Aquaculture in Italy can be divided into four different farming systems: extensive farming (inland plants), semi-extensive farming (inland plants), intensive farming (inland and offshore plants) and mussel culture (longlines).
The current real trend in Italian aquaculture development is the increasing production of marine species, both molluscs and finfish. The growth in aquaculture production is mainly due to the mastering of seed production techniques for European seabass and gilthead seabream and to the application of new farming technologies. For intensive farming, which is traditionally land based, limiting factors related to environmental impact and the lack of land due to the intensive use of coastal areas have stimulated the development of offshore aquaculture. The production of mussels has followed the same trend. National and EU financing of infrastructure has largely contributed to the technological optimization of existing plants as well as to the start-up of new facilities.
The majority of Italian fish farming production consists of freshwater species (e.g. trout, catfish and sturgeon) and of euryhaline species such as European seabass and gilthead seabream, followed by eel and sharpsnout seabream.
Italian aquaculture production has grown steadily over the years. In 2004 total aquaculture production was 232 800 tonnes which in terms of value was around 600 million US$. Of total aquaculture production the mussel segment accounted for around 70 percent of total national production in volume and around 48 percent in value, whilst the euryhaline production represented around 9 percent in volume and around 25 percent in value. Over the last decade the performance of the freshwater sector in terms of volume and value has registered a constant production which in percentage terms is around 19 percent in volume and around 25 percent in value.
With regard to per capita seafood consumption, a positive trend has been recorded during the last 10 years. In 2004 it was around 21.5 kg/per capita.
More than 2 000 years ago, ancient populations used to breed sea fish, in particular seabass and seabream, which were considered very valuable and were quite popular in recipe books such as the "De Re Coquinaria" by Apicio of the first century B.C. The end of the Roman Empire led to the disappearance of this type of aquaculture and it was not until the twelfth century that a resurgence of freshwater aquaculture was seen, starting in central Europe, mainly in Italy. It was only in the fifteenth century that extensive, large-scale aquaculture was seen in the lagoons of the Adriatic: vallicultura (aquaculture developed in coastal lagoons). These activities were promoted by the religious practice of prohibiting the consumption of meat on Fridays. Thereafter, in the nineteenth century, the culture of shellfish became common practice, particularly in the Western Mediterranean and the Adriatic. Around 25 years ago, modern marine Italian intensive aquaculture production started. Aquaculture is therefore part of Italian food culture and tradition, and nowadays modern fish-breeding plants must comply with strict criteria in order to offer safe and tested products able to meet the increasing demand for high quality fish at low prices, whilst fully respecting the environment. In the early 1980s Italy emerged as a market leader, thanks to its traditional vallicultura production. The Italian aquaculture tradition was conceived in inland areas, in lagoons and ponds and currently the main production is still represented by freshwater species, mainly trout, carp, sturgeon and eel.
At the experimental level, the aquaculture of European seabass and gilthead seabream only started at the end of the 1980s. Entirely private and independent seabass and seabream farm plants were established only at the beginning of the 1990s. These companies were initially oriented towards the development of land-based plants located along coastal areas, whilst the first offshore plants were established in the second half of the 1990s.
There is no precise data describing employment in this sector. The latest reliable figures refer to the situation in 2000 (UNIMAR, 2001) with reference to the census survey. At that time, according to the survey, there were 2 153 equivalent full-time employees in the euryhaline farmed sector. According to the data for 2000, the industry employed a limited number of temporary workers estimated at 1 800 employees.
According to the same census survey for the mussel sector, there were around 4 458 full time permanent employees and around 130 casual employees; they were distributed among 252 shellfish and mussels farms. According to the "Istituto Nazionale di Statistica" (ISTAT) national overview of the aquaculture sector, in Italy a total of around 15 000 people are involved, including associated services and the processing sector. This sector is characterised by a large number of rather young employees (less than 50 years old on average) and highly skilled managers.
The rapid expansion of the Italian fish farming sector has required a large amount of effort and investment which has contributed to the development of the sector. There are currently about 130 farms producing euryhaline species inland and offshore. The production of gilthead seabream and European seabass represents around 96 percent of the total Italian production of euryhaline species. Farms are scattered throughout the Italian territory, mainly in the southern regions. The sea cage production system is used, but there are some problems finding suitable areas which do not interact with other economic activities and interests (e.g. tourism). An interesting scenario is represented by the Adriatic region where fish farms are currently most largely represented (e.g. around 47 percent for intensive land-based farms, 35 percent cages and 52 percent hatchery). In this area the aquaculture sector is characterised on the one hand, by strong socio-economic traditions, mainly in freshwater and valliculture and on the other hand, by the presence of numerous vacated areas which are suitable for the construction of farms.
