Commission proposes new rules on the health of farmed fish

19 octobre 2021 Pierre Perrin-Monlouis

What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture refers to the farming of fish, crustaceans and molluscs. It is an important industry in the EU, in particular in rural and coastal areas, with a production value of more than €2.5 billion in 2004.

Why is legislation needed on the health of aquatic animals?

The effectiveness of disease control measures for fish, molluscs and crustaceans can have a significant economic impact on the aquaculture sector. The financial losses due to disease (mortalities, reduced growth and reduced quality) are estimated to be 20 % of the production value, equivalent to €500 million within the EU. Inadequate controls and the inappropriate use of outdated rules can lead to the spread of disease, which in turn can bring about serious losses in stock and compromise the health of aquaculture animals in the EU. A balanced approach to setting rules must be struck however, as over-regulation of the aquaculture sector may cause problems for free trade. The proposal aims to introduce modern and targeted legislation that reduces these costs – if they could be reduced by even 20%, the result would be an added value of €100 million per year to the aquaculture sector.

What rules are currently in place?

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 areas free from certain diseases. Directive 93/53/EEC and 95/70/EC lay down the disease control and eradication provisions applicable to fish and molluscs respectively. The legislation categorises the diseases and susceptible aquaculture animals in three lists: List 1 covers those diseases considered to be exotic to the Community; List 2 are the important endemic diseases that should be contained and eradicated in the long term; and List 3 covers less severe diseases. Aquaculture animals infected with a List 1 disease must be killed and destroyed as soon as possible after detection of the disease, and those suspected of being infected are subject to movement restrictions.

The existing legislation was developed two decades ago when the EU had only 12 Member States. It was primarily designed to protect the main EU aquaculture at that time, namely salmonid (trout and salmon) and oyster farming. The legislation now needs to be updated to reflect the broader range of aquaculture practises and species that are found in the expanded EU, and to take account of the significant developments within the industry, the experience gained through 15 years of application of the existing legislation, and scientific advances in this field. The rules must also be updated to bring EU legislation in line with international agreements and standards such as the WTO/SPS and OIE.

What are the objectives and main provisions of the proposal?

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 and control, in order to improve the competitiveness of EU aquaculture producers.

This proposal will repeal the existing primary legislation (Council Directives 91/67/EEC, 93/53/EEC and 95/70/EC) and replace those three Directives with one new Directive. This much needed revision and consolidation will update the legislation to reflect the EU aquaculture industry in the 21st century, and simplify and modernise existing rules to provide more flexibility, and delegate more operational responsibility to Member States so that, for example, effective local or regional approaches can be taken to prevent and contain diseases.

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 mitigation should be implemented throughout the production chain. The proposal aims to develop a more flexible approach for securing the health of aquaculture animals, focusing more on the goal to be achieved, rather than how to achieve it. In this way there will be more scope for appropriate local solutions to aquaculture health problems, and the proposal foresees decentralised operational responsibility, so that more decisions can be taken at national, local and even farm level.

Another important aspect of the proposal is to make the compulsory disease eradication measures which must be carried out upon confirmation of an exotic aquatic disease, eligible for Community funding under the European Fisheries Fund (EFF). In addition, the EFF Operational Programmes set up by each Member State, may co-finance national eradication programmes approved under the terms of Council Decision 90/424/EC on expenditures in the veterinary field.

The proposal also gives greater consideration to the potential exchange of disease agents between farmed and wild aquatic animals. It is foreseen that Member States should assess the possible environmental effects of a particular aquaculture activity before giving authorisation to a production business.

What is proposed with regard to eradication measures and compensation?

The proposal requires compulsory eradication measures to be implemented (harvesting and slaughter or destruction) in the case of an exotic disease outbreak., with the intention of avoiding it being introduced and spreading within the EU. In such cases, it is proposed that the eradication measures should be eligible for funding under the EFF Operational Programmes set up by each Member State.

With respect to non-exotic diseases it is proposed that the Member States may decide whether an outbreak should be subject to eradication measures or containment measures. Community funding under European Fisheries Fund (EFF) may be made available for control measures if the Member State so decides. All Community funding under the EFF must be approved by the Commission in accordance with the procedures laid down in Council Decision 90/424/EEC on expenditure in the veterinary field. A proposal for including the relevant diseases in Council Decision 90/424/EC was drawn up alongside the new Directive.

Does the proposal have any environmental impact?

There is a growing concern about the environmental impact of aquaculture. Therefore, the proposal explicitly requires environmental considerations to be taken into account, and states that the Directive will not prejudice EU legislation on the conservation of species e.g. the Habitat Directive and CITES list of endangered species. Concrete steps to protect the environment and wild stocks of aquatic animals are laid down in the proposal. These include giving Member States a mandate to request that risk-reducing measures are implemented where aquaculture production poses a threat to wild stocks. In cases where aquaculture activities are found to be having an unacceptable negative impact on the environment, Member State authorities will have the right to ban or relocate these activities.

The Water Framework Directive obliges the Member States to ensure that, where there is human intervention in rivers preventing naturally occurring migration of wild fish, the migration routes must be maintained. These requirements make it difficult for fish farms in such areas to achieve the proper protection against the introduction of disease from animals of lower health status under the existing legislation. The proposed Directive puts forward the principle of “compartmentalisation”, which enables greater flexibility, and provides for the necessary protection of disease-free farms in such areas.

See IP/05/1062

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