Replaces: Arabic version (2005), Spanish version (2005), French version (2005), Chinese version (2005)
Aquaculture provides a significant contribution to primary sector production in Greece. The sea aquaculture sector is dynamic and contributes significantly to the country’s national Economy. Commercial aquaculture of finfish species has evolved into one of the most developing sectors over the last decade. Today, Greece ranks first in production among European Union and Mediterranean countries of Commercial aquaculture finfish species and the sector ranks second in exports of “food-beverages”. Twenty years ago seabass and seabream farming was practically inexistent, however, since 1981 and as a result of the good climatic conditions, the extended and sheltered shoreline, heavy private, national and European investment in the sector and coupled with breakthroughs in hatchery and nutrition technologies, the industry took off and production reached a total of around 115 000 tonnes by 2008, corresponding to 376 million EUR. About 70 percent of this production and 90 percent of the value comes from marine finfish aquaculture. The proportion of shellfish products corresponds to 25 percent. Gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) and European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) are the main species farmed in Greece, although tuna fattening is also increasing significantly. Furthermore, 910 tonnes of fish, corresponding to around 5 million EUR, was the production of the lagoons.
Producers are making significant efforts to diversify into other species, with the production of sharpsnout seabream (Diplodus puntazzo), common dentex (Dentex dentex), common seabream (Pagrus pagrus), white seabream (Diplodus sargus), common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus), and sole (Solea solea) reached in 2008 to about 1 800 tons and was accompanied by a respective increase in the production of such species’ juveniles. Approximately 80 percent of Greek aquaculture production is exported, mainly to Italy and Spain. Fish, principally farmed seabass and bream, is the second largest agricultural export after olive oil, and is seen as a strategic product by the Greek Government. Production is mostly using marine cages and production costs are among the lowest in Europe. Production sites are located all around the Greek coast, but are most prevalent in the central regions close to good infrastructure and export routes.
Although the farming of aquatic animals has been present in Greece since ancient times, the main farmed species that make up this sector today, that is seabass and seabream, have only been farmed since the beginning of the 1980s. Strong research and development in universities and institutes in France, Italy and Spain during the 1970s, led to breakthroughs in the control of the life-cycle of these species. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the first hatcheries appeared in France, Italy, Spain and then Portugal and Greece. The adoption of cage farming technologies from the salmon industry, an increasing market demand for these species and the natural conditions offered by Greece's climate and extensive shoreline made it the country of choice for the development of the industry. Major European Union (EU) funding programs and a few entrepreneurial individuals that have undertaken the challenge has led to a rapid increase in production and Greece becoming the largest producer of these species in the world.
The aquaculture sector in Greece and its significant development have resulted in remarkable results not only regarding the production of domestic fresh, cheap and high quality fish (especially seabass and gilthead seabream), but also the creation of a socio-economic structure that directly and indirectly involves thousands of employees, particularly in the fisheries-dependent areas of the country. In addition, mariculture is the only productive activity that has colonized uninhabited islands and rock-islands which are normally excluded from other investments.
Most of the Greek seabass and seabream production is carried out in sea cages, large square or round floating plastic structures from which hangs a net bag. In the last few years there has been a trend towards large, round cages that can reach 120 meters perimeter and hold almost 250–300 tonnes of fish. The on growing period varies from site to site, depending mainly on the water temperatures, it can take between 12 and 24 months for the fish to reach harvestable size.
Other production systems include the traditional raceways used in trout farming utilising diverted water from small rivers in northern and central Greece and re-circulation tank systems used for eel and tilapia farming. In some areas of Greece extensive culture systems are still used, the so called “limnothalasses“ or brackish lagoons where wild fry is collected and then allowed to grow naturally on yearly cycles. These are mainly used for grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) growth, although many other species are caught and grown together.
In the year 2008, the total number of aquaculture farms reached 1 086 units. The number of mariculture hatcheries and farms was 370. The production systems are mainly open water containment systems (cages) and the main species produced are Gilthead seabream (57 percent) and Seabass (38 percent). New species like Common seabream, Sharpnout seabream, White seabream, Red porgy and Common dentex are beginning to make their way into the industry. The marine aquaculture sector also includes shellfish-farms (604 in the year 2008), mainly located in the Northern part of Greece. Freshwater aquaculture includes 110 farms producing rainbow trout (85 farms), salmon, eel and carp. Recent business activity has led to remarkable investments in infrastructure, technology and knowledge and to high economical profits through exports of the products.
The main fish species farmed today are shown below, in order of importance in terms of tonnage produced:
The small production of flathead grey mullet (Mugil cephalus ) in lagoons, mainly in western Greece, targets mainly at the production of avgotaraxo , or egg-roe preserved in brine, a local delicacy.
