Aquaculture is the farming or culturing of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and other aquatic organisms in either inland reservoirs or in sea cages. The EU is a leading aquaculture producer, with aquaculture accounting for a quarter of EU fish production and valued at €3.2 billion. In 2012, the UK industry farmed over 205,000 tonnes of produce at a value of over £0.59 billion. This industry is particularly crucial to Scotland where there are sites that have been operating for over 30 years.  Scotland is currently responsible for around 90% of all UK production and is dominated by Atlantic salmon farming.

With the limitations on capture fisheries in the UK under the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), aquaculture may be an increasingly attractive alternative to sustainably meeting the rising demand for seafood and food security in general, whilst also providing local employment. However, there is mixed support for aquaculture in England, with some environmental charities and angling groups expressing concern about the potential environmental impact of fish farms.

Complex Regulation

The regulatory framework for establishing a new aquaculture business is complex.  The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) requires marine licences to be obtained for fish farming projects and applications must be made to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). Furthermore, planning permission is required from the appropriate local authority and a lease must be granted for the site by the landowner (for the majority of sites this would be the Crown Estate).  There is separate legislation that applies to the setting up and management of private and natural shellfisheries.

In addition, reflecting the environmental considerations involved, an aquaculture production business must also apply to the Fish Health Inspectorate for authorisation and complete a biosecurity measures plan before setting up a farm.

At the International level, industry standards are published in the FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  The non-binding Code of Conduct sets out the core principles and international standards of behaviour for fish farming activities. Following its implementation in 1995, the FAO has worked to promote more effective and sustainable production of fisheries resources.

Developing the industry

Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food-producing sector and in recognition of this, Scotland has recently been awarded £6 million in an initiative launched by The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with a view to supporting research and innovation in the industry. The project is co-founded by organisations such as the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Marine Scotland, the Food Standards Agency and a range of leading companies in the sector.

DEFRA has previously expressed the view that in England and Wales there is a need for expansion, particularly in light of figures that place Scotland well ahead of the UK in terms of production. However, the pilot Cefas 2014 Marine Trout demonstration project in Cornwall, which attempted to replicate the success of the finfish marine aquaculture industry in Scottish coastal waters, failed to find a commercial partner to run the project.

DEFRA has recently released the UK's Multiannual National Plan for the development of sustainable aquaculture, outlining how the UK intends to foster growth in the aquaculture industry and recognising that that the UK's coastal topography is particularly attractive for finfish and shellfish farms. With the European Blue Growth strategy and the reformed CFP, there remain many options of funding and support in the UK seafood industry and this is an area that is expected to expand in the future.