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Quality and certification of fishery products from both capture and farming in the same market place

Bianca Maria Poli*

* Department of Scienze Zootecniche - University of Firenze, Via delle Cascine, 5, 50144 Florence, Italy. E-mail: [email protected]


Increasing interest on fishery products' safety/quality has emerged in all parts of the fishery chain, related to consumer concern and the variability in supply and quality. Differences in species, age/size, reproductive phase, quality of aquatic environment, feeding availability, water temperature, production method and season of harvest and variability in handling, processing and packaging methods contribute to variability in safety and quality of the final product. The cold chain maintenance before the final product distribution is essential for the safety and for the single most important attribute of quality such as the freshness of the product. Much work has been done on developing scientific methods for accurate, rapid, and inexpensive measurement of the fish freshness. For the time being, the sensory assessment remains the favoured option. The limited fishery products' supply suggests a closer integration between cultured and captured fish trade, an improvement of raw product quality and a reduction to a minimum of any waste along the processing line and distribution chain. Superior fresh aroma, iridescence of skin, body and flesh leanness and higher n-3 highly polyunsaturated fatty acids content are frequently found in wild fish in comparison to cultured fish of the same species and size. On the other hand, cultured fish can be fully controlled along the whole productive chain, constantly available in Extra freshness class. Moreover, its size and other qualitative traits, including the high n-3 HUFA, can be modulated towards the preferred ones mostly by changes in feed quantity and quality and feeding strategy. Both captured and cultured fishery products can be healthy and nutritional food, able to exert beneficial effects on the human body functioning, if produced and maintained safe, free from contaminants and fresh to the consumer. For this reason a “farm/sea-to table” policy is important, scientifically based and responsive to the seafood production chain changes. This policy should be articulated around the use of the farm/vessels Good Manufacturing Practices, the HACCP systems full implementation and should include the risk analysis to develop seafood safety objectives and standards.Sustainability, management responsibility, traceability, consumer information, quality label and certification can ensure safety for the consumer and help businesses to prosper.Initiatives of quality labels and certification for fishery product are not yet being used to a greater extent but it will be necessary to distinguish the more suitable among different types of quality certification standards and inform the consumers about them, without bewilderment due to the label proliferation.

1. Introduction

Quality seafood products with extended product shelf-life are a valid meat alternative for meeting the health-conscious consumer demands. Due to the limited seafood supply, a closer integration of cultured and captured fish trade shall become more important. For both capture fisheries and fish culturing sector another important issue is the improvement of raw product quality and the reduction to a minimum of any waste along the processing line and distribution chain. Seafood is particularly perishable and varies in composition because of differences in species, age, size and season of harvest. Moreover, variability in handling, processing and packaging methods further contribute to variability in quality (Huss, 1995). Maximising quality by selecting only the best specimens for harvest can be done for cultured animals but not in fisheries. Seafood processing industry needs new technologies to enhance quality, detect decomposition and extend product shelf-life while adding minimal costs.

In this time of sweeping changes in seafood industry, the increasing trend in consumption and trade, half of which coming from non-European countries, has evidenced a need of information at each transaction point of the market chain. More than 300 species, in every possible size and shape, some of them coming from aquaculture, each of them with specific handling, processing and packaging requirements, are traded at the market. European consumer demands credible information and assurance on product safety and quality parameters, such as fish freshness, origin, nutritional traits, variety and innovation. Moreover social/ethical issue - such as religion/beliefs, business ethics, animal welfare - and environmental issues - such as farming methods, pollution, genetic modification - are gaining interest. Increasing interest in fish safety/quality has also emerged in all parts of the fishery chain, in relation to consumer concern and to the variability in supply and quality of this delicate and highly perishable commodity (Pérez-Villarreal and Aboitiz, 2003).

Fish product credibility is important for purchaser/consumer and this is particularly true for cultured seafood, about which there is little, and often negative, knowledge. The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO -1995), the Code of Conduct for the European Aquaculture (FEAP - 2000) and numerous EEC Regulations that followed, have introduced into the seafood sector concepts common to other animal food industry such as safety, sustainability, management responsibility, process line, traceability, consumer information, quality label and certification. Certification is the way to give information on products and to guarantee it is true and verifiable, therefore representing a competitive advantage and a market strategy. However, to make it work it is necessary to distinguish the different types of quality certification standards and inform the consumers about them (Poli and Scappini, 2002).

The objective of this paper was to contribute in drawing an outline of quality, quality changes from farm/boat to table,new techniques for quality improvement and certification issues of both capture and farming fish products found in the same national marketplace.

2. Fish products safety and quality

Fish is by European consumers perceived as a healthy and nutritional food and its freshness and price as the most important reasons to buy it (Luten, 2003). This perception is supported by the recent inclusion of fish in the “functional food” list, which was particularly due to the high content of natural n-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) C20:5 (EPA) and C20:6 (DHA) in fish lipids. At least twice-a week consumption of fish has been recommended by the Dietary Guidelines of International Committee, to prevent cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases. However, to exert all the potential beneficial effects without any risk for human health, it has to be produced and maintained safe, free from contaminants and fresh up to the consumer. In fact, no food quality can exist without assuring a reasonable food safety.

For this reason seafood safety is a quality pre-requisite, assured by law with the aim of the consumers' health protection, throughout both horizontal (Dir. 43/93/EEC, Reg. CE 466/2001, 2375/2001, 178/2002) and vertical (Reg. CE 2377/90, Dir. 91/67/EEC, 492/91/EEC, 493/91/EEC) regulations, able alone to give a minimum food standard from the hygienic point of view.

With the exclusion of pre-harvesting and harvesting on farm/vessels, food services and retail operations - for which the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO -1995), the Codex Alimentarius(vol.9 Codex Standard for Fish and fishery products, 1999), the Code of Conduct for the European Aquaculture (FEAP - 2000) and other GMP guidelines could be implemented- all safety controls are made on the entire production process according to the general Directive 93/43 EEC concerning the “Hygiene of food products” that obliged a methodology based on the process line control: the HACCP (Hazard Analysis of the Critical Control Points). Such a system provides for the identification of the potential risks (microbiological, chemical, physical) connected with the production of food in different production phases, allowing the realisation of specific interventions to prevent any identified risk.

International standards to reduce the risks of illness from consumption of fish and fishery products are set up by the Codex Alimentarius Commission - an intergovernmental body with the purpose of implementation of the joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Program. Draft Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery products is currently under review by the Codex (Austin and Smith, 2003).

Further safety tools aiming at higher transparency in the fishery chain are partial seafood traceability, represented by the label for consumer information on common name of the species, harvesting area and production method (Reg. 104/2000; 2065/2001) compulsory from January 2002 and the future whole supply chain traceability, which is going to become compulsory as from 2005 and wholly implemented by 2006 (Reg. 178/2002/CEE). The whole supply chain traceability should increase food safety, provide better protections against food scandals and improve overall consumer confidence.

Seafood safety is generally based on the conformity to the foreseen levels/absences of a mix of attributes, such as food/borne pathogens, heavy metals and toxins, pesticide or drug residues, soil and water contaminants, food additives, preservatives, physical hazards, spoilage and botulism (Dir. 91/67/EEC, 492/92/EEC, 493/92/EEC, 43/93/EEC, Reg. CEE 466/2001, 2375/2001, 178/2002). Veterinary inspection generally includes the identification of the species which could potentially cause the seafood poisoning ( Tetraodontidae, Molidae, Diodontidae, Canthigasteridae) or the presence of biotoxins(PSP, DSP, NSP, ASP) and the research of visible parasites ( Anisakis spp). Microbiological, chemical and toxicological laboratory tests could also be requested and the following are the more frequent ones: total volatile basic nitrogen (TVB-N), trimethylamine (TMA) and dimethylamine (DMA), Salmonella spp., Shigella spp, Staphylococcus aureus, Coli bacteria, Escherichia Coli, Vibrio cholerae, Vibrio Parahaemolitycus and Vibrio vulnificus, Listeria monocytogenes, TVC, Clostridium botulinum, biogenic amines such as histamine, antibiotics, sulphamidic, Hg, Cd, Pb, and the PCBs.

At present, one of the most debated environmental issues causing considerable safety concern are the contaminants generally found in the environment as complex mixtures - Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and dibenzofurans (PCDFs), polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs). All are very persistent in soil, water and seabed with a strong potential for bioaccumulation along the food chain. These lipophylic substances gradually accumulate in wild and cultured seafood lipids, causing long-term damages to animals and their consumers. Several regulatory proposals have been elaborated to reduce directly or indirectly the emission of these substances into the environment and to safeguard human health. A limit of 1–4 pg WHO-TEQ/kg body weight was considered tolerable as daily intake value (TDI) by WHO in 1998 (van Leeuwen et al., 2000). In general, even if at trace levels, a constant presence of organochlorine pesticide and polychlorinated biphenyl, both in seafood and in commercial diets used in aquaculture, was confirmed recently, although no indication of important health risk associated with consumption of marine species' products from the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea emerged (Bayarri et al., 2001; Focardi et al., 2001; Orban et al., 2000; 2002).

The rapid alarm system is another important safety tool. The system includes the notification of a direct and indirect risks for human health due to food or animal feed.All EU-member states, Commission and the European Authority for Food Safety participate in the rapid alarm system by 1) an alert notification and 2) an information notification. The alert notification implies an immediate action and consumers are assured that the product is eliminated from the market (i.e. only in the period May/June 2003 alert notifications were given by the Netherlands due to the presence of chloramphenicol in shrimp from Malesia and of nitrofuran in shrimp from Equador; Italy due to Listeria monocytogenes found in Norwegian salmon and Hg in blue shark from Spain; UK due to the presence of nitrofuran in shrimp from Bangladesh). The information notification regards products found in other Countries and consumers are guaranteed that those products won't be present on their national market.

Quality is related to particular attributes that seafood possesses, which are meeting the consumer demands in addition to safety.

Some quality attributes, endogenous and typical of the species, the result of the interaction of the endogenous factors and the environmental/nutritional/rearing condition exerted infra vitam on the animal, are fixed at death such as:

-   commercial size, merchantable traits, body fat deposits quantity and distribution;

-   organoleptic attributes, such as general appearance and colour of skin/muscle/eye/ gills, texture and odour of raw product and texture, taste, odour, flavour and juiciness of the cooked product;

-   chemical-nutritional attributes of the edible portion, such as water, proteins, non protein nitrogenous compounds, lipids, saturated/ monounsaturated/ n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, cholesterol, minerals and vitamins content, net energy-calories.

Differences exist for the same fish species due to age/size, season, the reproductive phase, the quality of aquatic environment, particularly as regards the possible presence of chemical and microbiological contaminants, feeding availability and water temperature.

