European Sea Bass – Dicentrachus labrax

The European sea bass aquaculture industry has grown strongly since the early 1990s and represents one of the most important farmed species in the Mediterranean.

The most important producer countries are Greece and Turkey. Sea bass are cultured intensively, predominantly in net-pens in coastal waters of southern Europe, and 2016 production stood at 191,003 tonnes.

Back to the Aquaculture Profiles tool
Profile last updated: 27th Nov 2019

Sources, Quantities and Cultivation Methods

Source and Quantities
European sea bass (also known as sea bass or bass)1 is an important marine species both to commercial inshore fisheries and aquaculture. Sea bass are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and salinities and frequent coastal inshore waters, estuaries and brackish water lagoons. Farmed European sea bass should not be confused with another farmed species often called the Asian sea bass (or barramundi) farmed in Asia, Australia and the US.

Farming of sea bass was traditionally small scale and based on the capture of wild juveniles2, but it is now predominantly undertaken intensively in net pens, largely in southern European coastal waters using hatchery-reared seed (i.e. juveniles).

Sea bass is an important aquaculture species in the Mediterranean3, 4, and Greece, Turkey, Spain and Egypt are the most important farming countries, as the map shows.

World production of farmed sea bass has increased steadily5 from around 60,000 tonnes in 2003 to 191, 003 tonnes in 2016, and valued at US$1.08 billion6. Turkey and Greece combined represent around 64.5% of world production2.

Domestic Market Information7, 8
Over the past ten years (2008 to 2018) sea bass has been the second fastest growing species (from a fairly small base) in Great British retail (i.e. in England, Scotland and Wales). Sea bass grew by value and volume 156% and 157% respectively from a base of £24 million and 1,467 tonnes in 2008. Growth remained strong in spite of having the second highest average price of any seafood in the top 10, double that of cod.

In 2018, UK retail sales of sea bass were worth £67.5m (+4.3% compared to the previous year) with a volume of 4,130 tonnes (+2.6%), average price £16.33 per kg, and ranking as the 9th most popular species by value, and moving above pangasius, in the 52 weeks to 16/06/2018 (including discounters).

In 2018, the UK imported 9,310 tonnes of sea bass, including 8,574 tonnes of chilled and 736 tonnes of frozen.

Note: the difference between the volume of sea bass sold in UK retail and that which is imported is due to its use in the foodservice industry (e.g. restaurants) (no data available) and that which is re-exported.

Production2, 3, 9
Sea bass were traditionally reared in enclosed lagoons where they fed naturally until harvested. Some of these early production systems are still operational today. The example of Atlantic salmon farming in Northern Europe, combined with a scarcity of juvenile sea bass for lagoon rearing, led to research programmes being initiated in the 1960s in order to intensify production. This enabled the start of commercial scale sea bass farming in coastal areas of the Mediterranean in the 1980s. A schematic of modern sea bass production is given opposite.

Until the 1990’s sea bass production relied on wild caught broodstock to produce the seed for farms, however selective breeding programmes are now in place. These are generally part of larger integrated companies which control the entire process from reproduction to harvest, but there are still independent European sea bass hatcheries that sell juveniles (i.e. seed) to on-growing facilities. Along with feed, the purchase of seed is the biggest operating cost for sea bass farms.

Broodstock are kept under controlled conditions with spawning initiated using hormonal treatments and photomanipulation (control of lighting used to prolong the sea bass spawning cycle). Fertilized eggs are collected on the surface of spawning tanks, placed in incubator tanks, and hatch after 48 hours. Larvae lose their yolk sac six days after hatching. At this point they are given specialised diets, including live feeds such as rotifera (microscopic zooplankton) and artemia (a small crustacean).

After 40-50 days, the larvae are transferred to a weaning unit where they are fed a formulated high-protein ‘micro-diet’ (small pellets). After a further three to four weeks the fry are transferred to juvenile breeding units. Two months later, at 2-5g, they are ready for on-growing.

During on-growing fish are fed and reared in floating net-pens until harvest; this will be undertaken in either small cages in sheltered marine sites, or larger net-pens in more exposed locations. There have been attempts to raise sea bass in land-based tanks, generally using recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) that control the water temperature and minimise water usage; an example of such a system was Anglesey Aquaculture, based in North Wales. However this system ceased producing sea bass in 2015 having found it difficult to compete with Greek and Turkish imports10.

