In the European 2020 strategy it has been recognized that the potential for growth in the maritime economy is an opportunity that Europe, as a maritime continent, needs to seize. This recognition led to the adoption by the Commission in September 2012 of Communication on Blue Growth "opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth" as a part of the Integrated Maritime Policy . As an integral part of the EU's Blue Growth Strategy stands Aquaculture, and its sustainable development, as one of its pillars that will contribute to the Europe 2020 Strategy.
European aquaculture offers good quality products, respecting strict environmental sustainability, animal health and consumer protection standards. The excellent quality of EU seafood should constitute a major competitive advantage for EU aquaculture. The EU seafood market is currently supplied for 25% from EU fisheries, 65% from imports and 10% from EU aquaculture. Current EU consumption produced internally through aquaculture would help create between 3,000 and 4,000 full-time jobs. This figure confirms that, although aquaculture represents a relatively small part of the EU economy, it has the potential to boost growth and jobs in the EU. A close cooperation with the processing industry can further improve job creation and competitiveness of the sector.
In order to develop sustainable aquaculture production it is imprescindible to develop an ecosystem approach for the sustainable development of the European Aquaculture sector in order to comply with the MSFD.
An ecosystem approach for aquaculture (EAA) is defined by FAO (2008) as:
"A strategy for the integration of the activity within the wider ecosystem in such a way that it promotes sustainable development, equity, and resilience of interlinked social and ecological systems".
Such strategy should be guided by three main principles that should ensure the contribution of aquaculture to sustainable development: i) aquaculture should be developed in the context of ecosystem functions and services with no degradation of these beyond their resilience capacity; ii) aquaculture should improve human well-being and equity for all relevant stakeholders; and iii) aquaculture should be developed in the context of (and integrated to) other relevant sectors.
It is becoming evident that there is a need to develop an integrated approach for the development of the aquaculture sector and with it a need to further the research in this field to help decision makers in devising cost-effective Management plans to reach the stated goals.
As stressed in the recent Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture , aquaculture can contribute to the overall objective of filling the gap between EU consumption and production of seafood in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. In that sense it is necessary to expand aquaculture activities in a way that creates jobs, relieves pressure on natural fish resources, contributes to food security and is profitable in order to be sustainable.
In order to benefit this development there is a need to enhance the competitiveness of EU aquaculture through coordinated and support research and innovation, through all the relevant EU programs and funds, and to promote the transfer of knowledge, best practices and innovation.
There is also the need to better communicate with the public about the sustainability of EU aquaculture products to improve the competitiveness and societal acceptance of EU aquaculture and its products.