Aquatic/environmental/feeding conditions may be differently favourable both in the wild and in captivity. Conditions which effect the favourability of a rearing site and practice include the position and technology applied (off-shore, in-shore, tanks, ponds, diet…). Among the pre-harvesting parameters for cultured fish the quality of hatcheries that supply the fry, the zooplankton and phytoplankton production for larvae and post larvae feeding has also to be considered and controlled.

Even if both wild and cultured fish products can be considered substantially equivalent in their ability to meet the human nutritional requirements, some difference generally emerge between them in specific organoleptic, chemical and nutritional aspects, mostly related to the different nutritional and environmental conditions where the animals were living. To be correct, comparison among cultured and wild fish should be done at the same season, water conditions and size. In general it can be underlined that for cultured fish the main factors of influence on the chemical and organoleptic traits are linked to feed quantity/quality and fish density during rearing. On the other hand, aquaculture products safety/quality can be controlled along the whole productive chain and modulated in part by the rearing/dietary factors in order to constantly meet the complex set of traits that consumer demands.

In comparison to wild fish, cultured fish of the same species generally show different odour and aroma, less evident colour and iridescence of the skin, higher lipid deposits, both at visceral level and, even if at lower extent, at muscular level. For examples cultured and wild sea bream of the same average weight (410 g) had respectively: 18 and 20% CP; 9.8 and 1.2% fat; 71 and 78% moisture and 1.4 and 1.5% ash. Significantly higher fat and lower moisture in muscles of cultured fish may be due to the high dietary fat in the commercial feed (20%) and the reduced activity (Alasalvar et al., 2002). Analogous lipid/moisture composition was reported by Orban et al. (2003) for cultured (514 g) and wild (653 g) sea bass (9.36 vs 2.15% and 69.56 vs 76.67%); less evident were the differences found in lipid/moisture composition of cultured (360 g) and wild (389 g) gilthead sea bream (11.13 vs 7.37% and 67.13 vs 70.68%).

Higher levels of n-3 PUFA in wild fish in comparison to intensively reared one were reported by Krajnovic-Ozretic et al. (1994) for sea bass and by Serot et al. (1998) for turbot. Orban et al. (2003) found a) no differences in n-3 and n-6 PUFA percent levels between the wild (from lagoon) and farmed sea bass fillets (23.66 vs 22.70%; 7.84 vs 8.19%) and b) significant differences with the lower levels of n-3 and n-6 PUFA percent in wild gilthead sea bream in respect to the farmed ones (12.06 vs 24.07%; 4.42 vs 6.64%). In any case, farmed fish species closely reflected diet characteristics (sea bass diet: 22.05% n-3 PUFA and 7.48% n-6 PUFA; gilthead sea bream diet: 21.46% n-3 PUFA and 6.64% n-6 PUFA). Therefore the lower n-3 and n-6 PUFA, together with the higher saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, found in wild gilthead sea bream, possibly reflected different quality of food available in the lagoon from where they were caught. The fish age and the season of sampling (not well specified by the authors) can also have influenced lipid deposition both in quantity and quality.

Fatty acid composition of flesh of cultured marine fish could in the future reflect even more the fatty acid profile of vegetable components, due to their increasing presence in commercial feeds (higher incidence of PUFA such as C18:2 n-2 and C18:3 n-3 and the lower incidence of HUFA such as C20:5 n-3 and C22:6 n-3). On the other hand, because fish lipids closely reflect the lipid composition of the diet, cultured fish can be characterised by similar, or even higher, levels of intramuscular n-3 HUFA (C20:5 n-3 and C22:6 n-3), in comparison to the wild fish of the same species, when fed on a good fish meal or on diets with a low vegetable source added with the right fish oil quantity. A promising feeding strategy to reduce the use of fish oil without compromising the fatty acid pattern of fish flesh is the return to a fish oil diet some weeks prior to harvesting (Bell et al., 2003; Régost et al., 2003).

A higher proportion of highly unsaturated fatty acids in the wild fish might cause faster deterioration of its desirable flavour, despite a lower fat content (Alasalvar et al., 2002). Some other factors, such as higher capture stress and/or higher numbers of initial microbial flora in the wild fish may also possibly result in a more rapid spoilage. Other differences can be observed in cholesterol content per lipid gram and mercury level, generally lower in cultured fish products (Orban et al., 1996; 2000; 2003).

3. Quality changes: freshness concept/measure and importance of cold chain maintenance from farm/boat to table.

Some chemical fish parameters, such as the high levels of non protein nitrogenous compounds and of n-3 HUFA, highly susceptible to oxidation, together with the low carbohydrate content and the consequent high final pH in muscle not as efficient in microbial proliferation inhibition, contribute to its trait of high perishable food in respect to other meats.

Moreover, all conditions affecting fish biochemical processes taking place during post mortem period can heavily influence the expression of its flesh quality and the subsequent changes during storage, including freshness loss and shelf-life, all of them well indicated by the changes of the sensory/organoleptic attributes such as rigor status, general appearance and colour of skin/muscle/eye/gills, texture and odour of the raw products.

Seafood safety and quality can change as the product moves through the distribution chain, mostly due to the lack of attention paid to seafood correct harvesting and handling in sorting, icing, packaging, grading, transport and distribution of product in refrigerated and hygienic condition.

There is a general agreement among the EU member countries and along the transaction points of the whole distribution chain, that the Good Manufacturing Practices on board, in aquaculture plants, during storage and processing are essential for maintaining well defined safety and quality levels in this delicate and highly perishable commodity (Pérez-Villarreal and Aboitiz, 2003). Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO, 1995), Codex Standard for Fish and fishery products (Codex Alimentarius, 1999) gave indications and a Draft Code of practice for Fish and Fishery products is currently under revision (Austin and Smith, 2003).

Indeed, it is necessary to get it right at the start, because the initial quality and refrigeration level of the catch are essential for the best maintenance of the original fish product safety and quality, and the times, the temperature and the technology utilised are critical. The HACCP system, compulsory after harvesting and landing, but not always fully implemented, needs to be applied from origin of food to consumption. Mainly the hygienic handling and packaging and the uninterrupted cold chain during product storage, packaging, transport and distribution must be assured. The cold chain is considered one of the most important critical points to be strictly monitored and the time/temperature condition before the final product distribution can be a risk factor for the safety and for the single most important attribute of the quality such as the freshness of the seafood delivered to the consumer.

Freshness is more a concept than an entity. “Fish freshness means that fish (with some restrictions the following applies also for molluscs or crustacean shellfish) is in its entire properties not far away from those properties it had in the living state or that only of short period of time has past since the fish has been caught or harvested… it is more a complex idea of an ideal state of wholesomeness, soundness and perfection of a newly harvested fish” (Oehlenschäger and Sörensen, 1997). The same authors affirm that “it is advisable to speak about freshnesses, where freshness t=0is the freshness at time of catch and/or harvest and freshness t>0has to be differentiated from the initial one…. So it can be concluded that freshness is an attribute which changes continuously but comprises a certain time period”.

Apart from the definition difficulty, seafood freshness is basic for its safety and quality. Differences in freshness changes, resulting from the different post mortem biochemical and microbial processes rate in different storage conditions, affect the shelf-life (the time seafood is fit for human consumption) and the eating quality of the products. Much work has been done on developing scientific methods for accurate, rapid, inexpensive fish freshness measure. Sensory evaluation, the use of sensors (volatile compounds, electrical properties, ATP metabolites) and spectroscopic methods (NIR) can be considered potential instruments for a rapid and non-destructive freshness evaluation of fish products (Olafsdóttir et al., 1997). Multisensor technique for monitoring the quality of fish was also proposed (Nesvadba, 2003) combining the outputs of colour, electronic noses and texture measures, calibrating with sensory scores for appearance, smell and texture and giving an Artificial Quality Index that can be accurate as the sensorial method of reference. For the time, sensory assessment, with all its disadvantages, remains the favoured option.

The sensory evaluation is used “to evoke, measure, analyse and interpret reactions to characteristics of food as perceived through the senses of sight, smell, taste touch and hearing” (Huss, 1995). There are several methods at industry level and in the inspection service for evaluating fish quality and freshness but at the present the EU scheme (Council Regulation 2406/96) and the most modern Quality Index Method are the most commonly used.

The fresh fish evaluation by sensorial analysis according to the EU Scheme requires a seafood freshness/quality grading system at the point of the first sale according to the grading scales included in the regulation. Seafood evaluation for trade is usually carried out in auctions or other authorised plants by trained personnel and on the basis of schemes for different groups of species (white fish, fatty fish, selachians, cephalopods, shrimps, prawns) which grade fish freshness in three categories: E (Extra) - very fresh fish, A class - fresh fish and B class - bad quality but still edible fish. Below B is the level (Unfit) where fish is discarded for human consumption. Whole and gutted animals are assessed for appearance, odour of skin, outer slime, eyes, gills and belly cavity. Refrigeration slows down the rate of post mortem biochemical changes, slows the rate of change from a freshness class to the following one and increases shelf-life. For example: at 4 °C sea bass shelf-life is 6 days distributed in 2 days extra class, 2 days A class and 2 days B class; at 4 °C with ice covering sea bass shelf-life is 9 days distributed in 3 days extra class, 3 days A class and 3 days B class; at 1 °C with ice covering sea bass shelf-life is 10 days distributed in 3 days extra class, 3 days A class and 4 days B class (Poli et al., 1997).

Quality Index Method (QIM) has been suggested as an alternative to the EU schemes. This is a promising method in assessing the freshness of fish in a rapid and reliable way, based upon a scheme originally developed by the Tasmanian Food Research Unit (Bremner, 1985). QIM is based on well-defined characteristic changes of raw fish that occur in outer appearance of eyes, skin and gills, and odour and texture and a score system from 0 to 3 demerit (index) points. The description of each score for each parameter is listed in the QIM scheme. The scores for all the characteristics are summarised to give an overall sensory score, the so-called Quality Index. The aim when developing QIM for various species is to have the Quality Index increase linearly related with storage time in ice. As the Quality Index increases linearly with storage time in ice, the information may be used in production management. QIM schemes are developed for the following species: brill ( Rhombus laevis), cod ( Gadus morhua), Atlantic mackerel ( Scomber scombrus), horse mackerel ( Trachurus trachurus), European sardine ( Sardina pilchardus), dab ( Limanda limanda) deep water shrimp ( Pandalus borealis), farmed salmon ( Salmo salar), haddock ( Melanogrammus aeglefinus), herring ( Clupea harengus), peeled shrimp (Pandalus borealis), plaice ( Pleuronectes platessa), pollock ( Pollachius virens), redfish ( Sebastes mentella/marinus), sole ( Solea vulgaris) and turbot ( Scophtalmus maximus), gilthead seabream ( Sparus aurata) (Martinsdottir et al., 2003). QIM is in the future expected to become a reference method for the assessment of fresh fish within the European community. The internet selling, quality assurance systems implementation, information need of retailers and consumers and traceability are important issues which will stimulate the use and implementation of QIM.