Although producers rear a range of sizes for market, sea bass are generally harvested when they reach 300-500g, which takes from a year and a half to two years, depending on water temperature2.

  1. Defra (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/236702/pb14027-uk-commercial-designation-fish-list.pdf)
  2. EC (http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/marine_species/farmed_fish_and_shellfish/seabass/index_en.htm)
  3. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/culturedspecies/Dicentrarchus_labrax/en)
  4. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6865e.pdf)
  5. Globefish (http://www.aqua.cl/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2015/02/GH_online.pdf)
  6. FAO FishstatJ (http://www.fao.org/fishery/statistics/software/fishstatj/en)
  7. AC Nielson (http://www.nielsen.com/uk/en.html)
  8. HMRC (https://www.uktradeinfo.com/tradetools/importersdetails/Pages/ImportersSearch.aspx)
  9. FISHBOOST (http://www.fishboost.eu/uploads/2/5/8/8/25888062/european_seabass_-_current_status_of_selective_breeding_in_europe.pdf)
  10. FiS (http://www.fis.com/fis/worldnews/worldnews.asp?monthyear=&day=3&id=94041&l=e&country=0&special=&ndb=1&df=0)

Governance and Outlook

Governance
Governance systems play an important part in ensuring environmental sustainability, and whilst these have evolved rapidly with the growth of the industry, there are differences between regions and countries. Poor governance can result in industry stagnation, the spread of preventable diseases, environmental damage and opposition to aquaculture activities by local communities and groups such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Key governance responsibilities are ensuring environmental assessment and decision making processes are in place for sensitive and coastal ecosystems, which help deliver sustainable aquaculture whilst managing possible adverse impacts. Other regulatory and governance aspects should cover aspects such as water abstraction and discharge, health monitoring, and so forth.

Four principles – accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of governments, equity, and predictability of the rule of law – are necessary for effective aquaculture governance. These principles should guide the administration, legislative and regulatory framework of aquaculture. In addition to governments, other stakeholders such as communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and producers should also be involved in the governance of the industry1.

Sea bass farming is largely undertaken in European countries (EU) or in the European Economic Area (EEA) of the Mediterranean, where governance systems are in place to support aquaculture development2. EU/EEA regulations require all aquaculture production businesses to be registered with the authorities. There are also a range of important environmental regulations that sea bass producers need to adhere to, to minimise the potential adverse impacts aquaculture may pose to the environment. These typically regulate site location (planning), the use of chemicals and veterinary medicines, release of nutrients, escapes of farmed animals and other key environmental issues. Disease risks are also tightly regulated in producer countries with inspection schemes to confirm farms are free of serious (i.e. notifiable) diseases.

Outlook
Production of European sea bass has grown strongly in the last decade and represents a successful aquaculture industry. Production in cages has increased, but the on-going consequences of the global financial crisis of 2007–2009, and the Eurozone debt crisis from the end of 2009 have to some extent limited growth of the sector, particularly in Greece. However, in Turkey growth has been less constrained by economic factors and has seen substantial increases in sea bass production.

Farmed sea bass from the Mediterranean is mostly for export, mainly to mainland Europe, particularly Italy and Spain. Greece exports around 70% of its domestic production, and exports have expanded into new markets, such as the UK, Germany and France. Trade in sea bass seed includes not only the largest producer countries, but countries such Italy, Spain and France which help supply grow-out farms across the Mediterranean.

As sea bass aquaculture grew between 1990 and 2002, production costs were driven down and product saturated the market. Prices subsequently declined rapidly by more than two-thirds; this can be attributed to the limited demand from smaller, more traditional markets for sea bass (mainly in southern Europe), the lack of diversified products, and limited focus on market development and promotion at the time. However, the drop in price subsequently opened up new markets and helped expand existing ones.

Acceptable profit margins for sea bass producers can only be sustained through further improvements in productivity and product diversification. In recent years the sector has found new market opportunities which show increasing trends in sea bass consumption (e.g. Russia and the US).

Greek and Turkish sea bass (and sea bream) production are likely to continue to dominate Mediterranean aquaculture for the foreseeable future2. The outlook for the farmed sea bass sector in 2017 was cautiously positive3, so long as prices are maintained at economically sustainable levels. However, this is dependent on the rate of production volume growth and the progress made towards farm cost reductions, as well as market demand.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has recently (September 2018) launched a specific standard which incorporates sea bass, sea bream and meagre4.

