by Thomas Jensen
  • Capital: Madrid
  • Population: 46.7 million (2018, Eurostat)
  • GDP: €1.17 billion (2017, Eurostat)
  • GDP/capita: €25 100 (2017, 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 1.2 million tonnes of fisheries products per annum, more than any other EU country. Three fourths come from sea fishing, a quarter from aquaculture and less than one percent from inland fishing. The value of the landings in 2017 was €2 billion. The most important fish species in value terms are tuna (33%), followed by whitefish (mainly cod and hake) (15%), small pelagic fish (herring, sardine, and anchovy) (6%). Shrimp (5%) and cephalopods (6%) are also important to mention.

The fishing fleet is made up of 9 146 vessels, making it the 3rd largest in the EU. Galicia region represents almost 50% of all registered vessels, followed by Andalucía (16%), Catalonia (8%), and the Canary Islands (8%). Fishing provides employment to roughly 36 800 people


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 blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata), and European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax).

In 2016, farmed fish and shellfish production amounted to 287,281 tonnes. Of this, marine aquaculture (fish and shellfish) contributed 269,656 tonnes (94%), and around 17,625 tonnes were from freshwater aquaculture. Output from marine aquaculture comprises mostly shellfish, while 17% of the total production is marine finfish. Mussel farming is by far the biggest sector of aquaculture in terms of production volume, representing three quarters of the total aquaculture output, with mussel aquaculture in Galicia the driving force.

More than 95% of Spanish mussels’ 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 and sea bass are the main finfish species produced. Production occurs in both brackish/intertidal zones as well as marine environments. In 2016, total production of sea bass was 22 956 tonnes and sea bream 12 397 tonnes. Rainbow trout is the main species in freshwater reaching 17 353 tonnes in 2016. These three species thus represent approximately 78% of the total finfish aquaculture production.

In 2016, the total number of aquaculture enterprises was 5 105, including 4 905 marine farms and 200 freshwater farms. In the marine aquaculture sector, 4 782 farms were engaged in the farming of mussels, Japanese carpet shell (Venerupis philippinarum), and flat oysters (Ostrea edulis).

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.). While cultured turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) is already a strong presence in the market.

Processing and trade

EST Proc

Spain is home to the largest fish processing industry in Europe. There were 601 fish processing facilities in operation during 2016 with a turnover of around €4.6 billion and total employment estimated at 18 390 persons. This processing industry generated an added value of €822 million. 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 of an international scale.

The industry is mainly composed of 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 254 035 tonnes, while 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 acquiring 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 two-thirds of its exports.

The total import of fisheries and aquaculture products reached 1.78 million tonnes in 2017, he highest level in the past decade. In terms of value, imports of fisheries and aquaculture products amounted to approximately €7.1 billion, an increase of €0.47 billion from 2016. Spanish imports were predominantly composed of crustaceans, molluscs, and cephalopods, which made up 39% of the total fisheries and seafood imports in terms of value. The total export of fisheries and aquaculture products has been increasing in volume since 2013, amounting to 1.2 million tonnes in 2017. Spain exports its fisheries and aquaculture products to a wide range of countries with Italy (30%), Portugal (18%), and France (14%) as the main destinations. Tunas and cephalopods are the most exported products.


Spain is one of the largest markets for fish and seafood in Europe. In recent years, the national average apparent consumption of fisheries and aquaculture products has been generally stable with only slight fluctuations, at 45.2 kg (live weight equivalent) per capita in 2015. More than half of this volume was consumed in the home. The areas with the most frequent in-home consumption of fish are the autonomous regions of Castilla Leon, Galicia, and Asturias.

In 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain (MAPAMA) when measuring home consumption of fish and seafood products, estimated the average national household consumption at 25.5 kg per capita (product weight equivalent).


According to Spain’s EMFF Operational Program 2014–2020, 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 unwanted catches, and enhancing safety on board. EMFF 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 protecting aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems through marine protected areas. Funding will also go to projects that improve the livelihood of fishing communities by increased support for Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs), and to supporting Spanish public bodies in enforcing CFP rules and providing sound data for the management of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

Based on the multiannual strategic plan for Spanish aquaculture 2014–2020, the key issues in aquaculture are increases in production as well as homogenisation and simplification of the different aquaculture strategies and regulatory frameworks in the 17 regions of the country, which at present have different competencies and regulations. The plan stresses integrated coastal zone management and the identification of areas for aquaculture development. Another challenging issue in the upcoming period is the deployment of technology and strengthening competitiveness through research and development. All these issues will influence current production trends, drive future production growth, and influence technological progress.

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.


Below you can find the “Aquaculture in Spain in 2019” publication produced by APROMAR. For more information, you can visit

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