The European Aquaculture industry is set to benefit from tools and guidance for aquaculture sustainability, developed by the EU-funded Horizon 2020 TAPAS project.
The aquaculture industry is at the forefront of European ‘Blue Growth’. Aquaculture has been identified by the EU as one of five key industries that have the potential to deliver sustainable jobs to people in Europe, and aquaculture products are increasingly important in feeding a growing population. However, the sustainability of this industry is increasingly under the spotlight as the needs of people and economic growth need to be balanced with safeguarding the environment and the ecosystem services it delivers. Deficiencies in the planning and licensing stages of aquaculture are contributing to a slow growth of the European aquaculture industry, leading to a reliance on imports and missed opportunities for exporting European products.
It is this challenge that inspired the €7m EU-funded Horizon 2020 project, TAPAS (Tools for Assessment and Planning of Aquaculture Sustainability). The project, which will be completed in February 2020, will deliver a suite of tools and guidance for use by both aquaculture developers and regulating authorities across Europe.
Led by Professor Trevor Telfer of the University of Stirling, TAPAS is a collaboration between 15 European partner institutions that aims to address key sustainability challenges in the European aquaculture industry. The consortium has developed new and tested existing environmental models required by both the aquaculture industry and regulatory authorities to make better informed decisions regarding where aquaculture should take place, assessing the environmental impacts that it may have, and addressing the ecosystem services provided.
The sustainability challenges that drove the development of this project are faced during the planning and licensing stages of aquaculture development. Firstly, the policy and regulation that underpins the planning of aquaculture is inconsistent between European countries, and in many cases is poorly underpinned by robust scientific data and models.
Regulatory and licensing frameworks vary by country, leading to disparity between European countries, and inadequate licensing processes has played a part in the slow growth of the aquaculture industry in Europe compared to the global industry. Secondly, a lack of appropriate sites for aquaculture in Europe has been a bottleneck to development and can undermine the sustainability of the industry. The suitability of a site for aquaculture depends on multiple environmental, social, legal and economic issues, and an inappropriately sited development can lead to environmental damage, unprofitable business and the undermining of the aquaculture industry in public perception.
“The existing tools needed by aquaculture industry to make the thorough sustainability assessments are often difficult to understand, making them inaccessible to those they are aimed at,” says Professor Telfer. “The regulatory and licensing process in Europe needs to be more transparent, with better communication of decision-making and regulatory frameworks. This would not only improve the industry itself, but also public perception of aquaculture.”
Addressing sustainability challenges
The TAPAS project has been funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 project to address these sustainability challenges. Focussing on the licensing stage, the industry and planners will have access to the tools and guidance that have been developed by the project partners over the last four years. License applicants will be supported through the provision of tools to aid site selection, assessment of carrying capacity, predicting nutrient and waste dispersion and other key parameters that will aid better decision-making and adaptation at the outset of a development.
Regulating authorities, including those involved in marine spatial planning and in the review of license applications, will have access to best practice guidance on developing regulatory frameworks and tools to aid the assessment of aquaculture license applications. By reviewing existing regulatory practices and methods as well as available tools and technologies used during the aquaculture licensing process, the team have been able to develop improved tools and methodologies as well as guidance on how the Europe-wide industry can be improved.
The TAPAS team have taken a diverse approach to developing these tools and guidance. A pan-European coordinated effort has seen data gathered through fieldwork, ongoing monitoring and earth observation. Case studies throughout Europe have tested and validated the approaches developed by the team to ensure scientific rigour and reliability in the tools that will be provided to the industry.
A range of species including salmon, trout, sea bass, sea bream, carp, oysters and mussels have been covered by the case studies, which include both marine and freshwater environments. The production environments and technologies are also representative of those used in European aquaculture, ensuring that the tools are well-aligned with the industry which they are intended to support.
For these tools to remain relevant, the necessary data must be available to users.
Traditional data collection methodologies can be time-consuming and expensive, requiring skills and resources not always available to those who need the data. To address this, TAPAS has evaluated and developed more efficient, in-situ monitoring technologies to aid data collection. These include the use of earth observation data collected by the Sentinel satellites as part of the European Commission and the European Space Agency’s Copernicus programme, as well as the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and optical sensors for underwater monitoring of aquaculture sites.
The Aquaculture Toolbox
Innovative approaches to production have been explored. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is one such system, in which species of various trophic levels are cultured in an integrated system, allowing waste products to be utilised as fertiliser or food for another. The project has tested applied approaches to IMTA and has developed guidance and tools to assess the implementation of this production system, with its potential to minimise environmental impacts and provide ecosystem services.
TAPAS has worked closely with aquaculture stakeholders in developing these tools to ensure that they are well aligned with the industry’s needs. The project team have consulted with regulators and industry accreditors, including the Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC), European Aquaculture Technology & Innovation Platform (EATiP), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), national producer organisations and EU Directorate-Generals (DGs). By engaging with these organisations throughout the project, the TAPAS team have ensured that the project outputs are relevant and beneficial for the aquaculture industry across Europe.
As the TAPAS project enters its final months, the team are preparing to launch the Aquaculture Toolbox, a web-based decision support framework that will host the tools and guidance from the project. The team have worked hard to make the Aquaculture Toolbox accessible and easy to understand for a range of users from industry, policy and planning.
The platform distils four years of research into a suite of modelling tools, guidance tools and recommendations, illustrated by examples of where and how the available tools have been applied in real-world situations so far. It is expected that the Toolbox will improve the efficiency and transparency of aquaculture licensing in Europe.
The future of European aquaculture depends on securing the sustainability of the industry. The TAPAS project has filled a gap in aquaculture development that threated to compromise this sustainability, and will deliver key benefits in ensuring streamlined, efficient and data-informed licensing and regulatory frameworks across Europe. With this help, the European aquaculture industry can continue to develop and fulfil its potential to deliver sustainable Blue Growth for European nations.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 678396.