  1. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i7797e.pdf)
  2. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6865e.pdf)
  3. Globefish (http://www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/market-reports/resource-detail/en/c/1072507/)
  4. ASC (https://www.asc-aqua.org/what-we-do/our-standards/farm-standards/sea-bass-seabream-meagre/)

Farm Siting

Appropriate siting, design and construction of sea bass cage farms is essential to limit adverse impacts on the environment and natural ecosystems. In addition, if floating net-pens are located within navigable water bodies, consideration should be given to ensure that they do not impinge and restrict movement of boats, aquatic animals and the water itself. There may also be concerns over the visual impact of siting cages in the areas of natural beauty, in such areas, it is important that the design, construction and colour of farm facilities are sympathetic with the landscape in which they sit.

As sea bass net-pens are often located in areas with relatively rich wildlife, species that prey on fish can be attracted to them. This can potentially become a significant problem for a farmer due to direct losses and the stress and injuries caused to their stock. In the worst case scenario there could be significant losses to stock and/or escapes if predators breach net-pens. Birds may predate upon sea bass in ponds, lagoons and sea cages but predation by marine mammals on sea bass is not documented1.

National and local laws should be adhered to and all farms should have the required licences, permits and registrations in regards to their site and its operations, with documentation being kept to evidence compliance. Where aquaculture development plans exist, then new farms should be located within the appropriately identified areas2. Marine cage culture has ‘minimal’ impacts to the environment where farms are appropriately sited and properly managed3.

Major sea bass producing countries are increasingly using marine spatial planning to regulate where aquaculture can take place. Measures being taken include but are not limited to the creation of zones where production is controlled; specifying allowable production densities and minimum depths that net-pens can be sited. Both Greece and Turkey have enacted regulations in regards to marine spatial planning and the sustainable development of aquaculture4, 5. The EU has also published guidance on how aquaculture operations can be sited in protected areas (e.g. Natura 2000 sites)6.

To improve access to space and water for farming areas the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)7 adopted a specific resolution on Allocated Zones for Aquaculture (AZA) in 20128, 9, 10. The GFCM is a regional fisheries management organization involved in conservation, sustainable marine resources and the development of aquaculture. Many countries in Europe and in the GFCM are taking up the AZA resolution and adapting this within their national legislations. The GFCM is also preparing a ‘Strategy for the sustainable development of Mediterranean and Black Sea aquaculture’ following the AZA framework11.

Sea bass farmers should ensure all possible management measures are taken to protect stocks from predators. Deterrents, scarers and increased on-site activity may be effective.  Lethal methods of predator control should only be resorted to when appropriate licences are in place and the predatory species are not threatened in any way.

Certification of sea bass farms ensures they are addressing issues such as, but not limited to, location and siting, and impacts on endangered species.

  1. EFSA, 2008. Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare on a request from the European Commission on animal welfare aspects of husbandry systems for farmed European sea bass and Gilthead sea bream. EFSA Journal, 2008 p1-21 (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2008.844/pdf)
  2. FAO/World Bank (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6834e.pdf)
  3. NOAA (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285386836_Marine_Cage_Culture_and_the_Environment_Twenty-first_Century_Science_Informing_a_Sustainable_Industry)
  4. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/legalframework/nalo_turkey/en)
  5. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/legalframework/nalo_greece/en)
  6. EC (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/docs/Aqua-N2000%20guide.pdf)
  7. GFCM (http://www.gfcm.org/)
  8. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3086e.pdf)
  9. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6865e.pdf)
  10. Sanchez-Jerez, P., et al, 2016. Aquaculture’s struggle for space: the need for coastal spatial planning and the potential benefits of Allocated Zones for Aquaculture (AZAs) to avoid conflict and promote sustainability. Aquaculture Environment Interactions, Vol. 8 p41–54 (www.int-res.com/articles/aei2016/8/q008p041.pdf)
  11. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5346e.pdf)

Nutrient Pollution

Feed is a major component of the cost of farmed sea bass production and the efficient use of feed is an important aspect of farm management; it is vital to ensure that as much of the feed as possible is consumed by the fish and that as little as possible is wasted. Efficient monitoring and management of feed regimes minimises nutrient discharges from sea bass net-pen farming and reduces the potential of pollution arising from uneaten food entering the marine environment. This is important as the accumulation of uneaten food and faecal matter beneath net-pens has the potential to affect aquatic life through de-oxygenation and algal blooms which can be associated with nutrient increase1. The key nutrients likely to cause problems for receiving waters are nitrogen and phosphorus.