The flesh of newly caught fish is free of bacteria. However considerable amounts of bacteria may be in viscera, gills and on skin. By reducing temperature to about 0°C the growth of spoilage and pathogenic micro-organisms is reduced, thus reducing the spoilage rate and reducing or even eliminating some safety risk. When the fish is stored whole in ice, the deterioration caused by bacteria is minimal for the first days of storage. Post mortem bacterial contamination of fish generally comes from extraneous sources. The number of bacteria increases thanks to the use of various compounds, which results in increasingly bad-smelling sulphur and nitrogenous volatile compounds, until fish become unfit for human consumption. The activity of micro organisms is the main factor limiting the shelf-life of refrigerated fish, even if there are important non microbiological factors of fish deterioration. Total Viable Count (TVC) is the total number of bacteria capable of forming visible colonies on culture media at a given temperature. TVC of 102-106 cfu/g are usual on whole fish and cut fillets. Only a small fraction of the micro organisms present on seafood is actually of importance for product spoilage. Therefore TVC in seafood correlates poorly with the degree of freshness or remaining shelf-life. There is no correlation between the TVC and presence of any bacteria of public health significance. The aquatic environment may contribute to the microbial contamination of fish and affect its shelf-life. The temperature of the water from which fish are harvested may also determine its susceptibility to spoilage: the bacterial flora of cold-water fish species are not inhibited by refrigeration as effectively as are the bacterial flora of fish harvested from temperate to tropical waters (Herbert et al. 1976). However, the total number of bacteria on fish rarely closely indicates sensorial quality or storage characteristics. At the point of sensory rejection, the TVC of fish products generally can be around 107-108 cfu/g even if from a study by European consumers fish was assumed not to be in a good enough condition to be stored for long when TVC were around 106 cfu/g.

To have a safe seafood of good quality, it's necessary to get it right from the harvesting stage. Management of harvesting/killing procedures, if carried out without care to avoid severe stress to the animal, can heavily influence the expression of quality and the subsequent safety and quality changes during storage of the final product. This relationship has been amply demonstrated in all terrestrial animals. The killing method may be very stressful, particularly if it provokes prolonged agony in fish (Robb, 2001; Sigholt et al., 1997; Poli et al., 2003).

The length of the fishing process, intense handling, struggling and crowding during most capture protocols are very traumatic times for fish. To show an example, the bottom trawl fishery, according to its duration and depth, may damage and compromise fish quality, shelf-life and suitability to the industrial processing. The small pelagic fish anchovies ( Engraulis enchrasiculus), harvested by trawling, generally have a market value inferior to that of fish of the same species caught by purse seine.

Nevertheless, the wild fishery capture stress is almost unavoidable or hard to control, while aquaculture presents a better opportunity to manage pre-harvest and harvest practices thereby minimising stress. Aquaculture operators have to consider that taking care of animal welfare is not only important from an ethical point of view, but means a better preservation of potential quality of the products that can be obtained for human consumption and thus preservation of their potential value. Increased muscular activity during stress condition and relative endocrine response can greatly influence fish post-mortem biochemical processes, mostly the anaerobic muscular degradation rate of glucose and cellular energy compounds. This in turn can markedly influence the onset and release of rigor mortis rate, which largely determines the involution rate of fish freshness, in this way leading to undesirable changes in the marketable, physical, organoleptic and freshness quality parameters. For example, killing methods influenced the rigor onset and release and shelf-life of sea bass was one day longer in less stressed animals (knocked, spiked and live chilled fish) in comparison to the more stressed ones (killed by Asfixia, CO2narcosis and electro narcosis) (Poli et al., 2003).

It is possible to try to minimise some fish stress and this may improve the keeping quality of the final commercial product. High stocking density in particular often interacts in a complex manner with other factors such as quality of water, mostly hypoxia due to crowding prior to slaughter (Parisi et al., 2001). Managing the pre-harvest and harvest practices with the aim of minimising stress has an ethic aspect that positively influences the quality of the final product.

Icing the fish at sea and keeping it properly iced throughout distribution and handling is the way to obtain the potential shelf-life (time span from the day of catch during which fresh fish can safely be placed on the market). The optimal refrigeration temperature along the whole supply and distribution chain would be 0°C but it is difficult to be maintained. Generally the 1°/2°C with ice covering can assure the best maintenance. There is a critical role of temperature control in atmospheric storage: keeping the temperature low affects both the microbiological and the biochemical aspect of the changes in quality. According to the law, ice microbiological and chemical safety (sea water or fresh water ice) has to be checked periodically. The right quantity and alternate layers of microbiologically and chemically safe ice and fish has to be used in clean containers. The latent heat of fusion of ice is about 80 kcal/kg. This means that a comparatively small amount of ice will be needed to cool 1 kg of fish (2,25 kg to cool down from 20°C to 0°C 10 kg fish). The reason why, in practice, more ice is needed is mainly because ice melting should compensate for thermal losses. This is the main reason for the introduction of insulated fish containers in fish handling, particularly in tropical climates: ice keeps fish and the insulated container keeps ice. Ice melting around the fish occurs at constant temperature so to be a self-contained temperature control system and to have this property on all contact points (Huss, 1995). In practice, the correct fish/ice ratio could be 70–60% fish: 30–40% ice.

Refrigerator or ice machine may be needed on the fishing vessel depending on duration of fishing operations. Times, temperature and technology utilized on board are critical and the total respect of hygienic rules as regards the environment, the personnel and the tools used has to be assured. In particular the fishing vessel deck and tools used for handling of the catch must be cleaned, mud and sediments washed out from fish before the following sorting and grading procedures. Fish, sorted according to the species, has to be covered with ice or dipped in ice and water to reduce body temperature to about 0 °C, so to decrease pathogens growth and spoilage rate. When large catches are to be handled, or if catch handling cannot start immediately, it is necessary to pre-chill the catch during holding in deck by using ice or in tanks using refrigerated sea water or a mixture of ice and seawater.

As already underlined, a fall in temperature reduces the autolytic post mortem processes rate, and delays the rigor mortis onset/release, so the more gradual autoliytic processes and microbial activity better preserve product freshness and its organoleptic and nutritional properties , even if with differences according to the species and size: larger fish spoil more slowly than the small ones, bony fish species keep longer than the cartilaginous and lean fish species better than fatty ones under aerobic storage. The faster spoilage rate of fatty small pelagic fish can also be due to their very thin skin, more susceptible to easier physical injuries and quick bacteria penetration. In Italy small pelagic fish are dipped immediately after fishing in baskets containing water and ice in order to delay the onset of rigor mortis and to slow down the modifications it implies (Huss, 1995).

Quality and storage life of many fish decrease if they are not gutted. This is due to digestive system bacteria and enzymes which can cause a violent autolysis post-mortem, giving rise to belly off-flavour. Gutting of lean fish such as cod is compulsory in northern countries. Gutting of hake ( Merluccius merluccius) is practised in Italy by fishermen of the Adriatic Sea but not by those of the Tyrrhenian Sea. However, great care must be paid to such a procedure to avoid that bacteria and parasites ( Anisakis), inhabiting the gut of this species, reach the muscle.

In case of clear signals of bad management of the catch, indicated by temperature, odour, rigor mortis, physical damage, the equipment of fishing boat should be checked to see what went wrong and to remedy the situation for a better quality of the following catch. Catches should be landed under optimal refrigeration conditions and docks should be suitable to receive the product allowing a quick unloading of boxes, avoiding the exposition of fish to the sun. Markets and auctions facilities have to be hygienically suitable and equipped with refrigerated rooms supplied with a temperature recorder.

A better sanitation and equipment design can prevent potential, unwanted microbiological problems. Structural and management conditions, cleaning and sanitation of tools and environments, control of the unwanted animals' presence, quality of water used, good manufacturing practices, careful temperature registration, self-control practices (decision 356/94/CEE), sanitary documentation and labelling correctness, packaging kind and transport (motor vehicle traits, load modality and temperatures) (327/80) are important factors to evaluate safety and quality maintenance. In auctions and other authorised plants, veterinary inspectors at first control identify the presence of the species which might cause the seafood poisoning as well as visible parasites, and carry out microbiological, chemical and toxicological lab tests.

The compulsory HACCP system needs to be applied from origin of food (from harvesting) to consumption and requires constant checking of fish quality on arrival to the factory to avoid the risk of substandard quality entering the processing line. During seafood chilling and freezing a continuous temperature checking (automatic recording) in chill room (< 5°C) and frequent check of icing is necessary to prevent early deterioration. Critical limits are +1°C for chilled fish and - 18°C for frozen fish. In case of temperatures out of control, all products must be re-inspected, sorted and low quality material rejected (Huss, 1995).

In most primary markets the fish is sold whole, or gutted and gilled or headed and gutted. At the moment of gutting/beheading/defining/washing of fish there is a potential risk of contamination of the working tools, equipment and environment that can condition hygienic quality of catch. There is the need of suitable structures on the boat to avoid contamination during gutting and to allow a careful waste elimination. For all processing steps the hazards are bacteria growth and gross contamination by enteric pathogens. Control measure for bacteria growth is the establishment of short processing time which must be checked on daily basis by the line manager. For contamination control, the personal hygiene must be supervised continuously by the production manager, and prescribed procedures must be followed (medical certificate, report on illness, dress). Microbiological control of water quality must be carried out on a regular basis (daily, weakly, monthly- depending on the source of water). Critical limits for water quality are standards for drinking water (Huss, 1995).

The catching/harvesting method (severity of the pre-slaughter and slaughter stresses) and conditions at death and during storage (handling and storage temperatures), processing and transport that can cause quality changes are indicated by:

  1. fish and fillet appearance (physical injuries, flesh gaping and colour);
  2. technological properties of the fish and fillet ( rigor mortis evolution, texture including firmness, cohesiveness and elasticity, water holding capacity and fillet shrinkage, rigor mortis onset;
  3. freshness indicators, such as dielectric properties or impedance, K value, and/or spoilage indicators such as biogenic amines and lipids' oxidation products such as malonaldehyde;
  4. sensory qualities of raw fish (skin appearance, rigor status, eye, gills colour, smell, mucus, flesh condition), the shelf-life and, even if less frequent, the differences in some sensory traits of cooked fillets as texture, taste, flavour, odour.

4. Culture standards

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO -1995) and the Code of Conduct for the European Aquaculture (FEAP - 2000) focus on production process quality rather than food safety, labelling or traceability. In particular this last Code stated as focal points for a responsible production in aquaculture the farm hygiene and healthiness, the culture eco-compatibility, the diet and feed safety and traceability.

