Aquaculture Newsletter

(December 1996, Number 14)

Legal Aspects concerning Aquaculture:

Aquaculture in the GFCM countries. Its evolution from 1984 to 1994

Mario Pedini
Senior Adviser (Aquaculture Development)
Fishery Resources Division, FAO

This article is based on a discussion paper and a special presentation by the author at the First Session of the Aquaculture Committee of the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM), which was held at FAO Headquarters from 9 to 12 September 1996.

Volume of aquaculture production in the GFCM countries

The data analyzed in this article are derived from the Aquaculture Statistics prepared and published annually in the FAO Fisheries Circular FIDI/C815 (Rev.8) by the Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI) of the FAO Fisheries Department. The published statistics are based on information provided by member countries and other relevant published information. The production figures presented here include all production from GFCM member countries, irrespective of the production site.; i.e. the figures do not refer exclusively to production on the Mediterranean coastline and near shore waters. For those that are not familiar with the FAO fisheries advisory bodies, the GFCM covers all the countries in the Mediterranean basin plus Bulgaria and Romania in the Black Sea basin.

Total production from aquaculture in the GFCM countries rose from about 634,900 t in 1984 to 770,684 t in 1994, which represents a 21 % increase in a decade (Table 1, Figure 1). This increase, though not spectacular when compared to other regions, is worth examining in more detail. Aquaculture in the GFCM area has been dominated since 1984 by three countries France, Italy and Spain, which contributed 84% of the total production in 1984. This percentage decreased to 80% in 1994 despite the increase in production, due to the entry of new countries into the aquaculture scene. In 1984, Spain was the leading producer, but with a production consisting mainly of mussels (93% of the total and with only 7 species reported). The French production was mainly oysters (58%) and mussels (27%) with 13 species reported, and the Italian production was also dominated by mussels production (62%) and rainbow trout (24%), with 12 species reported. In 1994, France had taken the lead from Spain and Italy, and although molluscs remained the main group in the three countries, the number of species farmed had increased to 28 in France, 21 in Spain and 14 in Italy. Moreover, in 1994 several countries which had little or no production in 1984 reported annual production levels between 100 and 1000 t in 1994. A dramatic increase in production occurred in Greece and Turkey, with production increasing 14 fold (to 35,500 t) in Greece, and by 7 fold (to 16,000 t) in Turkey.

Growth of aquaculture production in the GFCM area was slowed down by two main factors: the political and economic transition in Eastern Europe and the drastic fall in mussel production in Spain. Comparing the situation in 1984 and 1994, the first resulted in a net loss of over 26,000 t, and the second accounted for a decrease in production by some 100,000 t. In addition, a progressive saturation of the mollusc market, the main aquaculture commodity in the region by volume, contributed to the slow down in the growth rate of the sector.

Regarding commodities, molluscs were the prevailing group in 1994 with over 480,000 t of production (Figure 2), but showed only a 4% growth over 1984. The production decrease of 90,000-100,000 t in Spain was compensated elsewhere by mussels as well as clam and scallop production. Red tides were the major problem for mollusc production in Spain. The production of the second commodity group, freshwater finfish, reached 225,000 t in 1994, an increase of about 47% over the 1984 figures. Here, rainbow trout accounted for 90% of salmonid production, which moved from 66,000 t in 1984 to 120,000 t in 1994. Carp production, a traditional practice in East European countries, decreased from the late 80s as a result of the political and economic changes in these countries. Another important group of freshwater species were the tilapias which had a rather steady growth in the decade, although their production is concentrated in Egypt and Israel.

Marine finfish attracted more attention in the GFCM region, with a fast rise of over 1050% in the decade, moving from 4, 500-6,000 t in the mid 1980s, when the main cultured species were mullets, to over 53,000 t in 1994, when the seabass/seabream group dominated the production with a total of over 37,000 t.(Figure 3). This rapid increase has been due to the mastering of seed production techniques for seabass and seabream, and more recently for flat-fish; the formulation of specialized feeds and the use of cages as the main rearing technique; combined with generous financing of infrastructure by the EU for its member countries and a very favorable market situation for aquaculture products in the late 80s to the early 90s. The growth of mullet production is noteworthy from 4,000- 6,500 t in the mid 80s to 12,500 t in 1994, which has been essentially based on wild seed and land-based grow-out facilities.

Crustaceans and seaweeds are recent entries in Mediterranean aquaculture and are still of limited importance. Procambarus clarkii dominates in crustacean production, but pilot tests have been carried out for penaeid shrimp, using extensive techniques in the northern shore and more intensive practices in the southern countries. Gracilaria is the main species of seaweed cultured in the GFCM area.