In addition to controlling the amount of feed dispensed to the fish, sea bass diets have improved to make them more digestible2. This results in greater food absorption, less faecal production, and computer controlled demand feeding systems result in less food use and wastage. To improve performance, farms should monitor feed efficiency, effluents and water quality in the receiving water body.

Licensing and farm management can ensure facilities are located in areas where the environmental impact through release of nutrients is going to be minimal. Full environmental impact assessments are undertaken which include modelling impacts of the release of nutrients before licenses are issued. As technology has developed sea bass net-pens have been able to locate to more exposed locations with stronger currents and in deeper water which ensures waste materials are more widely dispersed.

Computer modelling is often used as a guide to determine licensed discharge quantities of organic waste and chemicals arising from marine fish-farm operations. It is typically a requirement of net-pen operators that before they can obtain a site license they model the effects of potential discharges released from the aquaculture site, using methods such as MEROMOD3.

Modelling and monitoring methods are mandated by regulations and certification standards, along with records being documented by farms. Farms should also document and record how they dispose of any other solid wastes such as fish mortalities. There have been attempts to mitigate the release of nutrients into the marine environment by growing shellfish or algae (seaweed) species in proximity to cages (i.e. integrated multi-trophic aquaculture or IMTA) which can utilise the dissolved nutrients and provide additional crops4.

Enclosed hatcheries and land-based farms (recirculating aquaculture systems or RAS) can mitigate nutrient pollution risks by removing solids prior to the discharge of effluents and remove dissolved nutrients by establishing areas of reed beds or salt marshes around discharge points.

  1. D’Agaro, E. and Lanari, D., 2006. Environmental impact of sea bass cage farming in the north Adriatic Sea. Italian Journal of Animal Science, Vol 5, Iss 2, 2006 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/41393688_Environmental_impact_of_sea_bass_cage_farming_in_the_north_Adriatic_Sea)
  2. International Aquafeed (https://issuu.com/international_aquafeed/docs/iaf1604_w1/40)
  3. Meramed, 2004. MERAMOD: A predictive model for deposition from mariculture in the Mediterranean (http://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/33346_en.html)
  4. Perdikaris, C. et al, 2016. Environmentally Friendly Practices and Perceptions in Aquaculture: A Sectoral Case-study from a Mediterranean-based Industry. Reviews in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture, Vol 24, No.2 p113-125 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280599861_Environmentally_Friendly_Practices_and_Perceptions_in_Aquaculture_A_Sectoral_Case-study_from_a_Mediterranean-based_Industry)

Feed

Fish Meal and Fish Oil
Marine ingredients such as Fishmeal (FM) and Fish Oil (FO) provide nutrients that often cannot be found in other feed materials (e.g. particular amino acids, vitamins and minerals), and they are essential constituents of many aquafeeds. FM and FO are a finite resource and are seen by the aquaculture industry as a strategic ingredient to be used efficiently and replaced where possible1.

Globally the FM and FO used in aquafeeds is increasingly derived from fishery and aquaculture processing by-product; the utilisation of these by-products as a raw material for FM and FO production is in the region of 25%-35% and this trend will continue; it is expected to rise to 49% by 20221, 2, 3.

IFFO The Marine Ingredients Organisation4 (formerly known as The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation or IFFO) estimate that if aquaculture is taken as a whole, producing one tonne of fed farmed fish (excluding filter feeding species) now takes 0.22 tonnes of whole wild fish. This essentially means that for every 0.22 kg of whole wild fish used in FM production, a kilo of farmed fish is produced; in other words, for every 1 kg of wild fish used 4.5 kg of farmed fish is produced5.

Perhaps the most important mitigation measure is to ensure that products such as FM and FO used to manufacture aquafeed come from legal, reported and regulated fisheries. Such fishery products can demonstrate their sourcing adheres to the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) “Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries”6, known as CCRF, through several mechanisms:

  • The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)7 which certifies fisheries to an international standard based on FAO best-practice requirements
  • IFFO RS Global Standard for Responsible Supply (IFFO RS)8 which certifies FM and FO through a process which includes the assessment of source fisheries against a set of CCRF-based requirements
  • Information platforms such as FishSource9 or FisheryProgress10 which provide information and analysis without a certification or approval rating

Currently around 1.9 million tonnes of FM production is certified as either IFFO RS or MSC – representing about 40% of global production; most of this comes from South America, but Europe and North America are providing significant volumes, and North Africa currently has certified production. Currently there is no certified FM product produced in China and only very small quantities (less than 10,000 tonnes) are produced in the rest of Asia (and this is from by-products)2.

