Tougher disease prevention measures proposed for the EU's aquaculture industry could lead to higher prices for the fish used by processors in their products.
However the measures could also result in a higher quality of the fish, molluscs and crustaceans they receive from the aquaculture industry.
The European Commission yesterday said that disease in farmed seafood results in a 20 per cent loss in production value of farmed seafood. The Commission estimates the loss to be equivalent toabout €500m annually.
The high presence of disease in aquaculture leads to an increased mortality rate, reduced growth and a decline in quality.
"Inadequate controls and the inappropriate use of outdated rules can lead to the spread of disease, which in turn can bring about serious losses in stock and compromise the health ofaquaculture animals in the EU," the Commission stated in outlining its proposals.
Aquaculture production in the EU was valued at about €2.5 billion in 2004.
The rules must be updated to simplify the legislation and expand existing laws to bring them up to date with the industry's development. The changes would also bring the EU's legislation in linewith international agreements and standards, the Commission stated.
"The objective of this proposal is to update, recast and consolidate the existing animal health rules in relation to the trade in aquaculture products, including disease prevention andcontrol, in order to improve the competitiveness of EU aquaculture producers," the Commission stated.
Existing EU legislation was developed two decades ago. It was primarily designed to protect the main EU aquaculture at that time, which was concentrated on trout, salmon and oyster farming.
"The legislation now needs to be updated to reflect the broader range of aquaculture practices and species that are found in the expanded EU, and to take account of the significantdevelopments within the industry, the experience gained through 15 years of application of the existing legislation, and scientific advances in this field," the Commission stated.
The EU's directive 91/67/EC lays down the animal health conditions for placing on the market of aquaculture animals and products. The main aim was to prevent the introduction of disease to EU areasfree from certain diseases.
Directives 93/53/EEC and 95/70/EC lay down the disease control and eradication provisions applicable to fish and molluscs. The legislation categorises the diseases and susceptible aquacultureanimals in three lists, and determines whether they should be killed or restricted in movement.
The proposal will replace three directives with one new directive.
The main policy change is a shift in focus towards disease prevention, and the allocation of resources to reflect this priority. The proposal states that disease controls should be implementedthroughout the production chain.
Measures will also be introduced to meet growing consumer concern about the environmental impact of aquaculture. The proposal explicitly requires environmental considerations to be taken intoaccount in national aquaculture legislation.
In cases where aquaculture activities are found to be having an unacceptable negative impact on the environment, member states would have the right to ban or relocate seafood farms.
As catches of wild fish decline worldwide production of farmed varieties have been steadily increasing. The total aquaculture production in 2003 totalled 54.8m tonnes, according to the latestfigures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Meanwhile the global wild fish catch peaked in 2000 at 96m tonnes and fell to 90m tonnes in 2003.
Salmon, rainbow trout and carp are predominantly or exclusively farmed in the EU. The other species are predominantly caught from the wild. About two-thirds of the fish consumed in the EU is caughtfrom the wild.
Scotland is the second largest producer of farmed salmon in Europe after Norway, which is number one in the world. Chile is the second largest producer of farmed salmon in the world followed byScotland.