Economic and marketing data

The value of aquaculture production in 1984,1989 and 1994 is shown in Figure 4. The cumulative value of aquaculture production in the GFCM area is estimated from the data reported by the individual countries. The value in national currency is transformed to US $ using the estimated prevailing exchange rate for the year.

Aquaculture production value amounted to US $ 799 million in 1984 and increased to US $ 1,412 million in 1989 and US $ 1, 840 million in 1994 more than doubling during the decade, compared to a mere 20% increase in volume. However, the increase in value was faster in the first five years (78% compared to 32.5 % in the period 1989-94), which may be indicative of a progressive saturation of markets and a corresponding decrease in prices. By contrast, production volumes increased 11.3% between 1984 and 1989 and 9.1% between 1989 and 1994. The five most important aquaculture producer countries accounted for US $ 1, 539 million in 1994, or 85 % of the total production value from the area. The increase in production value differed among the main countries. It was almost threefold in France (from US $ 226 to 639 million) for a corresponding increase in production volume of 45%, and two fold in Italy (from US $ 174 to 374 million) for a corresponding production increase of 62% over 1984. In Spain, in spite of a decrease of 27% in production volume, production value increased by 17%. However, the more spectacular growth was experienced in Turkey and Greece where it was 30 and 20 fold respectively, going from US $ 5.7 million to US $ 161 million in Turkey and from US $ 6.6 million to US $ 120.5 million in Greece.

Table 2 and Figure 5 show the evolution of value of aquaculture products for the main commodity groups. The more important group in 1994 was freshwater fish with a cumulative value of US $ 717 million, followed by molluscs with US $ 642 million and marine finfish with US $ 408 million. In 1984, the ranking was the same with freshwater finfish valued at US $ 407 million, molluscs at US $ 378 million and marine finfish at only US $ 13 million. Within the major groups, in 1994, the salmonids were the first commodity group with US $ 387 million, closely followed by the seabass and seabream group and oysters (with US $ 372 and 335 million respectively).

Comparing these data with those of 1984, it is apparent that some commodity groups have increased their economic importance rapidly, while others showed a modest increase in economic importance, and one group decreased in value. The groups which increased rapidly are the seabass/ seabream group, moving from US $ 6 million to US $ 372 million, the "other bivalves" which consists mainly of clams ( from US $ 1.9 to US $ 116 million), the flatfish (from US $ 0.03 million to US $ 20 million), marine finfish other than seabass/seabream and flatfish, which are mainly mullets ( from US $ 6.5 to US $ 43 million), and the crustaceans (from US $ 0.4 to US $ 40 million).

The salmonids had a more modest growth in terms of economic value, moving from US $ 219 to 387 million, a similar situation to that of oysters (from US $ 141 million to US $ 335 million) and the cyprinids (from US $ 156 million to US $ 165 million). The only group which decreased in economic importance was mussels, which went down from US $ 235 million to US $ 188 million.

Separate data for trade in aquaculture in the GFCM countries are not collected by the FAO. Trade of aquaculture products is not systematically studied by other groups, and available information is mainly confined to the analysis of high value commodities such as seabass and seabream. In 1995, the SIPAM Regional Centre, using various sources, estimated the flow of marine aquaculture products in the Mediterranean for the year 1994. A characteristic of the aquaculture trade in the area was the convergence of exports from 10 Mediterranean countries on Italy due to the higher prices paid for choice species. Exports of seabass/seabream to Italy amounted to 15, 700 t. Italy was also a major target market for mussels and oysters, with imports of mussels from Spain and Greece (13, 700 t) and oysters from France (2, 500 t). A study prepared in 1995 for the SELAM network (see FAN No.13 for the description of the networks) on the distribution of 1993 imports among the three major consumer countries - France, Italy and Spain also showed that the main imported aquaculture products in France were salmon and mussels with 52, 000 t and 23, 000 t respectively, while in Italy they consisted of mussels and seabass/seabream with over 30, 000 t and 15, 000 t imported respectively. In Spain a total of 21, 000 t of aquaculture products were imported in the same year, with salmon as the most important species (17, 000 t), followed by oysters. There is little information available on trade in freshwater species except for trout. This lack of information is more acute in the case of the East European countries.