Parameters potentially conditioning quality and safety of aquaculture products can be summarized as follows: genetic factors, management practices (farming techniques, use of chemicals…), environmental factors (water quality), dietary factors (quality and composition of diets), harvesting method, storage method, transport, handling and transformation, convenience (ready-to-use meals). The Code could be the basis for the development of individual national Codes of Practice, in order to interpret and apply existing standards and also to develop, refine or improve standards, as required; i.e. the Italian Fish Farmers Association (API) proposed The Code of Best Practice, where fish welfare is one of the key points they wish to assure.

European legislation principles (Dir. 91/67/EEC, Reg. 2377/90/EEC, 492/91/EEC, 493/91/EEC, Dir. 43/93/EEC, Reg. 2406/96/EEC; Reg. 104/2000/EEC; Reg. 2065/2001/EEC; Reg.466/2001/EEC, 2375/2001/EEC, 178/2002/EEC) state that a safe and high-quality product may be achieved through an increasing responsibility of fishery operators in the management and conservation of the natural resources involved in the process line. The adoption of protocols of fishery and hygienic catch handling is strongly recommended. A valid instrument to this purpose may be the “Good Manufacturing Practice” drawn up by different category associations, by persons and/or normative organisations. Starting from a risk analysis drafted for each specific process chain, such manuals allow a clear proposal of the technical instruments and monitoring elements necessary/sufficient to carry out the process in accordance with the norms. Naturally each manual should be adapted to any specific situation to design an adequate management responsibility strategy, in this way each operator works to the achievement of a safe and good quality product. In Italy, at present, there are initiatives aimed at achieving a better safety and quality standard by voluntary norms: National Agreement for Food Safety and Quality (CNEL); Guidelines and Technical Specifications on Product Certification for Sea Bream, Sea bass and Trout from Aquaculture (API, Associazione Piscicoltori Italiani); Guidelines for the Application of HACCP to Fishery Enterprises Marketing Seafood Directly (drawn up by Cooperativa Mare, Consorzio Mediterraneo); Protocol for the freshwater fish process line (AGEI/INRAN).

Because there is still concern about possible pharmaceuticals residues and/or environmental contaminants from feed in cultured fish, organic aquatic foods now appear to be more accepted as consumers extend their concern with non-organic terrestrial production systems to fish farming systems. Organic certification was developed for aquaculture farms in the '90s by the International Federation of Organic Aquaculture Movements (IFOAM), and was received in the European countries by different certification bodies that have developed their own standards, many still in draft form. Norms for marine species are those of the French Ministère de l'Agriculture et de la Pèche (2000 - in reference to Reg. CEE 2092/91) for sea bass, sea bream and turbot. Standards draft for aquaculture in Italy comprises specific norms for organic rearing, with reference to trout, salmon, sea bream, sea bass, carp and catfish (AIAB 2001). An organic standards draft for Italian marine aquaculture by adapting the Reg. 1804/99/ECC for organic terrestrial animal production to aquatic animal production was proposed by the Consorzio Uniprom. The Uniprom project output (Cataudella and Bronzi, 2001), even if still standards in draft to be completed and improved, represents an important starting point from which a proposal for an E.U. organic marine aquaculture regulation could be performed.

It is still a challenge for aquaculture to follow the same general principles as terrestrial organic agriculture (Reg. 1804/99/EEC) as far as it is still contentious what constitutes an organic product, because it involves specifications for all aspects of the supply chain. This includes stocking density (i.e. 15 kg/m3 for tanks and 10 kg/m3 for floating cages), feeds and their source, use of chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the treatment of diseases, environmental impact, slaughtering and the welfare rights of fish, without mentioning the post harvest question in the energy intensive distribution chain around the world, when alternative substitutes may be available locally. However it is worth to remind that both conventionally and organically grown food products must be safe. Thus an organic label only conveys information about production practices, not safety.

5. Quality improvements in both cultured and captured fish

The growth of the fishery industry is strictly related to quality-control techniques. Government mandates to continually monitor both the safety and the quality of seafood products from water to table are on the horizon. The key areas where to act to contribute to the seafood sector progress can be summarised as:

  1. ensuring safety and quality of seafood,
  2. improving seafood processing technology,
  3. adding value to seafood products,
  4. expanding supplies and markets.

These topics are closely interconnected and focused on ensuring safety for the consumer and helping businesses to prosper. Technology will be a primary vehicle for improving food safety and quality, lowering production costs and adapting processing plants aimed to reduce energy consumption/waste and to increase productivity.

Improvement of seafood safety implies the development of appropriate regulations such as the food safety control system HACCP and its operations, under which the pathogen control during seafood processing is one of the major food-safety issues. Processors will need considerable technical assistance to evaluate and validate procedures that will assure product safety and marketability. The way to proceed is to validate HACCAP and sanitation models under commercial conditions to determine their effectiveness, reliability, and the cost and benefits of investments in equipment and instrumentation versus manual control and monitoring. The surveillance of imported seafood would be enhanced through evaluations of product-testing methods. Faster international agreements on methods for validating technologies can facilitate the training opportunities.

The sectors of the seafood supply chain which are exempt from HACCP regulations, such as harvesting vessels, food services and retail operations, need to develop better on-board handling methods to improve food safety assurance and consistent raw-product quality.

Other issues for safety and quality improvement are the correct implementation of innovative technology procedures, including high pressure, pulsed electric field, e-beam radiation, x-ray treatments, etc.

Improvements are also needed in many conventional technologies, such as depuration, hot water pasteurisation, anti-microbial additives and treatments, traditional thermal processes and reduced-oxygen packaging.

Preventing product degradation by protecting seafood proteins during processing by adjustments in pH can be useful as far as to extend product shelf-life by developing active packaging and edible films.

Innovative uses for modified-atmosphere packaging and anti-microbial treatments for seafood products and rapid-testing methods for hazards, including toxins and pathogens, have to be developed to enhance safety and quality. This also implies improving product-tracking systems and time-temperature monitors and validating pathogen growth models in commercially produced seafood. This implies ensuring that significant seafood hazards are controlled from harvest to consumption by creating and coordinating educational and training programs and national courses. Computerised systems for tracking and monitoring the status of sensitive products throughout the distribution stream are becoming commercially feasible. New software will be needed to collect and manage data to allow a reliable prediction of remaining quality shelf-life under controlled conditions.

Many fish species are still not widely consumed because they degrade rapidly. Improved storage and processing techniques are needed, but because fish and shellfish are highly variable in their physiology, there is a need to study their properties by species. Ready-to cook and ready-to-eat seafood products require processing and storage, which may reduce product quality. A better understanding of the chemical and physical properties of seafood muscle components could minimise these effects.

6. Certification of Mediterranean fish products

Product credibility is important for purchasers/consumers and this is particularly true for cultured seafood, about which there is little, and often negative, knowledge.Mandatory label for consumer information on common name of species, harvesting area and production method (Reg. 104/2000; 2065/2001) is compulsory from January 2002. Other labelling is voluntary when the government judges that buyers have a “want to know” before making purchase and have a “need for fraud protection”.

Certification is the way both to give information on products and to guarantee they are true and verifiable, thanks to regular checks made by an independent third party organisation. Certification is therefore a competitive advantage and a market strategy. However, to make it work it is necessary to distinguish and choose the more suitable among the different types of quality certification standards and inform the consumers about them. All types of food certification are voluntary, based on a norm or on public specifications and regulated and controlled by national standard bodies or accredited independent organisations.

Certification may relate to both the process - such as those of Quality Management (ISO9000), Environmental System (ISO14000, EMAS) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)- and the product - such as European Standards (PDO, PGI, CSC), Certified Products (Voluntary Product Certification), National Labels, Collective Trademarks (CT), Quality Awards, Organic Certification, Eco-label and the whole supply chain traceability. Initiatives of quality labels and certification for seafood have been set in Europe but, until now, they are not yet used for fish products to any great extent (Poli and Scappini, 2002).

Obtaining ISO 9000 or ISO 14000 orEMAS certification is beneficial for a firm, because it can tighten production and management practices, thereby reducing cost and inefficiency, and, in addition, it communicates to external parties that a firm has a documented quality/environmental management system in place. These certifications are scarcely represented in the fish sector and are used mainly by processors, by some auctions and by a small proportion of farms and vessels, particularly in the Nordic Countries, and controlled by third part independent organisation. There are a few aquaculture farms certified (ISO 9002) in Italy, Greece and Norway, and some aquaculture farms and EMAS in Norway. On the whole in Italy there are: 10 aquaculture farms, 2 feed industries, 1 auction, 9 wholesalers, 52 processors certified ISO9001, 9002, 9001:2000 and 7 processors of fish products certified ISO 14000; 1 pilot project which aims to apply EMAS to 3 different aquaculture farms (the ISO Survey of ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 Certificates.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are handling and manufacturing standards applied specifically for the fish sector, voluntary based and established and operated by the industry itself or by independent organisations. Usually they are applied to specific links of the commercialisation chain (wholesalers, processors and retailers) and are used as guide models or as a business certification scheme or awards. Technical, organisational or business procedures can be certified. There are GMPs in UK, Portugal, France (specification for bivalves producers and wholesalers), Norway and nowadays they are being developed in every European Country, including Italy with the Code of Best Practice proposed by the Italian Fish Farmers Association (API). The most famous GMP standards used are: Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries(FAO 1995); Codex Alimentarius(vol.9 Codex Standard for Fish and fishery products, 1999); Code of Conduct for the European Aquaculture (FEAP - 2000); Norwegian Industries Standards, launched in Norway in 1998.

Important standards of product quality are the European standards (Reg. 2081/92/CEE and 2082/92/CEE) Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication and Certificate of Specific Character products (PDO, PGI, CSC). The schemes contain European compulsory technical rules developed to assure the origin of the product and are able to assure high level of both safety and quality. PDO is open to products produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics which must be due to the geographical area; PGI is open to products which must be produced or processed or prepared within a geographical area and have a reputation, features or certain qualities attributable to that area. Really, out of 600 certified products, only 6 fish products have been certified by these schemes until now: n. 1 PDO : Avgotaraco Messolonghioui Botargo (spawn of Mesolongi) from Greece,and n. 5 PGI : Coquille St. Jacques de Cotés-D'Armour (scallops of Cotes d'Armor) from France; Schwarzwaldforelle (rainbow trout of Schwarzwald) and Oberpfälzer Karpfen (carp from Oberpfälzer) from Germany; Whitstable Oysters from UK ;Clare Island Salmon from Ireland(the European Union On-Line:

Other initiatives are in preparation for PGI, mainly for cultured and processed fish products, at least: 3 in France (for oysters for example); 3 in Spain (processed fish, southern mackerel, tuna and aquaculture product); 3 in Portugal; 3 in Italy ( Acciughe sotto sale del Mar Ligure - salted Anchovies; Mitili del Golfo di La Spezia - Mussels; Vongola Verace delle Lagune di Calera e della Marinetta - Clams).

