Exciting times for aquaculture on the Canaries

by Thomas Jensen
Minister Canary Islands

Promising new species being considered for commercial production on the Canary Islands

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 3 2022.

The Canary Islands have an aquaculture sector dominated by the production of seabream and seabass. Production has showed a slight downward trend over the years but there are a number of interesting developments on the horizon. These include the production of new fish species, algae, and even of octopus. The latter would be the first time ever that octopus is farmed and would represent a feather in the cap of the aquaculture sector on the islands. Alicia Vanoostende Simili, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of the Government of the Canary Islands describes here of some of the initiatives taken by the government to promote the sector.

The Spanish national aquaculture strategy 2021-27 is due to be published shortly. What are your government’s priorities with regard to the aquaculture sector on the Canary Islands?

Policy in the European Union has for many years considered aquaculture a strategic sector and one of the fundamental pillars of the Blue Growth strategy. During this period, the Canary Islands will continue working for the development of sustainable aquaculture, generating wealth and encouraging innovation. We are one of the few Autonomous Communities that has an activity management plan and has experienced stable productions for years, which we hope will grow both in quantity and in added value.

The aquaculture industry has identified several obstacles including the bureaucracy involved in getting permits, the multiple authorities that have a say in the governance of the sector, and the issue of allocation zones for aquaculture. What measures have been implemented by the government of the Canary Islands to reduce or remove these constraints?

We speak of marine aquaculture and therefore of concessions in the maritime-terrestrial public domain, where the procedures are long and multiple agents intervene, which adds complexity. The Canary Islands have had a Regional Aquaculture Management Plan (PROAC) since 2018. This framework clearly defines the areas, species and farming methods. Since last year, the first public tenders have been held to obtain new concessions, and this ministry has made all the necessary efforts to resolve them. In addition, an important coordination effort between the national and regional administrations continues to be developed to streamline the administrative processes necessary to obtain aquaculture concessions and authorisations.

Close cooperation between research and industry is necessary for a thriving aquaculture sector. How does the government foster this collaboration, and are there examples of commercially successful applications that have resulted from the government’s efforts?

In the Canary Islands we have European reference centres in the field of research and innovation in marine sciences and aquaculture. Current aquaculture production in the Canary Islands focuses on the production of sea bream, sea bass and some species of algae. The Canary Islands Regional Management Plan for Aquaculture (PROAC) includes other species on which development is proceeding with a view ultimately to transfer the productive to commercial actors. The new concessions in progress already include other species of significant commercial interest as productive species, such as the amberjack (Seriola dumerili) and the red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). The government of the Canary Islands will continue working on the transfer to the industry of native and commercially viable species.

The impacts of climate change are also being felt by the aquaculture sector as water temperatures rise and extreme ­natural phenomena (heat waves, storms, drought, etc.) become more common. How is the government encouraging the sector to become more resilient?

The Canary Islands have their own disadvantages due to their ­archipelagic nature and remoteness, but they also have differentiating elements that have allowed them certain competitive advantages. Aquaculture production from the Canary Islands offers unbeatable quality, the quality of our waters as well as the good work of our companies have led to farmed seafood from the Canary Islands being positioned on premium markets. It is worth praising the important effort made by the private sector for this, and it is an example to be followed by other seafood producers from the archipelago. The new species we understand will allow a greater adaptation and resistance to the new climatic situations that we can expect.

Farmed fish production on the Canary Islands has largely stagnated with some fluctuations up and down in the last few years. To what do you attribute this lack of consistent growth in the aquaculture sector? Can the government play a role in changing this?

The situation of stagnation in production occurred after the crisis in the sector in 2008, a crisis that also affected the Canary Islands. In addition to this, our Autonomous Community began at that time the preliminary work for the drafting of the Regional Management Plan for Aquaculture. Until the approval in July 2018 of the management plan, the creation of new facilities was impossible which explains the stagnation of production on the islands.

Recently five tenders to obtain new concessions were launched following the identification of areas of interest for aquaculture in the Canary Islands. In the coming years there will be a progressive increase in production that will allow the Canary Islands to once again become one of the main regions in the development of aquaculture. There are also land-based projects of interest, such as the cultivation of octopus, which will add to the Canary Islands’ international reputation for farmed fish and seafood.