With regard to mussel production, Italy is one of the main producers and the most important area of production is represented by the Adriatic regions. In 2005 a new plant using longline technology was started in Campania.
Since 2003 Italy has developed the fattening of northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus ) using cages in coastline areas, located in the southern regions (Sicily, Calabria, Puglia, Campania). In 2006, nine active tuna farming plants were monitored in Italy by ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas).
Currently 14 fish species and 11 shellfish species are cultured and/or being studied. At least 11 new species are now ready to be commercially cultured. The new species represent a great opportunity, but also a potential threat for the well established markets for seabass, seabream and mullet.
Most of the Italian fish farming production consists of freshwater species, particularly trouts Oncorhyncus mykiss , Salmo trutta , Salmo trutta marmoratus , catfish and sturgeon. Among the euryhaline species, the most important are European seabass and gilthead seabream, followed by eel and sharpsnout seabream. Of relevant importance is the Italian production of mussels and clams.
With effect from 1995 a multidisciplinary approach, including an analysis of market demand, production potential and available biological data analysis was planned for the selection of new aquaculture species. At present, 14 fish species and 11 shellfish species are cultured and/or being studied with a view to extending the number of farmed species, diversifying production and enhancing the presentation of aquaculture products on the market.
At present controlled reproduction techniques at commercial level have been set up for European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax ) and gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata ), Common dentex (Dentex dentex ), Diplodus sp., sharpsnout seabream (Puntazzo puntazzo ), common pandora (Pagellus erythrynus ), shi drum (Umbrina cirrosa ) and meagre (Argyrosomus regius ). The production of new finfish species is still currently restricted in relation to both market demand and the lack of standardized induced breeding and farming techniques. The National Aquaculture Plan makes provision for marketing and promotional policies to improve consumer demand and distribution strategies for such production.
The most important freshwater cultured species are the following:
Traditional euryaline cultured species are:
Freshwater species are mainly reared in ponds and raceways. In the north-east of the country finfish are cultured in vallicultura and ponds. In the south and on the islands the trend is represented by the implementation of cage culture. In the Adriatic regions where the most important production of clams and mussels is located, the technology most used is represented by longlines for intensive production and lagoons for extensive production or organic ones.
The growing increase in Italian aquaculture is consistent with respect to both European and worldwide trends. In Italy production rose from 157 000 tonnes in 1985 to 232 000 tonnes in 2004 (mainly fish and molluscs). In 2003 a decrease in total aquaculture national production (to around 192 000 tonnes) was registered, caused mainly by the negative performance of the mollusc sector due to the negative environmental condition of water and temperature. The total production of fish farmed species in 2003 was around 67 000 tonnes, that of mussels, including aquaculture and catches, and clams was around 125 000 tonnes. In 2004 production also increased for cultured finfish and molluscs (in volume around 233 000 tonnes).
With respect to finfish aquaculture, trout farming holds the record and represents the most developed segment with consequently limited market fluctuations both in terms of prices and exchange volumes.
The performance of freshwater species in terms of annual production is static, mainly for production by semi-intensive or extensive technologies. The production of trout and eel represents the most important item for the freshwater sector. Trout farming holds the record and represents the most developed segment with consequently limited market fluctuations both in terms of prices and exchange volumes. In 2005, aquaculture output reached around 42 percent in volume of total national fishery production, compared with 38.6 percent in 2000. In terms of revenues, the fish-farming industry is not so relevant as capture fisheries.
The sector has registered a growing trend of seabass and seabream fry production and experimental production of fingerlings has been introduced. The marked productive growth is determined by the degree of specialisation achieved in the sector of fry reproduction at a low price. In 2004 sales of seabass grew by 8.5 percent and those of seabream by 9.2 percent.
Although Italy was a main importer of fries in the past, it is currently among those European countries that are able to meet the demand of other European nations. The largest number of fry fish farming plants is located in Puglia, followed by Veneto and Tuscany. Italy exports fries mainly to Greece, Spain and Malta.
