by Thomas Jensen
  • Capital: Madrid
  • Population: 47.4 million (2022, Eurostat)
  • GDP: €1.33 trillion (2022, Eurostat)
  • GDP/capita: €27 870 (2022, Eurostat)

Overview of the Spanish fisheries and aquaculture sector 

Fisheries sector

ESP Fish

Spain, with a coastline of almost 8 000 km, is home to the biggest fishing industry in the EU. The majority of fisheries activities are carried out in the coastal regions. Positioned at the south-west corner of Europe, the country enjoys entry points into both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and offers good conditions for marine and freshwater aquaculture. Spain has age-old marine traditions and is the largest producer of fish in the EU by volume and the largest consumer market for fisheries and aquaculture products. Spain produces just under one million tonnes of fisheries and aquaculture products per annum, more than any other EU country.

The fishing fleet in 2022 consisted of 8 657 vessels, making it the 3rd largest in the EU. The Galicia region represents almost 50% of all registered vessels, followed by Andalucía (16%), the Canary Islands (8%), and Catalonia (7%). Over 78% of the fleet are small coastal vessels less than 12 meters long. The number of fishing enterprises reached 7 635 and provided employment to 30 494 people, or 23 380 in full-time equivalent (FTE).

The value of the landings in 2022 was 666 613 tonnes worth €1.9 billion. The most important fish species in value terms are tuna (41%), followed by whitefish (mainly cod and hake) (14%), small pelagic fish (herring, sardine, and anchovy) (6%), cephalopods (6%), and shrimp (5%).


ESP Aqua

The aquaculture sector is widely diversified in terms of species and farming technologies. Although the trend has been towards consolidation in recent years, the industry is still dominated by small to medium-sized farms About thirty species are cultivated. Leading species in terms of volume include Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata), and European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax).

In 2021, farmed fish and shellfish production for human consumption amounted to 276 565 tonnes worth €648.6 million. Of this, marine aquaculture (fish and shellfish) contributed 258 363 tonnes (93%), and the rest came from freshwater aquaculture. Output from marine aquaculture comprises mostly shellfish, while 20% of the total production is marine finfish. Mussel farming is by far the biggest sector of aquaculture in terms of production volume, representing almost three quarters of the total aquaculture output, with mussel aquaculture in Galicia the driving force.

More than 95% of Spanish mussel production is carried out off the coast of Galicia, a region located in the north-western corner of the Iberian Peninsula. The coastline is 1 200 km long, and production is concentrated in five bays: Vigo, Ponteverda, Arousa, Muros, and Ares. Mussels are cultivated in the coastal inlets by means of floating rafts. Galician mussels are famous for their quality, which is made possible by a combination of factors, such as warm water temperature, high amounts of nutrients in the water, and location in areas shielded from unpredictable weather.

Sea bream, trout, and turbot are the major finfish species produced. Production occurs in both brackish/intertidal zones as well as marine environments. In 2021, total production of sea bass was 23 073 tonnes worth €152.9 million, and turbot 8 538 worth €70.2 million. Rainbow trout is the main species in freshwater production, reaching 18 056 tonnes in 2021 and amounting to €61.3 million. These three species represent about 70% of the total finfish aquaculture production in both volume and value. Production of Mediterranean mussel in 2021 reached 203 226 tonnes and amounted to €137.4 million.

In 2021, the total number of aquaculture enterprises was 5 343, including 5 181 marine farms and 162 freshwater farms. The marine aquaculture sector employed 10 501 people (4 994 FTE), while freshwater farms employed 863 (730 FTE).

In recent years, the aquaculture industry has diversified into cultivating new species such as meagre (Argyrosomus regius), bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) and yellowtail (Seriola spp.). Cultured turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) has already a strong presence in the market.

