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FOOD TODAY 04/2014

New EU project aims to expand the production, marketing and consumption of European finfish species

EU_project_DIVERSIFYThe demand for safe and affordable aquatic products in Europe is increasing. European aquaculture (or European farmed aquatic products) could fulfil this demand; however, the industry faces several barriers to growth. The EU-funded DIVERSIFY project (http://www.diversifyfish.eu/) aims to overcome the bottlenecks to the production, marketing and consumption of healthy and sustainable European-cultured aquatic products. This will help meet consumer demands, reduce imports of often questionable quality and establish the industry as a world aquaculture technology leader.

Since 2000, the global aquaculture industry has been growing at a rate of 7% each year; however, the rate of production in Europe has remained stagnant.1 European aquaculture products are healthy, safe and sustainable. According to the European Commission, consumption of these fish and the expansion of this sector will help establish Europe as a global leader in aquaculture production technology and provide a means of satisfying consumer demands for nutritious and convenient aquatic products.

Production bottlenecks and poor consumer perceptions hamper the industry
Current European fisheries are over-exploited and therefore are an unsustainable option for meeting aquatic products requirements in Europe. There has also been an increasing dependence on foreign imports, which were estimated to account for 65% of aquatic product consumption in 2010; these are less expensive than European farmed products, but health and safety controls of these imports do not always reach acceptable standards.2

The global aquaculture industry has experienced substantial growth, particularly in Asia and South America.3 Despite this, European consumers perceive products from the aquaculture industry to be lower in quality compared to aquatic products from fisheries.4

The Atlantic-salmon success story
Although the European market for aquaculture aquatic products spans more than 35 species, production is dominated by only a selected few.5 The result of this has been that during periods of particularly low consumer demand, production of the most commonly cultured species has exceeded sales of the products. The Atlantic salmon has been an exception to this high-production and low consumer-demand trend and has formed the basis for a variety of value-added products that have proved consistently successful in the marketplace. This has been attributed to its fast growth rate and large size, which has enabled the development  of a variety of products, which have been perceived in a positive manner by European consumers. In contrast, many existing aquaculture species are processed and sold whole due to their small size. In light of this, DIVERSIFY aims to develop scientific expertise to build on the Atlantic salmon’s success.

Developing new products, reaching new markets
Researchers of the DIVERSIFY project have chosen six finfish species because of their large size/fast growth rates and proven business potential. These fish are sourced from a wide geographic area within Europe and will form the basis for the development of food prototypes. The species chosen are meagre (Argyrosomus regius), greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), wreckfish (Polyprion americanus), Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus), grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) and pikeperch (Sander luciopeca).

The majority of these fish species have been chosen to be cage-cultured around the Mediterranean region. However, some species can also be cultured in cold water (e.g., Atlantic halibut and wreckfish), as well as in recirculating aquaculture systems using freshwater (pike perch) or in earthen ponds in coastal areas (grey mullet). Scientific research on the farming of these species will include reproduction and genetics, nutrition, larval rearing for juvenile fish production, on-growing of juveniles to market size, fish health and final product quality.

An investigation into the most efficient marketing of these products is essential and will be achieved by giving consideration to the existing consumer preferences for fish products. In regards to the economic value that will be derived from the research, species-specific business plans will aid the long-term market positioning of each of the finfish. The selected finfish new food products will be assessed for their health and safety, preservation properties and market success. Increasing the value of European aquaculture products will also improve the economic prospects of the sector. 

In addition to expanding the variety of European aquaculture products and increasing their acceptance by the public, the project will develop techniques and knowledge that can be implemented and disseminated through a variety of activities, targeted towards relevant stakeholders including aquaculturists, food processors, retailers and consumers.

For more information
Dr Constantinos C Mylonas from the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece coordinates the project.  Nine small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), three large enterprises, five professional associations and one consumer non-governmental organisation (NGO) are brought together in DIVERSIFY to carry out multidisciplinary research in order to expand the EU aquaculture industry.

For more information, please visit www.diversifyfish.eu

DIVERSIFY (Enhancing the European aquaculture by removing production bottlenecks of emerging species, producing new species and accessing new markets) is funded under the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (KBBE-2013-GA No 603121).

References

  1. European Commission website, Aquaculture section.
  2. European Commission (2013). Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture.
  3. EUR-Lex website, Building a sustainable future for aquaculture – A new impetus for the strategy for the sustainable Development of European Aquaculture.
  4. EUFIC (2009). Plenty more fish in the sea? EUFIC Food Today n°70.
  5. European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform website, The Future of European Aquaculture.
Terms used in this article
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