In Italy it is possible to make a distinction between two typologies of fry farming: those dealing with hatching (larval sector) and those handling the weaning (weaning sector). From 1998 to 2002, the number of fry farms increased considerably, while in 2004 it remained constant. In this sub-sector, technological innovation is fairly advanced: the considerable volumes of dedicated areas used for large-scale production have enabled this segment to produce high quality seabass and seabream.
At present, the segment devoted to the reproduction of marine species has achieved high levels of specialisation. As a result, methods aimed at breeding innovative species have developed. Fry farming techniques are mainly intensive with a high density of production (30–150 units per litre) and make use of live feedstuff.
According to FAO statistics aquaculture production in terms of volume and value was as follows:
The Italian market is characterised by a significant output registered by the euryhaline species (European seabass, gilthead seabream, sharpsnout seabream).
Currently, the strategy chosen by the Italian aquaculture sector is based on the quality of products and manufacturing processes. The quality of a fish product obtained from an aquaculture plant depends on the nutritional and biological features of the fishery product itself and on the quality of the productive chain. In order to cope with global competition, Italian companies should adopt measures that would enable them to guarantee the quality and the safety of their products and to boost the development of the sector.
During the past few years, due to a marked rise in volumes, the aquaculture sector has registered a decrease in production prices. The growth in national and foreign output has caused a reduction in the prices of the euryhaline species, and this negative trend has been characteristic over the past five years.
Imports into Italy come mainly from the EU. Within the EU, purchases account for 61.1 percent of the aggregate imports. The commodity which produces the highest import flow is represented by fresh and frozen fish, which influences the Italian fishery and seafood in general. Fresh, frozen, dry and salted molluscs and crustaceans, associated with processed and preserved products, account for 37.8 percent of Italian expenditure in value which is equal to one billion US$. Aquaculture products imported from other countries at very low prices are highly competitive compared to national products.
In the last three years a slight increase in imports and an appreciable decrease in exports were registered. The decline in the amounts exported is due to the overall trend of the fishery sector, particularly to the shrinkage of the quantities coming from the Mediterranean. Considering the stability of internal demand, this phenomenon has resulted in the growth of imports and the decline of exports.
Seafood represents an important component of the food supply for the Italian population. While supply in the sector is limited by biological supply constraints, consumer demand for fish and fish products continues to rise. This demand is influenced by human population levels, their eating habits, available disposable income and fish prices.
In Italy, strong foreign competition has pushed market prices towards their lowest levels, with a consequent decline in profits. Accordingly, farmers have reacted by diversifying their product towards filleted and gutted products preserved in a modified environment. Thanks to the differentiation in the products on offer, the volume of sales is growing, also due to improved labelling and packaging. At the same time, steps are being taken towards the modernisation of plants and the integration of both the manufacturing and the marketing sectors, shortening distribution time.
Under present conditions, in terms of price levels, fish products and the system in which they are processed cannot compete with the global market. However, in line with the above statement, the sector may prove potentially competitive with respect to the typology of processed products. The quality of a fish product obtained from an aquaculture plant depends on the nutritional and biological features of the fishery product itself and on the quality of the productive chain. From this point of view, the quality under consideration is ensured by the origin of its spawns and its gametes, the farming and by complying with the sanitary regulations of the processing of products before they reach end users.
The new image of differentiation strategy in the fish farming sector may became an integrated policy for all producers that utilise "natural areas" and reduce the trend characterising fish farming, whereby it is undergoing a transformation from being an industry of high margins and low volumes to one of low margins and high volumes. Seabass and seabream are losing their luxury image and are becoming commodity items like salmon. The existing market had become saturated, but this market represents only a small part of the overall market potential. For future growth, the aquaculture industry should adopt more sophisticated methods of marketing. This is a must both for penetrating new markets and for enlarging existing ones.
The policy and administrative framework of the aquaculture sector is managed by the Ministry of Forestry, Department of Fishery and Aquaculture. The Ministry benefits from the collaboration of several research institutes such as ICRAM (Central Institute for Marine Scientific Research and Technology), the most important one in Italy, with 15 researchers involved. The private sector association involves the API (Italian Producer Association), including 90 percent of all producers.