The Voluntary Product Certification schemes are developed by industry to assure particular characteristics or special professional practices. They are voluntary, single-link involved, normally the producer, or the whole fish trade involved from producer to distributor. They are established and controlled by industry or independent official body. In France the well known mark NF Agro-Alimentaire guarantees that the product follows a norm of the French National Organism AFNOR. Actually, there are 9 AFNOR norms concerning fish products: fish farmed trout « la truite charte qualité », processed fish - frozen fillet portion, oysters - denomination and classification, cephalopods size classification, carp - classification, pike - classification, salmon - classification, processed fish - salted anchovy. The Scottish « Tartan Quality Mark » is the mark owned by some fish products (Scottish Quality Farmed Salmon Scheme; Smoked Scottish Quality Salmon Scheme; Salmon Smolts; Organically Produced Farmed Salmon) produced in accordance with the standards set out in the Quality Manuals by Food Certification Scotland Ltd., an independent third party certification body; another Scottish certified product is the « Scottish Quality Trout » by the Scottish Food Quality Certification Ltd.

A certified product is also the « Irish Salmon », with an independently assessed assurance system, covering quality and safety, and is administered in trust for BIM (An Bord Iascaigh Mhara) by Irish Food Quality Certification Ltd.

Italian examples are Pesce a marchio Coop, Salmone Norvegese, Rintracciabilità del Salmone Norvegese, according to the specification drafted by the CSQA official certification body, Tonno Round Pinne Gialle, according to the specification drafted by DNV, Rintracciabilità della Filiera Trote iridee - Spigole e Orate del Golfo di Patt ”, according to the specification drafted by Certiquality.

Other products are Greek Mariculture Product certified by Agrocert (a national certifying organisation), following the standards AGRO 4–1 (qualitative control of fish) and AGRO 4–2 (packaging of fish).

National Labels are the official quality signs of a nation, and they are under the jurisdiction of a public organisation. In France the most famous National Labels are controlled by the Commission Nationale des Labels et de Certification des produits agricoles et alimentaires (CNLC ):

Label Rouge (established in 1960) guarantees the superior quality of a product: at every product-making stage, the product must be strictly controlled and must comply with requirements pertaining to quality and taste. Out of a total of 403 Labels Rouges, only 6 regard fish products: Conserves de sardines de Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, Bar d'aquaculture, Huîtres vertes «fines de claires» de Marennes-Oléron; Huîtres spéciales «pousses en claires» de Marennes-Oléron; Saumon fumé tranché à la main; Saumon écossais frais entier et découpé.

Certificat de Conformité Produit (CCP), attesting that a foodstuff has special properties and complies with strictly controlled production rules: it guarantees consistent, distinct quality making it different from an ordinary product. Out of a total of 294 CCPs there are 8 fish products that fulfil these requirements: Coquilles Saint-Jacques des Côtes d'Armor, Huître creuse (oysters), Anchois de Collioure (salted anchovy), Poissons pélagiques frais, Saumon Fumé, Saumon Fumé Atlantique (smoked atlantic salmon), Saumon Frais (fresh salmon) from Norway, Crevettes.

Regional Label, only 1 label related to fish products: Nord Pas-de-Calais, applied to rollmops du Nord Pas-de-Calais, filets de harengs fumés doux or marinés, soupes de poisson du Nord. (Signe de qualité et origine des produits.

In Denmark there's another national label: The Blue Magnifying Glass Label or The Food Ministry Quality Label, given to Danish and foreign producers that follow the criteria fixed by the national legislation. Created in 1996, at first it was just for pork and veal, but in the year 2000 it was extended to fish (rainbow trout, eels from aquaculture) and vegetables (potatoes, carrots).

Collective Trademarks (CT) are non-company specific symbols certifying that products have certain characteristics; usually they distinguish the goods of the members of the association which owns the mark from others in the market; they are controlled by the holder of the mark or, in some cases, by third party independent organisations as external auditors. They are widely used especially in Southern Europe, such as in:

-   France n. 7 (Bretagne Qualité Mer for fish and shellfish, Poitou-Charentes for troll sea bass bar de Ligne, Golfe du Lion - qualité producteurs for captured fish, Normandie Fraîcheur Mer for scallops, Pays Basque Sea Bass and Trout, Filiere Opale Boulogne Sur Mer, Bar de Ligne de Saint Jean de Luz);

-   Italy n. 6 (Prodotto Ittico Italiano owned by Federcoopesca; Gabbiano Blu owned by AGCI pesca, Pesce Fresco di Qualità owned by Consorzio Pesca Ancona, Pesce Fresco della Versilia, Itticus pesce Veneto; Produzione Ittica Naturale).

-   Spain n. 3 (Qualitat Alimentaria for Anchovy de l'Escala and Paix Blau de Tarragona, Kalitatea for tuna fish, Galicia Calidade for canned fish and fresh hake),

-   England n. 2 (Superior Quality Shetland Salmon; Scottish Salmon Smokers Quality Assurance);

-   Finland n. 2 (Salmon Trout/ Superior, standard, process; Silverside);

-   Holland n. 1 (Silver Sealed, a quality mark for some auctions);

-   Norway n. 1 (Seafood from Norway, for exported products).

Quality Awards. These kinds of certifications are found mostly in northern-European countries and consist in quality contests where the best tested products are given the award and the possibility to use the label on the product. The most important are:

-   Gold, silver and bronze medals of the DLG, German Agricultural Society, from Germany (this test is based on sensory assessment, which is made by mixed panels which comprise members from industry, trade, science and authorities; the system itself is based on the detection of defects in products; it is for all type of fishery products except for fresh fish);

-   RAL quality award for fish and fishery products, still in Germany (products are tested by sensory, chemical, physical and microbiological test);

-   Seafish Industry Authority - Quality Awards in UK (for different parts of quality chains: industry, retailers, fryers, etc.);

-   Directorate of Fisheries` Quality Award in Norway (not for product, but for producers or exporters of Norwegian seafood distinguishing themselves in product quality and production processes).

Organic Certification. This type of specifications were developed for aquaculture farms in the '90s by the International Federation of Organic Aquaculture Movements (IFOAM), and were received in the European countries by different certification bodies who have developed their own standards, many still in draft form. The famous «Standards for Organic Aquaculture» were drafted in common by Krav in Sweden and Debio in Norway, and the companies that follow such standards can put on their product a «Ø» label. In UK the same function is absolved by the «Soil Association», in Germany by «Naturland», while in France is the Ministry of French Agriculture which created a project (CC REPAB F, Cahier des Charges Française du Réglement Européen pour la Production Animale Bio) for the utilisation, also for cultured fish, of the label «Agriculture Biologique». In many countries some specifications about organic fish farming production are in progress, such as in Italy, in Austria, and in Ireland, where there are schemes for organic salmon, trout, sea bream, sea bass, carp and catfish culture.

Eco Labels such as Marine Stewardship Council-Unilever-WWF certifies environmentally responsible fisheries management and practices using a blue product label and LLH/FÆN (The Fishermen's Ecological Network) of Danish Society for a Living Sea.

Label proliferation represents a serious risk to the use of labelling programs to promote public health, environmental quality or other goals. The primary risk is probably the consumer bewilderment - too many labels and similar/overlapping labels increase the consumer's cost of using them. Gaining consumer recognition and reputation is difficult in a crowded field.

7. Conclusions

Fish products from capture and farming when placed on the same market can differ in some merchantable, organoleptic, chemical and dietetic parameters, due to their different environmental/nutritional/rearing conditions. The differences more frequently found are related to superior fresh aroma, iridescence of skin, body and flesh leanness, higher cholesterol and n-3 highly polyunsaturated fatty acids incidences of wild fish in comparison to cultured fish of the same species and size. On the other hand, cultured fish can be fully controlled along the whole productive chain and its size and other qualitative traits, including the high n-3 HUFA, can be modulated towards the preferred ones mostly by changes in feed quantity and quality and feeding strategy. However, both of them can be a healthy and nutritional food, able to have a number of beneficial effects on the functioning of the human body, if produced and maintained safe, free from contaminants and presented fresh to the consumer.

The initial quality and refrigeration level of the caught/harvested products are essential for the best maintenance of the fish product safety and quality, and the times, the temperature and the technology utilised are critical.

The increasing trend in consumption and in trade of seafood, half of which coming from non-European countries, makes the international approach to minimise the risk posed by fisheries'products to the consumers an urgent matter. A closer link between safety and quality of capture and farming fish products is needed to meet the consumers' demands. Improvement in quality, labelling and monitoring, thus assuring safety and quality of products from point of origin to the consumer, is one of the foremost challenges confronting the European seafood industry.

A “farm/sea-to table” policy must be scientifically based and responsive to the changes in the seafood production chain, articulated around the use of farm/vessels Good Manufacturing Practices and of risk analysis to develop seafood safety objectives and standards. This policy is strongly linked with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems full implementation.Improvement of capture/farming fish products businesses can be achieved through complying with regulations, educating consumers about buying and preparing seafood, educating industry workers on handling and sanitation, and developing improved processing procedures and demonstrating how the interaction of animal physiology, harvest methods and post-harvest processing can be better managed.

Safety and quality labels offer systematic approaches to better quality and incorporate the concept of continuous improvement. As a result the label is stable to the changing marked since it evolves over time and is based on multiple attributes rather than a single one. However, competing labels could crowd the field, lowering the marked impact of the labels mostly if its credibility will be shuttered by an episode of substandard quality in either the label itself or competing labels.

On the whole, seafood sector challenges include: a) increasingly competitive global marketplaces, b) complex trade policies, c) strict regulations, d) rising energy costs and e) a limited seafood supply. Nevertheless, changes bring new opportunities for expanding markets, farming strategic alliances and advancing innovations that can lower production costs, create new products, add values to existing ones, increase safety and reduce waste.

Prosperity will be achieved by resorting to a continuous interaction between fishing and farming and science and technology, which could lead to creation of new products and processes, improved quality and expanding markets.

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Market interactions between fishery and aquaculture in Italy

Maria Cozzolino*

* IREPA Onlus - Institute for Economic Research on Fisheries and Aquaculture. Via S. Leonardo, Traversa Migliaro; 84131 Salerno, Italy; E-mail: [email protected]


Seafood represents an important component of the food supply for Italian population. Several factors determine developments in the fishery 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 increases in fishing capacity, technological developments in harvesting and transport, and the development of aquaculture. While supply in the sector is limited by biological constraints, 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 geographic areas. Imported species from aquaculture such as sea bass and sea bream are also being consumed in increasing amounts by Italian consumers. Data show that in Italy there are different distribution channels for farmed products and for those from capture fishery, according to different habits of Italian consumers. The difference in distribution channels is one of relevant items to orient the price of the products: the two different production form - catch and farm - are not substitutes for each other and there is no link between the price of their products. Therefore a long-run change in the price of the farmed fish species has no impact on the long-run price of the same captured species. So, there are two different and separate markets. The market for fish caught in the wild is characterised by a constant positive trend in prices; the market for farmed products is characterised by a decreasing trend in prices, linked to increasing production and low-cost imports. New consumption patterns orient the consumers to chose seafood with added value in terms of labelling, brand, certification of quality, traceability, etc, and some other information that qualifies the good in terms of safety and hygiene. This added information should be important to increase the demand for cultured species when price is not the factor on which the choice is based upon and to push the no-price oriented choice.