Aquaculture certification schemes also require that fish products used in feeds are not on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red lists11 of threatened species or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)12 lists of endangered species.

GM Feed Ingredients
The use of genetically modified (GM) vegetable ingredients in animal feedstuffs (including aquafeed) is an ongoing area of debate13. Whilst some contend that GM soy can help support current levels of aquaculture, global attitudes and consumer perceptions about the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) vary in different parts of the world, with North American markets being far less averse than European ones. However, their use in all livestock feed is widespread, and in the EU food from animals fed on authorised GM crops is considered to be as safe as food from animals fed on non-GM crops14.

Sea bass Feed
Careful management of food and feeding regimes are important to the success of aquaculture. To reduce wasting aquafeed on farms, efficient feed use can be monitored and should comply with levels set in certification standards. The indicators used can include the Feed Conversion Rate or FCR (the amount of feed an animal requires to gain a kilogram of body weight), economic feed conversion ratio (eFCR), maximum fish feed equivalence ratio (FFER), or protein efficiency ratio (PER).

Sea bass have a requirement for a high protein diet and whilst their aquafeeds are still relatively high in FM and FO, vegetable materials are increasingly substituting these marine ingredients.

Sea bass feeds now contain approximately 15-20% FM and 2-5% FO15. Over the last 10 years or more the inclusion of marine ingredients in sea bass feeds has declined, and this is a trend set to continue. In terms of feeding efficiency, the average FCR figure for sea bass is around 216. IFFO The Marine Ingredients Organisation estimate that in 2015 for every 0.53 kg of whole wild fish used in FM production for all marine fish (which includes sea bass) aquafeeds, a kilo of farmed marine fish are produced5.

As feed companies constantly develop their aquafeed formulations the decreasing inclusion of marine ingredients will not only continue in sea bass feeds but in those for a number of other aquaculture species.

  1. IFFO (http://www.seafish.org/media/1689782/acig_apr17_fm_fo_iffo.pdf)
  2. IFFO (http://www.iffo.net/system/files/Report%20IoA%20IFFO%20project%20Final_0.pdf)
  3. Seafish (http://www.seafish.org/media/publications/SeafishFishmealandFishOilFactsandFigures_201612.pdf)
  4. IFFO (http://www.iffo.net/)
  5. IFFO (http://www.iffo.net/fish-fish-out-fifo-ratios-conversion-wild-feed)
  6. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/code/en)
  7. MSC (https://www.msc.org/)
  8. IFFO RS (http://www.iffo.net/iffo-rs)
  9. FishSource (https://www.fishsource.org/)
  10. FisheryProgress (https://fisheryprogress.org/)
  11. IUCN (http://www.iucnredlist.org/)
  12. CITES (https://www.cites.org/)
  13. Sissener, N.H. et al, 2011. Genetically modified plants as fish feed ingredients. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2011, 68(3) p563-574 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235762978_Genetically_modified_plants_as_fish_feed_ingredients)
  14. FSA (https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/gm-in-animal-feed)
  15. IFFO pers. comm., 2017
  16. Seafood Watch (http://www.seafoodwatch.org/-/m/sfw/pdf/reports/s/mba_seafoodwatch_european_seabass_gilthead_seabream_report.pdf)

Disease, Medicines and Chemicals

In common with all other animal farming systems in which animals are raised in greater numbers than they would be found in nature, the farming of sea bass can potentially increase the risk of disease outbreaks due to the number of individual animals living in close proximity to each other. It is essential that good husbandry and a pro-active approach to health management is adopted at each farm location in order to minimise and mitigate these risks.

Sea bass can be affected by a range of viral and bacterial pathogens, the most important of which cause viral encephaloretinopathy, the bacterial diseases vibriosis and photobacteriosis/pasteurellosis. Sea bass can also be affected by parasites such as Amyloodinium occelatum and Cryptocaryon irritans1, 2. The effects of disease can have major economic impacts on the industry.

The first line of defence in disease and pathogen management is effective biosecurity and health plans to minimise disease and its spread3. The key elements of biosecurity include: practical and appropriate legislative controls; adequate diagnostic and detection methods for infectious diseases; disinfection and pathogen eradication methods; reliable high quality sources of stock; and best management practices3, 4. The development of a written health plan updated annually and approved by an aquatic animal health specialist is recommended and often part of EU regulations5 and certification requirements6.