The rapid growth of aquaculture in less than 20 years and the diversification of aquaculture in terms of technologies and cultured species have strongly reinforced the aquaculture sector and clarified its definition. At present, according to technical expert consultations in the European Union, "aquaculture" is the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic plants and other aquatic organisms. Aquaculture legislation, such as the Fishery Law, is a composite law which consists of different regulations drawn from civil, administrative, and community laws. Thus it cannot be considered a separate branch of law. However, from a general point of view, it should be noted that at community, government and regional levels, aquaculture legislation is traditionally included in the rules and regulations governing fisheries. In Italy, both freshwater and marine aquaculture are considered farming activities. Law no. 122 of 27 March 2001, as supplemented by Law no. 102 of 5 February 1992, describes fish farming entrepreneurs as: «agricultural entrepreneurs, under Art. 2135 of the Civil Code, subjects, individual or legal persons, single or in partnership, who practise aquaculture and the relevant harvesting activities within fresh, salted or brackishwater».
Licensing of farms
A survey of the legal aspects that limit the development of aquaculture necessarily entails a close examination of the main legal issues pertaining to the control of coastal areas. Fish farming plants should positively adapt to the natural cycle of water resources. The relevant legal aspects are linked to the presence of environmental regulations, to the complexity of the rules concerning state concessions, as well as to the difficulties encountered in the course of the implementation and enforcement of International Sanitary Regulations. According to FAO guidelines, responsible aquaculture should increase the value of marine coastal systems. This concept implies that the size of production should be in accordance with what the environment can sustain and that all the latest anti-pollution techniques should be used.
For more information on aquaculture legislation in Italy please click on the following link:
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview - Italy
Seafood represents an important component of the food supply for the Italian population. Several factors determine developments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. The biological limitations on marine fish stocks are a major constraint on fisheries sector development, although they can be somewhat counterbalanced by technological developments in harvesting and transport, and the development of aquaculture. While supply in the sector is limited by biological supply constraints, the demand for fish and fish products by consumers continues to rise. This demand is influenced by human population levels, their eating habits, available disposable income, fish prices and geographical areas. Imported species from aquaculture such as seabass and seabream, mussels, shellfish and freshwater cultured products are also consumed in increasing amounts by Italian consumers. In Italy there is a different distribution channel for farmed products and capture fisheries products, according to the various habits of Italian consumers, contributing to a differentiation in the price of the products. The two different production forms – captured and farmed – are not substitutes for each other and there is no link between their price. Therefore a consistent change in the prices of farmed fish species has no impact on the price of the same captured species. There are in fact two different and separate markets While the market for captured fish is characterised by a constant positive trend in prices the market for farmed products is experiences by a decreasing trend in prices, linked to increasing farmed production and low-cost imports. New consumption patterns orient the consumers towards choosing seafood with added value in terms of labelling, brand, certification of quality, traceability etc, and other information that qualifies safety and hygiene aspects. This added information could increase the demand for farmed species independent of the price factor.
To overcome the existing factor of inefficiency of the sector, it is obvious that the integration of the marketing and processing activities should be undertaken with a view to reducing the distribution stages that bring the products to the consumer. Italian aquaculture shows serious signs of a conflicting growth and management crisis. On the one hand, Italy has a highly developed technological sector which has, in the past, undergone rapid expansion thanks to reliable reproduction procedures for seabass and seabream. On the other hand, efforts made to improve production have partly been neutralised by competition from other Mediterranean countries which, thanks to better environmental factors and lower labour costs, are able to produce at lower costs than the Italians. Another problem is represented by the careful evaluation of production and by the choice of species to farm. A decline in fish stocks and reduced quotas can mean that fewer people are employed in capture fisheries. Increased job opportunities can result from the expansion of aquaculture in areas where there are few other alternatives for employment. In such cases, the development of aquaculture can play a major role in helping to reverse rural depopulation and in improving the quality of peoples' lives. However, this does not necessarily mean that jobs being lost in marine capture fisheries can be replaced by the expansion and diversification of marine aquaculture.
Aquaculture forms a socially and economically important component of fisheries. Growth in aquaculture production and employment can play a major role in helping to increase and diversify economic opportunities at both national and more local levels. Increasing dependency on aquaculture can be interpreted as a sign of increasing employment in remote areas where there are few alternative forms of employment. In general, it is necessary to support the role of aquaculture as a means of territorial preservation and as an eco-compatible activity and to protect national production by introducing certification with respect to quality and origin. Finally, certification concerning productive processes on behalf of companies would produce a more structured aquaculture to hand on to future generations.
API . 2003 . I Quaderni dell'acquacoltura, Vol.1. Programma di monitoraggio del mercato regionale dei prodotti dell'acquacoltura. Verona, pp. 1–44 (in Italian).