1. Introduction

In the last few years, the Italian national fish production has shown a steady decline and in the year 2002 it dropped below 600 thousand tonnes. A decrease in the output of farmed products over the past year can also be registered, which is to be added to the negative trend in landings over the last decade. The reduction in farmed products represents an important reversal of trend in a sector which, over the 80s and the 90s, was characterised by high growth rates. The uncertainty affecting the market and the stagnation of the demand, represented on the side of the consumer by a constant per capita consumption around 21 kg in 2001 and 2002, have urged the sector operators to diversify the offer and to improve the quality and traceability of aquaculture products rather than to increase production capacity itself.

Within a wider, global context of declining of fisheries resources, aquaculture provides a real alternative for seafood supply to Italian markets. The aquaculture industry in Italy, mainly in the Adriatic Area, is a sector with a long tradition; however, intensive marine fish farming is a relatively new activity and remains focused on only a few species: sea bream and sea bass. In general, the aquaculture is much younger than capture fisheries sector, and that is the cause of need of an integrated policy to optimise the economic structure of the sector.

In Italy, in terms of law, aquaculture is regulated as agricultural activity, with the adoption of some laws and rules from fishery in strictu sensu, or from other sectors, such as environment or industry. According to the new stage of Italian fish farming sector, with high investments, highly specialised employers, the best available technologies, very innovative methodologies for feeds, for veterinarian protocols, it is ambitious to believe that the adoption of specific rules could represent an opportunity to rationalise the management system. The absence of an univocal law system represents a weaknesses for the Italian sector, e.g. in case of evaluation for licensing of new cages, there is a long administrative procedure, and in some cases it is not possible to give the public concession, because farming activity is competing with other economic activities to find a place on the seashore.

Aquaculture has to face many constraints, notably increased competition for space along the coast, absolute dependence on the quality of the environment, a lack of would-be investors and a need for recognition on the markets. Hitherto few precise figures have been available to assess the importance of aquaculture as a component of seafood supply throughout Europe. Moreover, there is a need for objective data in the emergent, and at times, controversial image of aquaculture. An interesting scenario in the Italian area is represented by the Adriatic Region, where, in the last years there has been a decrease in terms of fishery production, but the demand of seafood has constantly increased; thanks to the efforts of aquaculture, the fishery balance is no more negative.

In the Adriatic region, at present, there is the most significant presence of fish farms (e.g.: around 47percentintensive land based, 35percentcages and 52percenthatcheries); in this area the aquaculture sector is characterised, on the one hand, by strong socio-economic tradition, mainly in freshwater and valliculture, and, on the other hand, by the presence of numerous areas where the building of farms is favourable.

2. Fishery and aquaculture sector: sea bass and sea bream

Over the last few years, thanks to the increasing phenomena of the internationalisation of policies and economy, the Italian fishery sector has undergone a period of profound changes. Fish catches within the Mediterranean area have markedly shrunk. This was not only due to the restrictions imposed on fishing capacity by the EU policy with its IVth POP, but also to the increasing depletion of stocks. Moreover, several environmental and war emergencies, which occurred between 1999 and 2000, considerably reduced fishing activity. Another determining factor was the progressive growth of fuel price, which led a number of operators to quit their activity by using withdrawal allowances provided for by SFOP. During the second half of the 90's the decline in the overall catches was slightly lower than 20percent, whereas in the year 2000, according to IREPA's data, the volume of catches did not exceed 392 thousandstonnes, a figure that is definitely lower when compared to the 416thousands tonnesof 1999 or to the 465thousands tonnes of 1997. As regards revenues, the less negative trend of 2000 was not only determined by a considerable increase in the prices obtained by the operators, but also by a decline in the offer and a growth in the demand registered over the last months of the year, phenomena that were connected to the first cases of “mad cow” disease in France.

As regards the sea fishery, in 2002 the output of the Italian fishing fleet amounted to approximately 304 thousand tonnes of landings, corresponding to an overall turn over as high as 1.385 million Euro. A comparison with the same data relating to the year 2001 has highlighted the persisting of a situation of productive decline which has been affecting the entire fishing sector in Italy since 1996 and it is largely due to the EU permanent withdrawal policy. As a matter of fact, between 2001 and 2002 landings decreased by 10percent while the overall revenue decreased by 6percent. Compared to the year 2000, the shrinkage in saleable gross production revealed a reversal of trend. In the year 2000, despite the drop in the offer, sales increased because of a marked rise in the average prices of the production. Indeed, between 1999 and 2001, external issues such as the BSE effect, and internal ones, i.e. a decrease in supply, produced a sudden increase in the average production prices. On the contrary, throughout 2002, the average production value has grown at a rate that was proportionally lower than the decline of the amount produced. This caused a decrease in sales. The negative trend registered in landings is not only due to the decrease in the capacity of the fleet, but to a reduction of the fishing activity itself.

Indeed, in 2002, the national fleet totalled 161 fishing days, whereas during the previous year these were 169. In addition, in several fisheries the increase in operational costs and the unfavourable weather conditions of the past year led many operators to change fishing areas. Despite the lower productivity, the areas located close to the coast were preferred.

In terms of activity, the decline of the fishing effort involved all fishing systems. Nevertheless, for several reasons, this was particularly true for those sectors in which operators started self management systems, which involved hydraulic dredges and paired trawlers.

In comparison with the contraction registered in the previous years, the fleet did not show marked variations in 2002. The major decrease in terms of horsepower and gross tonnage was recorded between 1999 and 2001, following the measure of permanent withdrawal from fishing which underwent a rapid increase in those years. Over the last seven years, gross tonnage decreased by 21percentand horsepower by 14percent.

3. Fish products trading

In 2002 the external trade of fish products displayed a negative trend. Indeed, a slight increase in imports and an appreciable decrease in exports were registered. The decline of the amounts exported is due to the overall trend of the fishery sector, particularly to the shrinkage of the quantities coming from the Mediterranean. In consideration of the stability of the internal demand, this phenomenon resulted in the growth of imports and the decline of exports. It also determined a new acceleration of the growth of the deficit in fish trade balance. In 2002, imports exceeded internal production by 39percent(807 thousand tonnes, as compared to 580 thousand tonnes) and this deficit is bound to grow up. If compared to the year 2001, the per capita consumption of fish products in 2002 proved to be constant, not exceeding 21.69 kg. The overall expenditure in 2002 did not exceeded 4,460 million Euro in comparison with 4,569 million Euro of the year 2001.

In the light of a growing demand for fishery products from the consumers' market, the preservation of marine resources becomes unavoidable, in order to guarantee sustainable development and at the same time satisfy market's demand. To this purpose, several laws directed at reducing the environmental impact of fishery such as, temporary withdrawal for replenishment, withdrawal for specific fishing techniques and the like, have been enforced. On the other hand, there is an increase in consumers' demand of fish for its nutritional value and of aquaculture for its healthy and controlled products. Therefore, the above-mentioned measures may prove to be the most appropriate response to consumers' requirements. To keep pace with their needs, Italian fish farming industry is developing a responsible production able to protect citizens not only as consumers (through the quality of its products), but also as human beings (by preserving the environment). Public Administrations, Fishery Associations and entrepreneurs also support this process of development of Italian marine aquaculture (with more off-shore plants). Furthermore, this kind of development provides for the availability of additional purchase information (marks of origin and other data) and, pursuant to a Community Directive, it ensures a control system on fish farming techniques directed at protecting both consumers and the environment.

Slight decrease in the outflow was undoubtedly due to the considerable growth of the average price of fish products. Particularly evident in the past three years, this phenomenon resulted in a decrease in the consumers' purchasing power. Nevertheless, it must be underlined that consumers' buying habits are slowly changing. Purchasers are indeed inclined to spend more to buy “safer” products. On the other hand, within a market that does not generally guarantee the products quality, consumers tend to reduce consumption. The choice of enhancing the value of fish products meets the requirements of a new typology of consumer who is interested in the quality of the purchased goods. For this reason, despite the increase in prices, the adoption of policies aimed at improving the traceability of fresh fish products represents a significant change which has contributed to a recovery in the consumption.

Growing increase in the Italian aquaculture is consistent with both European and world-wide trends. The increasing presence of cultured species both in traditional shops and in the retailing and distribution industry meets the requirements of the current eating habits in Italy. In this context, the consumers' demand for certain species is so high that it would be impossible for the traditional fishing sector to provide them with all the quantities required. Remarkable development of aquaculture ensures constant supply of fresh, freshwater and salt-water fishery products to our markets. On the other hand, the example of extensive fish culture in lagoons, which holds an essential role in the preservation of wet coastal areas, represents a unique landscape wealth in Italy. In the European context, Italy is one of the main producers of mussels, trout and euryhaline species (as regards sea bass and sea bream, in 2001, after Greece and France, Italy emerges as the third European producer).

In 2001, the percentageof aquaculture on the national aquatic products production reached 42.9percentin volume compared with 38.6percentof 2000. In terms of revenues, fish-farming industry is not as relevant as fishery. In the year 2001, the incidence of sales amounted to 25percent, whilst the sales from the fishery sector were reduced by 5.6percent. As regards aquaculture, trout farming holds the record and represents the most developed segment with consequently limited market fluctuations both in terms of prices and exchanged volumes. With regard to euryhaline species, we register an increasing growth in the sector. In 2001, the productive output of sea bass grew by 17.3percentand that of sea bream by 30percent; therefore, we may say that, from 1997 to 2001, the production has doubled. The marked productive growth is determined by the degree of specialisation achieved in the sector of fry reproduction at a low price. Thus, the sales of sea bass grew by 8.5percentand that of sea bream by 9.2percent. In the past year, the increasing trend of aquaculture has been partly determined by the decrease registered in the fisheries segment.

4. Italian fish farming of sea bass and sea bream

In production terms the Mediterranean fish farming industry has been a spectacular success, equal to that of salmon farming. Commercial farming of European sea bass ( Dicentrarchus labrax) and gilthead sea bream ( Sparus aurata) has developed rapidly in the Mediterranean region over the last 8–10 years. In the last two decades the national production of sea bass and sea bream has been increased, registering a positive trend ofaround 70percent, thanks to integrated production management (intensive technologies, introduction of new feed in out-grow programmes, etc.).

At the experimental level, the aquaculture of bass and sea bream started only by the end of 80s. Historically, the first farms of euryhaline species belonged to public companies or state controlled power companies. Water from the cooling cycle of the power stations turbines regularly available at a constant average temperature supplied the aquaculture plants.