There is also a significant production of bivalve mollusc species, mainly mussels and oysters that in 2008 totaled 21 200 tonnes (source Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food) but in value represented less than 3 percent of the total aquaculture production for that year.
Aquaculture is a significant sector in Greece that contributes more than half of the total fisheries production. In the year 2008, production amounted to about 115 000 tonnes, corresponding to 376 million EUR. The Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) is the official authority of Greece to produce, on a regular basis, official statistics as well as to carry out scientific researches and conduct studies which: a) concern all the branches of economic and social activities, b) support the Greek government and other agencies of the public sector in the decision making and in drawing up and evaluating their policies (evaluation indices), c) are submitted to international organisations in the framework of the commitments of Greece and d) concern the public in general or specific users categories in the country or abroad.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Greece according to FAO statistics:
The produce of Greek aquaculture is used mainly for export, in 2002 Italy and Spain absorbed an estimated 47 000 tonnes of the total estimated 70 000 tonnes of exported seabass and seabream (Stirling Report, 2004). What remained was distributed to the consumers mainly through supermarket chains and traditional fishmongers. The trend is however for the large supermarkets to become the main vehicle for fish products to reach the final consumer.
There are a number of central fish markets in Greece, the biggest being the Ichthyoskala near Athens; large aquaculture companies will sell a part of their production through it, mainly to Greek-based customers. The export markets are usually based on direct contact with customers abroad that send their own trucks to collect the fish product or through the use of own or outsourced means of transportation to take the product to the customer abroad.
Since 1999, most of the larger companies have obtained ISO 9001 certification in a move to add consumer confidence to the quality of the aquaculture product. This has also been a requirement by many of the large supermarket chains, as has certification to other relevant standards such as those relating to health and safety, for example in HACCP (Hazard and Critical Control Point program). National organisations have also come up with their own certification schemes, such as the AGROCERT which is associated to the Ministry of Agriculture.
During the last two-year period, the establishment and modernization of processing units of fishing products was greatly supported. These units include packing of fresh fish (mainly sea bass and sea bream), shellfish processing plants and especially freezing chambers and centres of distribution and marketing.
All processing units were funded through the Operational Programme for Fisheries 2000-2006, only if they had installed self-monitoring system (HACCP) and possessed certification according to ISO standards.
Greek consumers show a clear concern and reluctance about eating farmed fish, especially for marine species produced in Greece. The reasons for this are mostly due to a concern about fish feeds, in view of the recent worldwide problems related to issues such as dioxins in chickens, mad-cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease. An effort to promote fishing products began in March 2007, aiming at publishing leaflets with useful information to consumers, about sea bass and sea bream. The program included advertisements in television channels, radio stations and regional newspapers. There were also attendances at food and beverage fairs and guidance was given to people who produce and sell aquaculture species in order to attract consumer’s interest.
There was a second program held by the Consumer’s Institute, a non-govermental organisation (NGO). Information meetings were held in various regions and production and broadcasting of television and radio messages took place. The program aimed at informing consumer about the prevailing national and local names.
Both promotional projects (aquaculture species, consumer’s information) were completed in December 2009 and were co-financed by the European Union.
The per capita fish consumption in Greece is around 25 kg per annum (FAO) and of these 2.1 kg are seabass and seabream. This means that the overall annual fish consumption in Greece is around 250 000 tonnes for a population of around 10 million, and that aquaculture contributes less than 10 percent. The predicted trend is one of slow growth over the next few years (Stirling Report, 2004).
Aquaculture is mainly an export sector with over 80 percent of Greek aquaculture production exported, mainly to Italy and Spain. Fish, principally farmed seabass and seabream, is the second largest agricultural export after olive oil and is seen as a strategic product by the Greek Government. Compared with other countries, especially those where the aquaculture of marine species is mostly carried out in earthen ponds or estuaries, Greek farms tend to be large with most producing over 300 tonnes a year, although since most are family-run businesses they should not really be called small as the turnover involved often reach values of over one million euros a year.
Trout culture, on the other hand, tends to follow the traditional patterns of small family-run businesses with low costs and low production volumes, but as mentioned above, the significance of the sector is very limited.
The aquaculture sector in Greece was under the auspices of the Ministry of Rural Development and Foodduring the year’s time 2008-2009. In October 2010, the competence over fisheries and aquaculture was given to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Islands & Fisheries, General Directorate for Fisheries, Directorate for Aquaculture & Inland Waters.
This department is responsible for the definition of the National Aquaculture Strategy, the allocation of production quotas and, through the EU funding programs, it manages all the national and European Union (EU) funds allocated to the sector. At a regional level the Prefectures are responsible for licensing aquaculture operations as well as allocating coastal and sea areas for use by the operating companies. The regional veterinary services, also part of the Prefectures, are responsible for health and safety aspects of operations and act through frequent checks at farms on operating procedures and hygiene conditions.
