMTA by regulators, uncertainty on the part of farmers, and uncertainty in markets. (EC, 2012)

2. General change of mindset is needed from production to consumption, from policy to investment, and from high IT to territorial planning.

3. Need to understand that, considering the impact of climate change, the pollution of the oceans, and the alarming effects of intensive wild fisheries, aquaculture is a fundamental sector for the maintenance of food security and sustainability.

4. IMTA is an available solution that offers an increase in production and revenues through a more efficient use of the space and resources; by replicating natural ecosystems. Further, it reduces the EU´s dependency on imports by increasing production in Europe, generating stronger local economies as well as employment opportunities.

5. IMTA systems are a circular economy paradigm. They contribute to making European aquaculture more sustainable and competitive, thus unlocking green growth within the European aquaculture sector.

Seven specific barriers for IMTA at the EU Level

Thanks to the work performed in previous European projects, such as INTEGRATE (INTERREG) and IDREEM (EU FP7), IMPAQT can build upon gathered knowledge when addressing remaining obstacles regarding IMTA production in the European legislation. In this sense, and considering the above projects, the following bottlenecks have been identified and selected as aspects that can be involved in the project´s regulation and standardization objectives:
1. Raising Awareness

The principles and advantages of IMTA should be communicated better to policy makers, consumers, investors and stakeholders. A well-understanding of what IMTA entitles and what is needed for its development in Europe would facilitate to overcome administrative burdens, in particular, as well as the commercial deployment of new systems, in general.

2. IMTA Definition

Before starting to draft any sort of regulation at any level, it is important to have a clear definition of what IMTA is. Especially, it is fundamental to have a definition that is agreed by as many stakeholders as possible. In fact, to this date there is no single ‘textbook definition’ for IMTA; instead, a variety of formulations exist, being specific to the application and audience addressed.

3. Regulatory Burdens

The first barriers when trying to deploy an IMTA system is the lack of regulation related to IMTA and the lack of harmonization among the different national regulatory frameworks. One of the main barriers are delays in the administrative process, especially lengthy processing times when applying for a co-culture farm (i.e. IMTA) for the first time in the respective country.

4. Model Standards

Regulators do not have enough evidence on which to base the development of new regulation, above all in regarding commercial scale IMTA. Blueprint standards are needed to be taken into consideration by European, national and regional policymakers to facilitate the commercial uptake of IMTA practices. Standards in terms of specific regulation, labelling, licensing and operation, amongst others, are desirable.

5. Investment and Labelling

It is fundamental that private investors are made aware of the advantages to invest in IMTA systems. This can be achieved through awareness raising on the competitive advantage and improvement in terms of operational costs and spatial efficiency of IMTA systems, the support the EU is providing to these systems, and by improving consumer’s acceptance of aquaculture products via labelling schemes.

6. Exchange of Knowhow

Exchange of know-how and skills to unlock the growth potential of European IMTA is necessary. As said, IMTA in Europe is mainly developed in the area of research and has not yet taken the leap to more commercial oriented production. Lessons learned need to be taken from economies that have achieved this, taking always the reference that aquaculture in Europe rests mainly in the hands of small and medium enterprises.

IMPAQT recommendations regarding IMTA

Throughout its development, activities and interactions with stakeholders, IMPAQT project collected and remarks some recommendations to the policy approach.
1. Promote experimental IMTA systems to address knowledge gaps relevant to both operators and regulators;

2. Develop best practice guidelines for IMTA production addressing aspects of site and species selection as well as system configuration;

3. Support IMTA modelling as planning, decision-support and information tool for operators and regulators;

4. Promote research and innovation for IMTA development in the EU, including new and emerging technologies and innovation for infrastructure components, operational monitoring and management;

5. Encourage knowledge exchange centres and education material for IMTA and LTA production;

6. Assist procedural changes by providing information on what IMTA and LTA contribute to the sector;

7. Facilitate circularity in aquaculture through business development (production and monitoring innovations) and species/product diversification;

8. Lower regulatory burdens by streamlining licencing procedures on a national level;

9. Integrate aquaculture in marine spatial planning.

The main highlights collected by IMPAQT in our Policy Brief EU Potential for IMTA Development


The confidence of the consumers in aquaculture products depends on numerous parameters and there are varied factors affecting their consumption. Food safety, food quality, health impacts, animal welfare or sustainability are aspects directly associated to the rising awareness and they are all holistically considered in the IMPAQT project.

Regarding the sustainability dimension, aquaculture products consumers are increasing the aware of sustainability issues, especially in Western and Northern EU Countries (European Market Observatory study, 2017[1]). The sustainability of the seafood products arising from the IMPAQT project is being addressed though the corresponding assessment carried out in WP5, which will allow communicating the environmental, social and economic indicators of these products.

Whenever this assessment is based on standardised methodologies and is verified, seafood consumers might increase their confidence in these products, since transparent and robust information on the sustainability profile is provided. In addition to this, the sustainability assessment developed in the IMPAQT project might also mean a starting point for the pilot’s sites that are seeking to work under some existing certification schemes (such as ASC, Global GAP, GAA).

These certifications are informed to the consumers through the corresponding labels, which show how “good” the farming methods are, mainly for the environment dimension. In this context, it would be relevant to assess how the existing standards recognise the IMTA systems as a good environmental practice.

Developing carefully defined aquaculture standards and rigorous certification processes is key to sustainable aquaculture progression and growth. Aquaculture standards and certification schemes provide practical and functional sustainability benchmarks, thus giving consumers more accurate information on sustainable production methods of their seafood choices. In this line, several actions were carried out by IMPAQT:

Supporting the development of standards for algae food products as well as certification for seaweed farm operations, by providing inputs for the future European norms in the context of working groups organized by The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and their Technical Committees.

Working together with GLOBAL G.A.P. certification to explore what is needed to certify at the North Sea Innovation Lab, led by our partners The North Sea Farmers (NSF). Since there is no GLOBAL G.A.P. certification for seaweed farms yet, NSF and Global G.A.P. have undertaken a trial to identify the gaps in the current standards and which one would be suitable for seaweed production in an IMTA setup.

Development of a multi-use procedure. The NSF experience at their IMPAQT pilot was used to create a procedure that will help other multi-users to develop their multi-use concept in wind farms. The procedure is available and usable for any type of multi-use, such as IMTA systems.

The IMPAQT contact with the Dutch government will allow to include this procedure in their multiuse policy, given the interest shown by the commercial offshore wind farm sector to adopt such an approach. In the meantime, the procedure is being improved in subsequent research projects to enhance its usability across Europe and a Belgian and UK-version will might become available in the course of 2022.

All you need to Know about seaweed standarization

In short...

It is fundamental that not only consumers, but also policymakers from all levels, but especially European, are addressed to achieve a top-down approach to regulation, understand the potential of IMTA as a sustainable, nearly-zero waste system, and an efficient spatial planning solution with the latest innovation on IT and data management and sharing mechanisms for EU´s aquaculture.