The farmer should follow the instructions of aquatic animal health specialists about who to inform and how to stop the spread of the disease when outbreaks occur. Regular health checks and screening allows for rapid action to be taken if problems begin to develop. Certification schemes set targets for maximum average real percentage mortality rates, whilst maintenance of good daily records of mortalities helps management highlight when in the production cycle disease problems are likely to occur.

When needed, there are a range of medicines and chemical treatments available to control sea bass disease and pathogens, including antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics in farming or for human medical treatment speeds up the development of antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them7. In Europe, medicines and chemicals used during the farming of fish destined for human consumption are tightly regulated to minimise impacts to the target animal, consumer and environment5.

Vaccination also plays an important role sea bass aquaculture; there has been significant development of sea bass vaccines and their application in recent years8 and farms are currently trialling new ones9. Increased research in to sea bass vaccination has been called for by the industry.

Sea bass farms should only use veterinary medicines and chemicals that are approved by national authorities and these should be prescribed by an aquatic animal health specialist. Veterinary medicines that should not be used:

  • Antibiotics critical for human medicine, as categorized by the World Health Organisation10
  • Veterinary medicines (excluding vaccines) used prophylactically prior to evidence of a specific disease problem
  • Veterinary medicines (excluding vaccines) to serve as growth promoters

These prohibitions are frequently part of regulation and specified in certification programmes.

Functional aquafeeds include a range of additives used to improve growth and feed utilisation, but also to support the health and stress resistance. Additives, such as probiotics, prebiotics, phytogenics, and immune-stimulants may help improve sea bass disease resistance11, 12, 13.

Good husbandry and strict adherence to the principles of biosecurity are also important aspect of managing the movement of eggs and live fish between sites, including in some cases internationally, where there is an opportunity to spread pathogens between locations.

  1. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/culturedspecies/Dicentrarchus_labrax/en)
  2. The Fish Site (http://www.thefishsite.com/diseaseinfo/)
  3. Fish Health Inspectorate (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/278581/Finfish_biosecurity_measures_plan.pdf)
  4. Fish Vet Group (http://www.virasure.com/biosecurity/biosecurity-in-aquaculture-part-3/)
  5. EC Council Directive concerning the animal health conditions governing the placing on the market of aquaculture animals and products: (https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/animalproducts/aquaculture_en)
  6. ASC (https://www.asc-aqua.org/what-we-do/our-standards/farm-standards/sea-bass-seabream-meagre/)
  7. WHO (http://www.who.int/features/2015/antibiotics-norway/en/)
  8. Seafood Watch (http://www.seafoodwatch.org/-/m/sfw/pdf/reports/s/mba_seafoodwatch_european_seabass_gilthead_seabream_report.pdf)
  9. Benchmark (http://www.benchmarkplc.com/articles/benchmarks-new-seabass-vaccine-commences-commercial-field-trials)
  10. WHO (http://www.who.int/en/)
  11. Encarnacao, P., 2016. Functional feed additives in aquaculture feeds. Aquafeed Formulation, 2016 p217-237 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128008737000051)
  12. International Aquafeed Magazine (https://issuu.com/international_aquafeed/docs/iaf1701_w1/28)
  13. The Fish Site (https://thefishsite.com/articles/functional-feed-additives-can-reduce-mortality-from-parasites-in-european-seabass)

Escapes and Introductions

Escapees from aquaculture facilities can potentially impact on habitats and species in the receiving water bodies. Problems could occur due to competition, potential disease transfer, establishment of non-native species, interbreeding with wild populations, and impacts on sensitive habitats.

With any open water containment system there is the potential for stock to escape. Whilst establishing contingency plans in case of sea bass escapes is essential1, prevention is the key to mitigating escapes. Escapes from farms occur both through repeated low-number incidents and through large-scale events. Technical and operational failures can lead to escapes: cages can be breached in storms; holes can appear through wear and tear; predator interaction and operational accidents can occur, and so on. Losses due to escapes represent a considerable financial loss to a farm, so it is in its interest to prevent them.

