by Thomas Jensen
IT l
  • Capital: Rome
  • Population: 60.6 million (2018, Eurostat)
  • GDP: €1.72 billion (2017, Eurostat)
  • GDP/capita: €28 400 (2016, Eurostat)

Overview of the Italian fisheries and aquaculture sector

Fisheries sector

ITA Fish

Italy’s coastline spans 9 136 km, making up 8.75% of the total EU coastline. The surface of the coastal regions, in line with the Eurostat definition, is 181 289 km², approximately 10% of the EU total and 60% of the national territory. Although the fishery sector´s contribution to the national GDP remains limited, a little over 0.5% of Italy´s GDP, it is more significant in certain regions, particularly the south.

Fishing in Italy takes place along the entire coastline. In 2017, national catches accounted for 192 202 tonnes. The size of the Italian fleet has been steadily decreasing over the decade, however, numbers have been levelling out recently. In 2017, 12 250 vessels were registered. The decrease in fishing vessels may correlate with declining catches. The fleet is highly diversified with a broad range of vessel types targeting different species, predominantly in the Mediterranean Sea. Seventy percent of the fleet is made up off small-scale fisheries’ vessels, less than 12 meters in length.

The small-scale fisheries use passive gears and involve day trips made by a small crew of one or two fishers. The gear most commonly used are: surrounding nets, bottom trawl nets of different dimensions, midwater trawlers (volanti), dredges (turbosoffiante), and trammel nets. Traps and longlines are used by the small-scale fisheries fleet, including drifting longlines which are widely used today to catch large-pelagic fish.

The value of the landings in 2017 was €0.97 billion. Crustaceans are the largest contributor with 28% of the total value. Other valuable species groups are cephalopods (15%), anchovy (8%), whitefish (7%), and flatfish (3%).

A third of the landings volume in 2017 consisted of small pelagics, predominantly anchovies and sardines. Other important commercial landings included crustaceans, such as deep-water rose shrimp (Parapenaeus longirostris) and squillids (Squilus mantis) as well as cephalopods mainly cuttlefish, squid and octopus. Tuna plays also an important role in catches. The landing composition of marine fisheries is very heterogeneous, reflecting both the different gears in use, various fishing grounds, and the high biodiversity of aquatic resources.


ITA Aqua

Aquaculture in Italy is based on a long tradition and history. It is characterized by a high level of specialisation and large-scale production. Out of 30 species, production is dominated by Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis), Japanese carpet shell (Venerupis philippinarum) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Italy is a major producer of Japanese carpet shell in Europe. European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata) are the major marine farmed finfish species.

Traditional extensive aquaculture is still carried out in the “valli”, brackish lagoons – especially in the north-eastern regions. More modern aquaculture techniques for marine species include onshore intensive farms, cage systems in the sea (mariculture) and in the case of shellfish, cultivation on ropes and bags (mussels) or directly on the intertidal substrate (clams). Marine aquaculture includes both shellfish (mussels and clams) and finfish, freshwater aquaculture mainly consists of trout farmed in raceways. Aquaculture is developed all along the Italian coasts, with higher density along the Adriatic coasts.

High levels of specialisation and know-how, a high
degree of industrialisation and large‐scale organisation are key features of the Italian aquaculture sector.

In 2016, total output of the Italian aquaculture sector amounted to 157 109 tonnes. In the shellfish sector, blue mussels (63 700 tonnes) and clam (36 500 tonnes) are the main species. Finfish farming is divided into freshwater fish species and marine species. Production of the marine farmed fish amounts to 15 744 tonnes with sea bream (7 600 tonnes) and sea bass (6 800 tonnes) as the main farmed species.

Freshwater finfish farming takes place in the north and central regions of Italy. The output of freshwater farmed fish amounts to 41 243 tonnes, most which is rainbow trout (36 800 tonnes), followed by European eel (1 250 tonnes).

Shellfish producing companies account for over 50% of the total number of farms and contribute to 64% of total aquaculture production.

The aquaculture sector is dominated by small enterprises with less than five employees. Total employment in the sector comprises 4 920 persons, with 3 000 persons full time equivalent highlighting the importance of seasonal work.

Processing and trade

ITA Proc

The processing industry plays an important role.  It was valued at €1.5 billion and produced approximately 215 000 tonnes in 2016. The fish processing industry relies heavily on imports. Prepared or preserved tuna is the main product produced with a volume of 82 414 tonnes, followed by frozen whole marine fish products with 39 500 tonnes.

Italy is one of the largest markets for fisheries and aquaculture products in Europe, and the country covers the majority of demand through imports. It is the seventh largest market for imported fish and seafood in the world, and the third largest among European Union (EU) countries behind Spain and France. Total imports of fisheries and aquaculture products reached 1.37 million tonnes with a value of €6 billion in 2017. The trade balance is heavily deficient at €5 billion, as exports only reached 270 000 tonnes with a value of €0.8 billion.

Spain (17%), Germany (13%), and France (10%) received the vast majority of Italian exports of fisheries and aquaculture products in 2017. Austria (6%) and the UK (5%) are other important EU markets. The main exports from Italy are live/fresh fish and prepared/preserved fish products. Salmonids and shellfish are the most exported live/fresh fish products.

Imports of fish and seafood into Italy has been approximately 7 times higher than exports during recent years. Spain is the main supplying country of fisheries and aquaculture products for the Italian market with a 20% share of total imports in 2017. Denmark and the Netherlands are also important EU suppliers, covering 12% of Italy’s imports. Cephalopods is the main product of imports with 18% of value, followed by canned tuna (10%), fresh salmon (5%).


Apparent consumption of fish and seafood products amounted to 28.4 kg per capita. Molluscs, cephalopods, sea bass and sea bream are commonly consumed products. Fresh fish is the most frequently consumed product (84%). This share is significantly higher than the EU average (68%).


The EMFF operational program 2014–2020 aims to ensure that fishing capacity and available fishing opportunities are better balanced, and to strengthen the competitiveness and profitability of fishing enterprises. In aquaculture, the main aim is to promote environmentally sustainable aquaculture, with a focus on organic production. The competitiveness and profitability of aquaculture enterprises are also priorities and should benefit from support for product innovation and processes, as well as the creation of a hatchery’s association. Low levels of domestic aquaculture internationalisation, insufficient diversification of domestic aquaculture products and activities, and a lack of financial tools for new investments are currently some of the main challenges.

A key challenge in the processing industry is enhancing the role of producer organisations (POs) by developing collective actions with a focus on the added value that POs can bring to the supply chain.

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