Entirely private and independent sea bass and sea bream farms were established only at the beginning of the 90s. These companies were initially orientated towards the development of land-based plants located along coastal areas, whilst the first offshore plants were established in the second half of 90s.

The rapid expansion of Italian fish farming sector has required a large amount of efforts and investments. At present there are around 130 farms, inlands and off shore, that produce different species, and more than 18 000 tonnesin 2002 only for sea bream and sea bass. Farms are scattered all around the Italian territory, mainly in Southern Regions. Farms are adopting the sea cage production system, but there are some problems to find areas where there's no interaction with other economic activities and interests. Nowadays, of the productive companies involved in the farming of sea bass and sea bream, 60.9percentare land-based and 39percentbelong to the “intensive cage” type. As regards the output, 48.5percentof these companies produces a maximum of 50 tonnesper year, 47.8percentproduces from 50 to 500 tonnesper year, whilst only 4percentproduces quantities that range from 500 to 1000 tonnesper year. Thus, it is evident that most Italian fish farming companies are almost always small-scale and often family-run enterprises in which few people cover different roles (i.e. plant manager, trade manager, administrative roles, even operators dealing with feeding and prophylaxis of the biomass). After 1991, increased use of mariculture, involving floating cages, submersible cages and long-lines, was undertaken in order to increase production in both fish and mussel culture. The development of this kind of culture has reduced production costs and environmental impact, but, at present, the limited availability of protected sites, the conflicts with other activities (recreational and commercial navigation) are all factors which may influence mariculture. From the other hand, mariculture can benefit from the installation of off-shore and in-shore activities, due to the easier bureaucratic process in obtaining licence respect to inland activities. For this reason the number of mariculture farms represents actually 24percentof the total activities.

As regards the volumes of euryaline species produced, the most important companies are located in Veneto, which is the region hosting the majority of plants, followed by Friuli and Sardinia. In 2001, the three above-mentioned regions accounted for 57.4percentof the entire volume of production of national enterprises. These regions hosted 60percentof the active companies and 48percentof the idle ones. With the exception of Basilicata, which hosts a single company declared inactive in 2001, the rest of the enterprises are broken down by the remaining thirteen regions. Seventeen out of twenty Italian regions of interest host sea bass and sea bream farm plants. Over the last few years, new companies have been registered in Veneto (whose productive units increased by 27 from 1995 to 2001), Apulia (with an increase of 5percent), Campania (+ 4%), Latium (+2%) and Tuscany (+1%).

In the last two decades there was a development in the sector of fry production: until the second half of '90 the industry was almost exclusively dependent on imported fry, with all negative implications in stock management, health control, seasonal marketing and mainly the loss foreign exchange. Nowadays a lot of hatcheries are successfully in operations, with consolidated know-how, attributing to the self sufficiency of about total fry domestic supply. The hatchery sector represents a important economic key for the Adriatic Region, where two of the most important Italian hatcheries are, satisfying more than 80percentof national demand and exporting relevant quantities of fry, mainly in Greece and Croatia. The strength of Italian hatcheries is underlined by the high specialisation in fry production and strong technological know-how, two factors that are easily transferable to other Adriatic regions, in order to diversify the pool of species produced.

The production of sea bass fry is higher than that of sea bream because the major companies are themselves capable of producing sea bream fry, whose management during the larval and weaning phases is easier than that of sea bass fry. Generally speaking, hatcheries were historically endowed with a high productive capacity and/or were partners of big companies dealing with the fish grow-out. In this context, setting up of small or medium-sized fattening plants with their own small breeding segment appears impracticable. The above-mentioned trend associated with the highly specialized breeding techniques, if compared to the first half of the 90s, has fostered the availability of seeding material at a slightly lower price.

The disadvantage of fry farming lays in the fact that their end-products are only partially absorbed by the national market. This situation caused a reduction of volumes exchanged, to the extent that a certain quantity of fry is usually kept in the rearing basins until it can be sold as a bigger sized product and at better terms of sale. Nevertheless, the shortage of new plants and the difficulties related to the enlargement of the existing ones has drawn attention to the lack of available basins that are suitable for the seeding of fry. The combined effects of the increased availability of seeding stuff and the lack of structures in which these could be placed have determined the decline in fry price.

The important need, for the producers, is represented from the availability of new species: the general opinion of producers is very important for the future of euryhaline farmed specie. They want diversification in terms of species, and for the mature species, as far as sea bream and sea bass, they want innovative policy for introduction of differentiation strategy of the products.

5. Sea bass and sea bream: economic items

During the period between 1998 and 2002, the significant outcome registered by the euryhaline species (sea bass and sea bream) suggests a greater ability of this segment to cope with the constant fluctuation of the national market by optimising its own productive capacity and by increasing the average size of its marketed products. Indeed, in order to cope with the competition of other Mediterranean products, this sector has gained new market segments by diversifying its offer through the placement of gutted, gilled and vacuum-packed products on the market. In addition, particularly in 2001, in face of a marked rise in the volume, the sector has registered a decrease of production prices. The growth in national and foreign offer caused a reduction of the euryhaline species prices, whose negative trend has characterised the period from 1998 to 2002 as a whole. In 2002 the price of both bass and sea bream whose average size did not exceed 330 g or ranged between 400–800 g decreased considerably. Particularly, the prices of products imported from Greece and Turkey, the main countries from which Italy imports middle-sized euryhaline species, highly influenced the price of the sizes not exceeding 330 g. Prices of products whose weight exceeds 800 g on average are not so strictly dependent on the presence of imported products. Over the last two years, a growing request for national cultured products has been registered as a general trend in the demand for fishery products. This was determined by the consumers' distrust in foreign productswhich were regarded as “less controlled” and therefore not as “safe”. In this context, compared to others, apart from slight increases, the production prices of the output of Italian aquaculture were substantially stable, which confirms the maturity of the sector. Despite the fluctuations of the exchange rates, which, in line with the market conditions, show a tendency to remain stable, this maturity entails the effort of both producers and wholesalers to ensure the quality and the efficiency of the service (i.e., availability of qualitatively standardised products, continuity in supply, and sufficiently stable prices).

In 1998, within the fishery and aquaculture sector the demand continued to grow and it was only partially met by domestic production (capture + aquaculture). As a consequence, there was a considerable increase in imports (variation from 1997 to 1998: 6.3%). In the same year, the national production as a whole amounted to 747,000 tonnes(of these, 547 thousand resulted from capture fisheries and 216 thousand from aquaculture), whilst the apparent consumption of fishery product was 23 kg per capita: a very high value never registered before. In the same period, the increase in aquaculture products sales (+20.7%) was crucial to the expansion of the fishery sector as a whole, whilst fishery contribute (-2.3%) was significantly lower. From 1998 to 2002, the constant decrease in performances within the fishery sector was due to the reduction of the fishing effort determined by the adoption of legislative measures concerning the management of resources. Over the last few years, a constant decrease in the national fishery production has been registered. In 2002, the production has dropped below 600 thousand tonnes, whereas the sales in the sea fishery sector have decreased from 1,600 million Euro in 2000 to 1,400 million Euro in 2002. Compared with the year 2000, the shrinkage of the saleable gross production represents a reversal of trend. In fact, during that year, despite the decrease in the offer, the increase in the average production prices determined a high rise in the sales. In comparison with the year 2000, in 2001, the fishery production continued to decrease until shrinking by 8.5percentin volume and by 4.1percentin average value. The data show a growing trend with regard to the catches of bass and sea bream, whilst, in terms of value, their trend is less than proportional.

Consumers, who are willing to pay high prices for them, largely appreciate wild sea bass and sea bream. Specialized catering industries represent the main market for wild sea bass and sea bream. Within this sector, wholesalers do not distribute wild sea bass and sea bream, since, as a rule, these products are caught in small amounts and directly sold in small quantities to local buyers who are prepared to pay more than 12–14 Euro/kg. Products intended for this kind of distribution are usually defined as “already sold” on landing. In this context, one can easily realize that the increase in the prices is not likely to influence the demand for these products.

6. New pattern of consumption

In the course of the 90s, per capita consumption of fishery products wasfluctuating,yet, if compared to the 80's, it doubled rising from 11 kg of 1980 to over 22 kg of 1999. Generally speaking, the shrinkage of the offer within the fishing sector hardly influences the fishery balance. Even over the last 2 years, it was possible to register a strong dependence of the fishery balance on imports, which from 2000 to 2001 have increased by 7.5percent. As for size-based production, we witnesseda considerable decrease in the offer of sea bass and sea bream whose size does not exceed 300 g. At present, the fish size which best satisfies the market demand is that which meets the consumers' requirements for double portions (i.e., 400–500 g). In terms of prices, sea bass and sea bream of bigger sizes (that is, from 500 to 800 g) register fewer price fluctuations caused by import flows. These products are targeted to meet the needs of specific sectors, such as mass catering (canteens, restaurants, hospitals). The average-sized production seems to have the lion's share since it meets the demand for farming of euryhaline species. Over the last three years, most of these domestic products have been intended for organised retailing and distribution industry, which requires middle-sized fish for its customers.

National statistics provide yearly data of sea bass and sea bream production. Accordingly, the monthly production of euryhaline species has been estimated. The assessment was conducted by establishing a relationship between volume, yearly quantity and the ex farm prices of imports drawn from FAO GLOBEFISH sources, and the monthly average prices drawn from ISMEA. In addition, qualitative information directly provided by interviews with national producers about monthly average amounts was taken into account in the study. The trend over the last three years shows that the productive segment, whose customers are mainly wholesalers supplying the retailing and distribution industry, tends to keep the offer substantially constant. This implies that, as for the amounts, the monthly variations of product are rather low. The incidence of the variable is closely linked to the prices of imported sea bass and sea bream: the lower the imports prices are, the more reduced national offer tends to be, and vice versa.

Generally speaking, monthly trends of both sea bass and sea bream are slightly fluctuating. The only exception is represented by the period of the year in which fish consumption is particularly important, during Christmas holidays. This trend is strictly connected to the deep-rooted historical and religious tradition of Italian people, which influences the choices of most consumers. In Italy, typical food at Christmas is indeed fish, particularly sea bass and sea bream, which are able to satisfy a large majority of people. Consumers have become accustomed to finding these two species in the market stalls being sure to follow the tradition without spending too much.

The breakdown of the national production of sea bass and sea bream into three geographical areas (the north - the centre - the south and the islands) shows that about half of the national production (47.9percentin 2001) is located in the south and the major islands (Sardinia and Sicily).

In Italy, the strong foreign competition has pushed market prices towards the lowest levels, with a consequent decline of profits. Accordingly, farmers have reacted by diversifying the offer and by directing sizes and typologies towards filleted and gutted products preserved in modified environment. Thanks to the offer differentiation, the sector is growing and reacting by exploiting some of its positive aspects, such as sale size coat features (colour, brilliance and the like) as well as labelling and packaging. At the same time, steps towards farm modernisation, integration of both the manufacturing and the marketing segments are being taken. In this way, the path towards end users would be reduced.