Increased production has led to an increase in escape incidents from Mediterranean farms2, and there is evidence of interbreeding of escaped sea bass with wild stocks, potentially weakening their genetics3. Advances in sea bass genetic research and the enhancement of farmed strains via breeding programmes has been on a lesser scale than in other farmed fish (such as salmon); consequentially farmed sea bass are not too distinct genetically from wild populations. However, as more attention is focused on breeding to improve productivity the issue of sea bass escapes may well become of increasing concern.

It may be possible that technologies become available to produce sterile populations of sea bass that are unable to reproduce if they escape. However, in the absence of this technology broodstock should ideally originate from local endemic or naturalised sea bass populations to minimise the potential impacts of cross breeding.

Recapturing fish after escape (at or close to the point of escape) is a logical management option, however evidence suggests that fish tend to disperse rapidly from the point of release and recapture efforts are often delayed after large-scale escape events, which typically occur during storms. These two factors mean that few attempts to recapture sea bass after large-scale escape incidents have been successful4.

Improved netting materials, enhanced engineering standards and equipment build quality, better staff training around vessel handling and use, and efforts to deter predators all reduce escape incidents, whilst the biosecurity of land-based sea bass RAS facilities means that escape risks are minimal within these systems.

  1. Arechavala-Lopez, P et al, 2018. Recapturing fish escapes from coastal farms in the western Mediterranean Sea: Insights for potential contingency plans. Ocean and Coastal Management 151, 2018 p69–76
  2. The Fish Site (http://www.thefishsite.com/articles/1741/escaped-sea-bream-seabass-from-mediterranean-farms-implications-for-sustainable-aquaculture/)
  3. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6865e.pdf)
  4. Dempster, T. et al, 2016. Recapturing escaped fish from marine aquaculture is largely unsuccessful: Alternatives to reduce the number of escapees in the wild. Reviews in Aquaculture, 2016 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303347253_Recapturing_escaped_fish_from_marine_aquaculture_is_largely_unsuccessful_Alternatives_to_reduce_the_number_of_escapees_in_the_wild)

Certification

Aquaculture (and fisheries) certification and labelling programmes have become a primary tool to address sustainability issues of farmed seafood, and the development of third party assessment and certification has provided new forms of governance traditionally dominated by state-based regulation1, 2. The growth in the number of certification schemes has led to confusion surrounding the myriad of them out there. To try and combat this, the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)1 has developed its global benchmarking tool to measure and compare certification schemes and standards performance across seafood production.

Given the prominence of environmental issues as the driver for the development of aquaculture standards, there is an understandably strong emphasis on environmental criteria within them3. Certification enables aquaculture producers to voluntarily demonstrate their responsible farming practices by: complying with national legislation; minimising impact on habitats and wildlife; making the best use of locally available resources; and ensuring the best use of feed and therapeutic products.

Aquaculture certification currently has moderate to high coverage of labour standards (e.g. minimum wage)3, however, increased social and economic requirements related to human rights, gender and sustainable livelihoods are being developed.

Since 2011, a partnership of UK businesses called the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC)4 have been working to ensure all fish and seafood sold in the UK comes from sustainable sources, and aquaculture certification plays a pivotal role. All members need to ensure that the aquaculture source (considering feed mills, hatcheries, and farm sites) is certified under a third party standard, or audited to a members own good aquaculture standard or code of practice5.

The table below looks at some of the major aquaculture certification schemes, including those for sea bass, and if they address the Key Considerations highlighted throughout the profiles. It also highlights which scheme has a standard/s successfully benchmarked by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)1.

Read more on aquaculture certification, including that of sea bass, after the table.

Certification Scheme: Description and Links Governance Farm Siting Nutrient Pollution Feed Disease, Medicines & Chemicals Escapes & Introductions Wild Seed GSSI Benchmarked

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

Founded in 2010 by WWF and IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative) the ASC is an independent not for profit organisation with global influence. ASC aims to be the world’s leading certification and labelling programme for responsibly farmed seafood.

The ASC consumer label demonstrates the integrity of the seafood product.

Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practice (GAA BAP)

GAA BAP has been certifying aquaculture since 2004, and is administered by the GAA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy, education and leadership in responsible aquaculture. Aquaculture Facility Certification:

The BAP program employs a star system to signify the integration levels of BAP certification along the aquaculture production chain. These stars are displayed on the BAP logo and appear on packaging for a variety of farmed seafood products worldwide.

GLOBALG.A.P. (GG)

GG offers 16 standards for 3 scopes: Crops, Livestock, and Aquaculture. GG has been one of the most widely accepted private sector food safety certification in the world since 2007.