Greek marine aquaculture producers are associated in the Federation of Greek Mariculture. This organization has as its main objective the coordination of marine aquaculture production in Greece and it serves as a partner in the definition of national policy regarding the sector.
The Operational Programme for Fisheries' Sector 2007-2013 defines the main areas of priority for the aquaculture sector in Greece and implements a framework of legislation and industry support actions for the period 2007 to 2013. It is EU-backed (European Fisheries Fund – E.F.F.) and managed by the Ministry of Rural Development and Food.
The area under the Operational Programme for Fisheries’ Sector 2007-2013 that concerns aquaculture is specified under PRIORITY AXIS 2 “aquaculture, inland fishing, fisheries and processing and marketing of fisheries products”, which has the following objectives:
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview - Greece
The Hellenic Centre for Marine Research has recently been created from the amalgamation of the National Centre for Marine Research and the Institute of Marine Biology of Crete. The result was a large institution with various research centers around the country and with a significant infrastructure in terms of research vessels and laboratories. One of the sections of the Centre is the Aquaculture Institute where research into problems within the sector takes place. Work areas include new species biology, aquaculture engineering, nutrition and pathology, amongst others. Another state laboratory that carries out research within the area of aquaculture is the National Agricultural Research Foundation (N.AG.RE.F.) with the Centre for Research in Fisheries and Aquaculture in Kavala.
Apart from these centres, many Universities and Technological Institutes in Greece include departments and laboratories which specialise in aquaculture research. These are:
Until recently the only technical education in aquaculture was offered by the Technical Institute (TEI) in Messolongi, this has now changed and apart from the TEI Messolongi there is now the TEI in Igoumenitsa as well as many specialized and post-graduate (e.g. Master of Sciences) courses in the various universities mentioned above. Despite all this the average education level for most of the workers employed in aquaculture is still poor and the industry is still seen by many as a primary, non-specialised industry.
Number and size of businesses. The development and management of the aquaculture sector was implemented by action projects regulated by the Ministry of Rural Development and Food (MRDF)-General Directorate for Fisheries within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union. These projects were financed by EU and National funds through the “Community Support Framework”. In the period 1986-2008 the number of seabass and seabream farming companies in Greece increased from 10 to 370 (data from the Ministry of Rural Development and Food).
Technology and performance. The increasingly competitive environment that is the industrial aquaculture production of seabass and seabream is forcing companies to reduce production costs. This is happening to some extent through the adoption of economies of scale but needs to proceed in future through the acquisition and implementation of new production technologies. This is one of the policy areas mentioned above and is actively promoted by government policy. Many fish farms have now acquired automated feeding systems and there is a trend for larger cages, mimicking the trends in the salmon and trout industries. However, most small companies, (producing <500 tonnes/year) have not invested in new technologies and are based on manual labour for most of the farm operations. Also, and compared with the salmon or trout industries, the seabass and seabream farms use very little technology for biomass management, feeding optimisation, grading, etc.
Species. There is strong pressure for the diversification of the aquaculture sector although most of the "new species" produced so far are too close to seabass and seabream to have a significantly different commercial position. Therefore they are not true alternatives and the sector needs to keep looking. Recently and in collaboration with Spanish and Australian companies, some tuna farming (capture based aquaculture) has started in the Western part of the country, also at least one company is producing some quantities of common sole (Solea solea ). Both these species are truly new 'products' and should be promoted. Species like drums (Umbrina spp.) or larger sizes of seabass could open the market to filleted fish products although their production is still limited.
Marketing and consumer acceptance. Farmed fish is still an excellent food from a health and nutrition aspect and the fast, unplanned growth in production together with poor marketing and consumer relations has lead to it being perceived as a low value commodity. During the last 4–5 years companies have started to take these matters more into consideration and have adopted health and safety schemes (HACCP), quality schemes (ISO 9001) and other certification schemes (such as AGROCERT). Also there are plans for a marketing/awareness campaign to promote the industry and its product both domestically and abroad. There has been no significant success in the branding of aquaculture products in the seabass and seabream industry although labelling and traceability schemes are being given careful consideration, including the individual labelling of the fish.
The environment. The environmental impact of aquaculture is a difficult topic in Greece as the industry often finds itself in conflict for space with the tourism industry. A methodology for assessing the environmental impact of aquaculture operations has been developed and there is legislation to implement such checks. So far, however, these aspects are still poorly followed although the trend is for this to change.
GRC Review of Fisheries in OECD countries, 2008-2009
Operational Programme “FISHERIES 2007-2013”
Stirling Institute of Aquaculture. 2004. Study of the market for aquaculture produced lubina y dorada species. Report to the European Commission, DG Fisheries.
Christofiloiannis, P. 2001. The use of antibiotics in aquaculture. PhD Thesis, University of Stirling.
FAO. 2005. Aquaculture production, 2003. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.