API . 2003 . I Quaderni dell'acquacoltura, Vol.2. Programma di Sensibilizzazione degli operatori del comparto acquacoltura verso i sistemi di produzione eco-compatibile. Verona, pp. 1–88 (in Italian).
API . 2004 . I Quaderni dell'acquacoltura, Vol.3. Programma di monitoraggio degli impianti di acquacoltura marina e salmastra nella regione Friuli Venezia Giulia e della situazione sanitaria esistente. Verona, pp.1–32 (in Italian).
API . 2004 . I Quaderni dell'acquacoltura, Vol.4. Programma di monitoraggio degli impianti di acquacoltura nel Lazio. Verona, pp.1–31 (in Italian).
API . 2004 . I Quaderni dell'acquacoltura, Vol.5. Programma di Sensibilizzazione degli operatori del comparto acquacoltura regionale, Regione Lazio. Verona, pp. 1–77 (in Italian).
API . 2003 . Ricerca e Sviluppo dell'Acquacoltura, Vol.6. Linee guida e specifiche tecniche per la certificazione delle trote di acquacoltura. Verona (in Italian).
API . 2000 . Ricerca e Sviluppo dell'Acquacoltura, Vol.4. Studio sulle prospettive dell'acquacoltura nella Comunità Europea. Verona (in Italian).
API . 2003 . Ricerca e Sviluppo dell'Acquacoltura, Vol.7. Farmaci e disinfettanti utilizzabili in acquacoltura in Italia e nei Paesi UE (Reg. CEE n. 2377/90). Verona, pp.1–54 (in Italian).
Cozzolino, M. & Iandoli, C. 2001 . Increasing added-value on aquaculture seafood. Cahiers Options méditerraneénnes Vol.59. Seafood market studies for the introduction of new aquaculture products. Chieam, pp. 129–130. Available at:
FAO . 1995 . Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. FI/FIE.
FAO . 1998 . Globefish EPR (European Price Fish Report). Various volumes.
FAO . 2001 . Globefish Special series. Price interaction between aquaculture and fishery. Vol.8. Roma.
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2004. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Iandoli, C. & Cozzolino, M. 2001 . Overview on aquaculture product differentiation. Cahiers Options méditerraneénnes Vol.59. Seafood market studies for the introduction of new aquaculture products. Chieam, pp. 117–118.
Iandoli, C. & Cozzolino, M. 2001 . MASMANAP Country report: Italy. Cahiers Options méditerraneénnes Vol.59. Seafood market studies for the introduction of new aquaculture products. Chieam, pp. 197–222.
ICRAM-ANPA . 2002 . Manuali e linee guida Vol.15/2002. Linee guida per l'applicazione del Regolamento EMAS al settore della piscicoltura. Roma (in Italian).
ISMEA . 1999 . Annual Reports 1999 - 2003. (in Italian).
Marino, G. , Ingle, E. & Cataudella, S. 1998 . Status of Aquaculture in Italy. CIHEAM. Options Mediterraneennes Vol.999, pp.117–126. Available at:
Naylor, R.L. , Goldburg, R.J. , Primavera, J.H. , Kautsky, N. , Beveridge, M.C.M. , Clay, J. , Folke, C. , Lubchenco, J. , Mooney, H. & Troell, M. 2000 . Effect of aquaculture on world fish supplies. Nature 405, 1017–1024.
Panunzio, P. & Iandoli, C. 1999 . Legal aspects of aquaculture in Italy. CIHEAM. Options Mediterraneennes, Vol.II, pp. 63–67.
Report to the European Commission DG Fisheries. Study of the market for aquaculture produced seabass and seabream species. Final Report, 2004-04 , University of Stirling. Available at:
Roth, E. , Rosenthal, H. & Burbridge, P.R. 2000 . A discussion of the use of the sustainability index: "Ecological footprint" in aquaculture production. J. AQUATIC RESOURCES.
Uncles, M. , Ehrenberg, A. & Hammond, K. 1995 . Patterns of buyer behaviour; regularities, models and extensions. Marketing Science, 3 (2–2): pp. 71–78.
UNIMAR UNIPROM . 2001 . Acquacoltura Responsabile. Verso le produzioni acquatiche del terzo millennio . Roma (in Italian).
UNIMAR . 2001 . Censimento degli impianti di piscicoltura che allevano specie eurialine. Roma (in Italian).
UNIMAR . 2001 . Censimento nazionale sulla molluschicoltura. Risultati finali. Roma (in Italian).