In a recent meeting of the SELAM network on marketing of aquaculture products held in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1995, it was concluded that there was a shortage of reliable and accurate data on marketing of aquaculture products, and that available information was too scattered to allow a proper understanding of the market situation. It was obvious, however, that the main market opportunities in the basin were in the northern countries, where the market is still growing, compared to low consumption rates and limited markets in the southern countries. It was also noted that the evolution of supply, new regulations, consumption habits and economic environment have important implications for the aquaculture sector. The devaluation of the Italian Lira was cited as an example of changes which have obliged producers to investigate new market opportunities other than the once extremely remunerative Italian market. More marketing studies are required to guide the producers if the sector is to maintain the present growth rates. The need for better marketing information has not escaped the attention of producers associations, which are getting organized to improve the available data bases and to establish new ones. The SELAM meeting identified a market strategy consisting of the following points:

  • diversification in fish size, species, and presentation of value added products,
  • stock management to adapt supply to demand,
  • application of identity and origin denominations for aquaculture products,
  • publicity to enhance the image of aquaculture products,
  • improvement of the relationship with the capture fisheries sector to obtain synergy rather than competition,
  • local market development,
  • introduction of Mediterranean aquaculture products in Central and Northern European markets.

    In relation to trade of aquaculture products and development of technologies for new species in the Mediterranean, it is important to take into account that most of the species cultured in the region are also supplied through capture fisheries. Both fish supplied by capture fisheries and the fish supplied through aquaculture enter the same market. This has an important bearing on prices. As aquaculture production accounts for an increasing share of the total supply, and as the total supply increases due to aquaculture produce, prices will come under pressure. Elsewhere such effects have been drastic, as in the case of Atlantic salmon, which is no longer a luxury product. A similar price depression has been experienced with seabass and seabream in the Mediterranean at a much lower production volume, due to the much smaller original market for these species, compared to Atlantic salmon. The smaller the original market for the species in question, the sooner market saturation and price depression can be expected. Those who plan the farming of new local species should take these factors under careful consideration.

    For the farmed species in the Mediterranean, the total supply of seabass from capture fisheries in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is 3, 100 t while for seabream the total supply is about 6, 450 t. In the case of seabream there is a possible level of replacement with sparids of similar color in some Mediterranean countries and, therefore, these species should be considered together to some extent for marketing purposes. In the case of the seabass/seabream group, the relatively low supply from catches, and the rapid increase of aquaculture production explain the strong impact on prices in recent years. The mullets, which are another important group of marine finfish, are somewhat more difficult to analyse as a good part of the supply comes from coastal lagoon fisheries and extensive forms of aquaculture and it has been difficult to separate the captured and cultured production in the statistics. However, this seems to be a more stable group pricewise, mainly due to the reported catch amounts of about 55, 000 t which has provided a certain price stability. Amongst freshwater species, salmonid catches are in many cases a product of juvenile stocking and thus aquaculture is also partly involved in fisheries production. For cyprinids, fisheries production is estimated at 41,280 t in GFCM countries. Mollusc production comes almost entirely from aquaculture for mussels and oysters, with fisheries accounting for only some 3, 200 t of oysters and about 36,000 t of mussels.

    Major trends

    From the analysis of the evolution of aquaculture production volume and value in the GFCM area, the following major trends appear:

    The supply of freshwater finfish, and the techniques for their production, are rather stable, in spite of the decrease of cyprinid production in the East European countries in the last five years. There is a strong chance of recovery and expansion of carp production in Eastern Europe, following the transitional period, due to the availability of experienced producers and to the consumption habits of the local population.

    There is a relative market saturation for mussels and, to a lesser extent, oysters, both of which are facing increasing environmental problems. There is also a rapid increase in production of new, relatively high value species like scallops and clams.

    There has been a rapid decrease in the price of high value seabass and seabream as a result of high production volume and a relatively small market. This market related trend has motivated interest in diversification of the marine finfish produced, to exploit new market opportunities.

    Information from various sources point out that cages have become the choice technology for production of marine finfish. The adaptation of offshore cage technology in the Mediterranean holds promise and it is being tested in several places. The foreseeable opposition which may arise in case of a proliferation of cages in the nearshore waters should push the industry in the medium term to an increased use of offshore cages, if economically viable, which in turn is also going to change the type of companies involved in fish farming due to the much higher capital requirements of offshore cage culture. The offshore environment is also being tested for mussel culture in France, with some promising results which have still to be optimized from an economic standpoint. The advances in hatchery technology for industrial (over 2 million fry per year for marine finfish) and semi-industrial production of seed for marine finfish have liberated the sector from dependence on wild fry. The technologies developed for hatchery production of seabass and seabream are being tested and adapted for other species to expand the range of farmed species, and this is a trend which is expected to continue and expand.