The Financial Tool that grants subsidies to the aquaculture segment at special rates is the SFOP. Among its priority measures of intervention, it provides for the strengthening of the infrastructures within the existing plants and for the adoption of innovative technologies aimed at introducing an initial processing of the products. Although sea bass and sea bream production benefits from a high degree of maturity, their processing and marketing allows for further interventions aimed at boosting their image within the supply market. Besides, these two aquaculture products are also suitable to enter new market segments.

Under present conditions, in terms of price levels, fish products and their processing system can not compete with the global market. However, in line with the above statement, the segment may prove potentially competitive as regards processed products typology. This could be achieved by focusing on the processing techniques: on safety of sanitary procedures followed throughout the manufacturing and packaging processes as well as through transportation and delivery, including the high nutritional value that the products keep despite being processed.

To date, the strategy chosen by the aquaculture segment is based on the quality of its products and manufacturing processes. The quality of a fish product obtained from an aquaculture farm depends on the nutritional and biological features of the cultured organism itself and on the productive cycle quality in the farm. From this point of view, the quality under discussion is ensured by the origin of its spawns and its gametes, the farming, and by complying with the sanitary regulations of the products processing before they reach end users.

As a suitable alternative to the catch-based production, aquaculture raises some specific problems connected to the sanitation of farming and the activities performed within production farms. In order to cope with global competition, Italian companies should adopt measures that would enable them to ensure the quality and the safety of their products and to boost the development of the sector.

Some pilot experiences for differentiation of sea bream and sea bass are available in the Adriatic region, where these are testedinlarge-scale retail markets: cultured bream and bass in fillets, pre-cooked, “marinated” or with other fish products (mussels, crustaceans, etc.), rice or pasta are some examples. This pilot experience represents a possibility of interesting new market for sea bream and sea bass, and represents, also, a trend of Italian farms that believe in the possibility to increase production again. Innovative approach aquaculture is characterised by new perceptions about the production value: the new pattern is added indirect value to the mature farmed species, in terms of quality (ISO 9001:Vision 2000) hygiene (HACCP), environment (ISO 14001, EMAS) origin (DOP, IGP). Not only marketing Organisation, but also product diversification are factors which can help aquaculture. This means that sea bass and sea bream should not be only available as a commodity item, but also as an added value product. Through clever manipulation of both product and market, it should be possible to have parallel development of a high margin luxury array of product and a lower margin mass market product range.

However, alternative markets and development of value-added products is likely to lead to higher requirements to controlled and predictable quality. Sea bass and sea bream are loosing 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, aquaculture industry should put a lot of emphasis on more sophisticated marketing methods. This is a must for penetrating new markets, but it is also necessary for enlarging the existing ones.

In the Adriatic region there is an interesting scenario about these economic activities. The strong tradition in aquaculture production is important in defining the market strategy of Adriatic farmers. But, traditionally small distribution channels (i.e. fishmongers, restaurants and hotels) would be used, and farmers are now orienting the majority of their production to new channels, in particular supermarkets and discount stores.

7. Interaction between fishery and aquaculture products

By comparing the prices of wild and cultured sea bass to those of sea bream, it can be easily noted that exogenous events such as the “mad cow” crisis (BSE) exert a strong influence on their trends. Accordingly, if fishermen voluntarily adopt certifications that identify products and reassure consumers, a positive influence on prices is immediately registered. On the contrary, in the field of cultured sea bass and bream, notwithstanding the number of steps taken to boost the offer, no price recovery has been observed. Indeed, over the last few years, vague and ambiguous information about the origin of products and the farming procedures (feedstuff, water quality, sanitation of primary processing, transfer and preservation, cold chain management) caused bewilderment among consumers. The price trend is also determined by new tendencies in fish consumption. Thus, consumers went from a period in which they were firmly price-oriented to the present phase where prices no longer orientate their choices. The interest of consumers has shifted towards the information that identifies the product “from farm to table” and that indirectly produces added value to goods. Aimed at qualification of the national cultured product, the policy of the sector enabled farmers to assign most of their production to new typologies of retail and distribution industry and to create new opportunities of negotiation with wholesalers. As regards the relationship between cultured and captured sea bass and bream, several studies and assessments evidence that there is no interference in the registered variations of prices between the two typologies of product since they are directed to two different target markets. Thanks to the fairly high average prices of production, fishery products meet the demand of specific niche markets. Cultured sea bass and sea bream, instead, satisfy a wider range of consumers who are orientated towards new typologies of retailing and distribution industry.

The general trend of the segment is to boost the production. However, instead of being concerned with the currently realized prices, the operators choose to adopt measures aimed at ensuring the long-term profitability of prices within the economic duration of the investment.

It is possible to register the interaction between sea bass andsea bream from capture and from the farm, in relationship with the imported products and their price ex farm. In this case the import activity of euryaline species is the most relevant item that defines the trend of national performance variation of price and monthly quantities supply. The Italian market represents a target mainly for exports of Greece and Turkey. The export activity of the Greek aquaculture industry had almost exclusive orientation towards the Italian market. Since 1994 a few exporters tried hard to penetrate new markets. The outcome of those efforts resulted in exports to new markets in U.K., Germany, France. Prospects for sea bass are better than for sea bream, as there is a stronger demand for the former. Only the Italian market regards sea bream as highly as sea bass. Greece has two major disadvantages for penetration in the two markets of France and Spain: long distance, they cannot be serviced easily by truck, but only by air (high transport costs); and the internal competition from existing production units in these countries, that have comparative advantages due to proximity.

A consistent share of fish farmed products is allocated to large-scale retail, where imported aquaculture products are offered too. Only a small share is allocated to traditional retail. This aspect gives a picture of Italian perception of farmed products: the Italian consumers, in the last five years, have switched, with regards to the purchase of farmed products, and: they now prefer to buy cultured products in the new retail channel, while they are oriented to traditional shops for locally caught products. According to Italian consumers' perception of cultured seafood, they prefer hyper and super markets because they pay more attention to the direct and indirect hygienic safety and origin of alimentary products.

According to new pattern of consume, the Adriatic Region is characterised by different pilot and commercial projects where marketing strategies are developed to add value to farm products: it is therefore possible to find label and brand that qualify sea bream and sea bass as GMO free food. Labels sometimes contain the information on the quality of production process, or about technical agreement with large-scale retail. The large-scale retail is playing a strategically role to define a protocol which satisfies the new needs of consumers and for realising the traceability of cultured products. This aspect represents a strength of the distribution channel, where the most important quota of total national production of sea bass and sea bream is oriented. At the moment, as controls and procedures become more strict, and with many marine species imported at low ex farm price, national producers are not in a favourable market position.

The development of intensive or industrial production methods has changed the aquaculture industry dramatically. The most important factor is most likely that new production methods have allowed a substantial productivity growth. This has allowed a large increase in production, and aquaculture products have found a number of new markets. However, the introduction of aquaculture products into new markets has been far from unproblematic. As established producers have perceived aquaculture products to be competing goods a number of complaints have been raised, and where trade has crossed borders, trade conflicts have often followed.

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 sea bass and sea bream. On the other hand, the efforts made to improve production have partly been neutralised by competition from other Mediterranean countries, who thanks to better environmental factors and lower labour costs, are able to produce at lower costs than Italian farms. Another problem is represented by the careful evaluation of production and by the choice of the species to farm.

For capture fisheries a fall in dependency can mean that fewer people are employed in the sector due to either more attractive job opportunities or a loss of employment due to a decline in fish stocks and a reduction in quotas. For aquaculture, changes in dependency can result from increased job opportunities created by the expansion of aquaculture in areas where there are few 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.

The aquaculture industry in Italy has not been able to profit from the opportunities presented by developments and this has led to an unequal growth rate in various productive sectors and recurring crises in the markets. The notable increase in farming sea bass and sea bream has not been accompanied by similar increase in the firms'entrepreneurial skills, and they have found themselves facing drops in price or increases in demand they are not able to fulfil. Another weakness is the fact that producers have not been able to keep pace with the rapid evolution in the distribution channel. They have not seized quickly enough the offers coming from of sales organisation, especially large-scale distributors who have had to look to foreign markets since domestic supply was lacking.

Within Italy, an additional pressure on the dwindling supplies of fish stocks has arisen through changes in eating habits. This has led to a trend of decreased consumption of ‘red-meat’, and towards greater consumption of convenience food and processed fish, which in turn have improved the market position of fish. With the shortfall in the supply of landed fish, mariculture of sea bass and sea bream has been able to capitalise on the demand for fish and fish products.

However, aquaculture is not in a position to meet the shortfall between demand for marine protein and the supply available from capture fisheries, it can merely help to alleviate the pressure. Marketing dynamics affect both the supply and the demand for aquaculture products, and these differ sharply among farmed species. The production of sea bass and sea bream, for example, has increased markedly in some Italian Regions to supply local consumers from relatively low-income households. In general, farmed and captured sea bass and sea bream have different consumers and they are supplied in different distribution channel: for sea bass and sea bream, a lot of consumption is characterised by purchase in hyper and super markets, where mainly farmed products are offered, and where there are differentiations in presentation (gutted, fillets, prepared, pre-cooked, mono-portion, etc). Capture fisheries' production of sea bass and sea bream satisfies the high demand of specialised restaurants and traditional stalls, where the typical consumer is a “traditional and expertise” person.

8. Strategic option for sea bass and sea bream

In the context of positive attitude towards seafood, with a very limited penetration of both species, the internal market offers good potential. Both individual and collective actions could be taken to stimulate sales.

9. Conclusions

Sea bass and sea bream farming is a new business. This is a very heterogeneous industry: almost no farm is like another. Many characteristics differ, including companies'size, production (10 tonnes to 8000 tonnes), technology utilised (on land, in sea cages), coastal characteristics including water temperature, etc. The limited size of most fish farmers does not give them access to economies of scale, existing in most sides of this business (production, R&D, processing, marketing, etc.) and necessary for development.

This new business has not received much attention from centralised public authorities. Being too small to be considered as an entire industry it did not motivate the introduction of specific administrative rules. Moreover, the lack of a clear and solid national aquaculture development scheme leave to local decision makers much room for taking important decision, not always favourable to this industry.

On the market side, the level of consumption is today low despite an attraction towards aquatic protein and rather good image of both products. Moreover, these two species have been sold with almost no marketing and communication efforts. The price has so-far been the only real stimulator for sales. Appropriate actions would reveal good potential for growth.

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 scales. Increasing dependency on aquaculture can be interpreted as a sign of increasing employment in remote areas where there are few alternative forms of employment.

10. References

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FAO (1999) FAO yearbook fishery statistics: capture production 1997. FAO Yearbook of Fishery Statistics - Vol.84. Rome.

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