EATiP General Secretary Alexandra Neyts discusses the importance of a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to aquaculture innovation.
European aquaculture encompasses the cultivation of a wide range of fish and shellfish species and is a truly pan-European production activity, which has grown rapidly from a cottage industry in the 1960s into an industrial sector that is composed of multinational companies, SMEs and family firms. A common thread to each of aquaculture’s components is the knowledge base that has been developed through innovative research and development activities, led by universities and institutes throughout Europe, which have contributed to globally recognised levels of excellence in innovation.
Aquaculture in Europe has created a dynamic and effective knowledge-based sector. While most of the products of European aquaculture are destined for the European consumer, the sector’s service and knowledge activities have set international standards for global aquaculture innovation and development.
The European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATiP) has been designed to include all members of the European aquaculture value chain, from suppliers through producers to processors within the profession, as well as leading research groups and key representative organisations. We spoke to Alexandra Neyts, General Secretary of EATiP, about the latest trends and developments in aquaculture.
When it comes to technology and innovation in aquaculture, what are some of the main obstacles researchers come against; and how can these be overcome?
I think it’s quite similar to most other sectors, encountering the gap between research and commercial application. There is really a need, which has not been fulfilled, for the sharing of knowledge across different stakeholders and approaches in the commercial area. We see that a lot of technology and innovations are generated by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), in particular by companies that are supplying the sector with equipment, technology, services and feed; and that’s where a lot of exciting disruptive changes are initiated.
What I think we really need to bridge this gap is a predictable and regulatory framework for reducing the risks to invest in these potentially disruptive developments. The current procedures to grant aquaculture licences are not providing a long term predictable situation; and as these are very different from country to country, they don’t create a level playing field for the sector – even in Europe. We therefore wish to support the development of better, evidence-based governance models for aquaculture. A lot of the necessary technology and knowledge is already there, but we need to agree on a set of key indicators across Europe.
What is the work and role of European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform?
European technology platforms were founded to promote innovation, technology transfer and the sharing of knowledge across stakeholders within one sector in Europe. Our mandate is to provide the European Commission with a common voice on the aquaculture sector’s research and innovation priorities. What we do is support this multi-stakeholder interaction at the European level. In addition, we have developed mirror platforms in different European regions. They interact at a regional level, making sure the many small and medium sized enterprises, which often don’t have the capacity to engage in European issues, are being heard.
Together with our members and mirror platforms, we support the open dialogue between industry across the value chain on one hand, and scientists from different disciplines and policymakers on the other hand. It is equally important to involve experts from other – blue or green – sectors because of the high potential of technology transfer.
The delivery of common sector opinions and the support for aquaculture research and innovation at a European level through joint efforts represents our main services towards our members. Through this stimulation of a culture of knowledge, innovation and openness, we believe the vision of aquaculture growth in Europe as provider of sustainable and safe food of the highest quality can be reached.
Can you tell us about the strategic research and innovation agenda (SRIA)? How will this be achieved and what is the importance of this agenda?
Europe is importing more than 60% of its seafood, with stable levels of aquaculture production. However, we are losing our share of the global market. This trend needs to be reversed. Due to the many assets of European aquaculture, we believe this is possible. Competitive advantages are high quality products, produced by high industry standards and with an acceptable environmental footprint. In addition, we should not only consider the value of seafood products but also that of aquaculture knowledge and technological solutions developed in Europe. They are also important contributors to support food security in other parts of the world.
What we have done in the vision document is to describe aquaculture research and innovation needs to achieve a sustainable and globally competitive sector. We delivered a set of goals and sub-goals across eight thematic areas. We use that as a background for common inputs and opinions from the sector. What we have done this year is an exercise where EATiP’s mirror platforms and members have delivered specific recommendations across these thematic areas to fulfil the three major conditions for the sector: growth, sustainability and innovation. These recommendations have been emphasised as critical issues that we really need to work on, and that fit with the European policies. This opinion from the aquaculture sector has been delivered to the European Commission as input to Horizon Europe and other strategic processes of relevance.
What are some of the current European projects that the EATiP is involved in?
We manage the EURASTiP project, which stimulates the two-way collaboration between Europe and Southeast Asia. This is our main import market, so we need to look at common standardisation; and at sharing of best practice and capacity building. We have supported the setup of three national pilot platforms in three different countries in Southeast Asia, as instruments for facilitating collaboration with Europe. Another part of the international collaboration is our engagement in the All-Atlantic Ocean Forum, where we represent the interests of the European aquaculture sector.
EATiP is a partner in the AQUAEXCEL2020 project, which gathers leading European research infrastructures. It provides transnational research opportunities, allowing scientists and companies to use state of the art facilities for their experimental work or demonstration projects. Our role is to promote the involvement of SMEs as users and the uptake of results generated by these projects for commercial purposes. We are also involved as Advisory Group members in projects like AquaVitae, LifeAQUAPEF, SEAFOODTOMORROW and AQUA-LIT. In most projects, you could say that we represent the link between the aquaculture research and industry sectors.
Lately, we have been involved in some activities with the COPERNICUS Marine Service and EMODnet, providers of core ocean data. For aquaculture purposes, the availability of multiple data is of high interest; as they allow the development of higher resolution decision making and governance models. Therefore, this is something that we will develop further, looking into linking ocean data to measurements in coastal areas and at farm level.
Together with the Healthy Oceans and Seas Unit of the European Commission (DG RTD), we have set up meetings to discuss the potential for new aquaculture value chains based on low-trophic species. That’s where we see a big opportunity for growth, and where aquaculture innovation can play a role in promoting food security. We collaborate with other networks and associations in the field of aquaculture, such as FEAP, EMPA and FEFAC, SCAR-FISH, FAO, EFARO and EAS as well as with NGOs, project consortia and other European Technology Platforms, in order to align our priorities with them. It is important to pull together to really promote aquaculture as an important area of attention in the bioeconomy area in the years to come.