Processing and trade



Spain is home to the largest fish processing industry in Europe. There were 580 fish processing facilities in operation during 2021 with a turnover of around €7.5 billion and total employment estimated at 26 042 persons. This processing industry generated an added value of €1.2 billion. Historically, the sector had focused on salted and canned fish and shellfish. However, since the 1950s, it has become one of the most diversified industries on an international scale.

The industry is mainly composed of small and medium-sized companies, mostly in the canning sector and to a lesser extent in the fresh and frozen processed seafood sectors. The canning sector has the highest production volume. Tuna is the most important species, amounting to 331 941 tonnes worth €1.79 billion in 2021. Other key species going to canning include sardine and anchovy. In the past few years, the Spanish fish processing sector has seen mixed trends due to macroeconomic challenges in the country, but the fish and seafood canning industry has kept its position, both domestically and internationally, by creating niche markets and maintaining premium prices.

The large capacity of the domestic fish and seafood markets and the high rate of consumption means Spain relies heavily on imports. The country is also a large exporter, mainly to the EU, which absorbs over three quarters of its exports.

The total import of fisheries and aquaculture products reached 1.78 million tonnes in 2022, amounting to €9.1 billion. Over 73% of imports in terms of both volume and value came from outside the EU, with Morocco and Ecuador being the major suppliers, while Sweden and Portugal were the major EU suppliers. Spanish imports were predominantly composed of crustaceans and molluscs, which made up 35% of the total fisheries and seafood import volumes and 43% of the value.

The total exports of fisheries and aquaculture products amounted to 1.19 million tonnes worth €5.49 billion, where the EU countries received 63% of the volume and 76% of the value. Spain exports its fisheries and aquaculture products to a wide range of countries with Italy (30% of the value), Portugal (17%), and France (14%) as the main destinations. Outside the EU the United States was the major receiver of Spanish exports with a 4% share of the value. Tunas and cephalopods are the most exported commodities, while molluscs, canned products, and frozen fish are the most exported product groups in terms of value.


In 2022, the volume of fish consumed in Spanish households reached its lowest point in the historical series, marking a 32.8% reduction since 2008, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. The most significant decreases were observed in fresh seafood, molluscs, and crustaceans (-45%) and fresh fish (-38.6%). Consumption of cooked shellfish, molluscs, and crustaceans also declined (-15.1%), while canned shellfish and fish consumption showed a rare increase over the last 15 years (+6%).

In 2022, the per-person annual fish consumption in Spain was 19.9 kilograms, down from 22.72 kg in 2021. Notably, the lowest intake was observed among children and young people, highlighting the need to prioritize their consumption behaviour.

The primary factor behind this significant decline is the increase in prices, which rose by an average of 7.4% in the past year, reaching €9.99. The per capita expenditure on fisheries and aquaculture products in 2022 was €191.58 per household.


According to Spain’s EMFAF Operational Program 2021–2027, the marine fisheries sector in Spain faces challenges in terms of its sustainability at both the biological and economic level. The Spanish fleet is highly diversified with specific needs as well as challenges in each category. The fisheries sector is making investments in ports and on board to improve the quality and added value of fisheries products. Measures also include diversification of fishery and fishery-related activities, promoting entrepreneurship (particularly among young fishermen), improving the added value and use of previously unwanted catches, and enhancing safety on board. EMFAF funding will also focus on the protection of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems. The aim is to make the profession both more attractive and more competitive.

EU funding will support investment in the fisheries, aquaculture, and processing industries to boost competitiveness and sustainability. Elements underpinning such a development include adjusting fleet capacity to available resources, reducing energy consumption, developing the production of higher added value products, and ensuring environmental sustainability. In this context, particular attention will be paid to measures reducing the impact of fisheries on the marine environment and to efforts to protect aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems through marine protected areas.

The main challenges of the processing sector are not specific only to the seafood sector but affect most Spanish industries: difficulties in accessing credits, lack of internationalisation, and the need to increase the value addition to products.

Useful Links for Spain

If any of the above listed links do not work or if you have a relevant link to add, please send us an email here.

You may also like