GG Aquaculture certified producers have now the option to use the consumer facing  GGN Certified Aquaculture label.

Friend of the Sea (FoS)

FoS is a non-profit NGO, whose mission is the conservation of the marine habitat. FoS is now a leading international certification project for products originated from both sustainable fisheries and aquaculture:

EU Organic Aquaculture

All aquaculture products sold as “organic” in the European Union (EU) have to fulfil the requirements that are laid down by the EU regulations:

This includes products certified according to private organic standards. The EU Organic logo makes organic products easily identifiable by consumers.

Naturland

Naturland was founded in 1982 when organic agriculture was regarded as a marginal issue. Since the mid-1990s, Naturland has developed standards for different species and production systems in aquaculture:

The Naturland label is intended as a guide for consumers.

Soil Association

The Soil Association was formed in 1946 and champions organic principles and practice.

The Soil Association logo sends a message to consumers that the product is organically produced.


– Indicates the certification scheme addresses the Key Consideration

 – Indicates the Certification Scheme has had one or more of its Standards benchmarked against the Global Benchmark Tool Version 1 and recognised by the GSSI Steering Board

Certified Aquaculture Production
Production of certified seafood, both aquaculture and wild catch, has grown rapidly over the past decade and now represents a significant portion of global seafood production. Certified sustainable seafood in 2003 equated to some 500,000 tonnes (0.5% of global production); in 2015 this figure had risen to 23 million tonnes (14% of global production). Some 80% of certified seafood is wild catch, but certified aquaculture is growing twice as fast and is set to dominate growth in certified seafood for the foreseeable future3.

In 2015, certified aquaculture accounted for 6.3% of world aquaculture production. Of this 6.3%, seven species groups were dominant (i.e. salmon, pangasius, mussels, tilapia, prawns, trout and sea bream) and accounted for 97%3. This relatively low global level of certified aquaculture and the narrow range of species groups, is largely due to:

  • China’s dominance in global aquaculture but its relative absence in certified production
  • 70% of all global production coming from small-scale producers

Certification of small-scale aquaculture continues to be an issue, mainly due to the cost and difficulties in complying with standards; key challenges include finance, technical knowledge and organisational capacity. Educating small-scale farmers on how to comply, as well as identifying national policy and regulatory gaps supporting small-scale aquaculture certification, is becoming ever more necessary6. Multiple-farm or ‘cluster’ certification may be a way forward for small-scale producers.

Four schemes are responsible for the majority of certified aquaculture production, namely the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practice (GAA BAP), GlobalG.A.P. (GG), and Friend of the Sea (FoS)3.

Certified Sea bass Production
Figures provided by the certification schemes themselves and relating to their totals of certified farmed sea bass break down into:

  • At least 64,623 tonnes under GG (as of April 2019)7     
  • Almost 72,000 tonnes of sea bass and sea bream collectively under FoS (as of June 2019)8
  • 34,949 tonnes of ‘other’ (which may include sea bass and/or sea bream) under the GAA BAP Farm Standard (as of June 2019)9
  • 5,822 tonnes of sea bass, sea bream and meagre collectively under ASC (as of July 2019)1
  • (It is important to note that certification under one scheme does not preclude certification under another, and gathering accurate data on rates of multiple certification is very difficult. As a result simply adding the production volumes of individual schemes can result in double counting and overestimation. The authors of the aggregate data referred to above make no adjustment for multiple certification.)
  1. GSSI (http://www.ourgssi.org)
  2. Vince, J. and Haward, M., 2017. Hybrid governance of aquaculture: Opportunities and challenges. Journal of Environmental Management 201, (2017) p138-144
  3. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2016. State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Blue Economy’ 2016. International Institute for Sustainable Development (http://www.iisd.org/ssi/standards-and-the-blue-economy/)
  4. SSC (https://www.sustainableseafoodcoalition.org/)
  5. SSC Guidance Voluntary Codes of Conduct (https://www.documents.clientearth.org/wp-content/uploads/library/2015-12-16-guidance-for-the-sustainable-seafood-coalition-ssc-voluntary-codes-of-conduct-ssc-en.pdf)
  6. FAO (http://www.fao.org/cofi/30797-0a436c88813a66cf4a752efb95d6be1e2.pdf)
  7. GG, pers. comm., 2019
  8. FoS, pers. comm., 2019
  9. GAA BAP, pers. comm., 2019
  10. ASC (https://www.asc-aqua.org/news/certification-update/)