What is the perception of farmed fish among consumers on the Canary Islands? Are efforts being made to increase the consumption of farmed seafood, for example by promotion campaigns? Does the government itself encourage the consumption of farmed seafood given that health benefits that are associated with it?

Aquaculture fish has gradually and slowly entered the shopping baskets of European consumers. The Canary Islands have not been an exception to this trend. The aquaculture production of the Canary Islands is exported for the most part, but in the last decade it presence has increased on the shelves of supermarkets and fishmongers, as well as at restaurants. We have an important floating population of tourists (15m in 2019) that values ​​our gastronomy and fresh produce, and farmed fish is among the seafood on offer. The new species will surely contribute to increasing consumption and will promote aquaculture as a source of safe, high-quality products available all the year around.

At the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries we have recently launched a campaign for the promotion of farmed seafood from our islands that highlights the benefits of these ­products, many of which have been endorsed by well-known national and international chefs.

The Spanish Bank of Algae bank and the Institute of Technology of the Canary Islands have facilities for research into and production of algae. With these two institutions as well as private companies located on the Canary Islands what is the government’s strategy for this potentially exciting field which is also being encouraged by the EU?

New species of algae have recently been introduced in the Regional Plan for the Management of Aquaculture in the Canary Islands at the suggestion and proposal of the Spanish Bank of Algae and the Institute of Technology of the Canary Islands. From the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries we can only support and promote the search for and study of new species with high food and/or pharmacological value. The government‘s strategy in this area is therefore to take advantage of the conditions on the Canary Islands and support, as far as possible, private and public initiatives for their development.

The main farmed species produced on the Canary Islands are seabass and seabream. In time, octopus and seriola may also be produced there. Is diversification of species an aim of the government and how is this ­encouraged?

Diversification in terms of farmed species is found at the very core of the Canary Islands Regional Management Plan for Aquaculture and includes mechanisms for their introduction on our coasts. The management plan also envisages the introduction of other species not contemplated at the time of its approval. The introduction of new species that allows greater adaptation to international markets and improves the economies of companies in the archipelago is an aspect that is promoted by the different administrations on the islands, but it is the Canarian companies that are the real drivers of these changes. In the recent tender for concessions, the cultivation of amberjack and red porgy is being considered, and the great interest in the cultivation of octopus in Canary waters is also known. In the coming years there will be a quantitative and qualitative leap in aquaculture on the Canary Islands that will be the result of the public-private work that has been carried out in the last five years.

One of the constraints facing the aquaculture sector in Europe in general is the conflicts that arise between different users of the coast. What is the situation on the Canary Islands with regard to the identification and declaration of allocation zones for aquaculture?

The compatibility of different activities in the marine environment is one of the great challenges facing administrations in Europe. The management of marine waters and extracting the maximum possible returns without affecting the natural environment as envisaged in the Blue Economy is one of the sustainability goals of the Canary Islands. I have already mentioned that a long-term effort was made to zone aquaculture activity that ended in July 2018 with the publication in the Official Bulletin of the Regional Plan for the Management of Aquaculture in the Canary Islands. This plan categorises the maritime-terrestrial public domain into zones denoted as: prohibited, suitable, and of aquaculture interest. In addition, it included the location of aquaculture farms existing at that time, the names of prohibited species, and those of aquaculture interest. The types of aquaculture establishments and their technical characteristics were also set out in the plan, among other issues.

The plan is a dynamic management instrument that enables the introduction of new species as well as other modifications using an already approved procedure. The compatibility of aquaculture with other uses of the area is a path that we have begun to explore also in the archipelago with the combination of tourism with fisheries and aquaculture activities. The ­Government of the Canary Islands is convinced that artisanal fishing and aquaculture can and should be an added tourist attraction of the Islands.

How do you anticipate different EU strategies, such as farm to fork, green deal, etc. affecting the aquaculture sector on the Canary Islands? Do you see them leading to better conditions and more investment in the sector?

By 2023 the Canary Islands will finish the projects receiving the support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) assigned to our islands because of the boost that aquaculture is enjoying at the moment on the archipelago. Thanks to this record, our Autonomous Community has managed to maintain its allocation of support in the European Maritime, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Fund, which is the new fund to support the implementation of the EU‘s maritime, fisheries and aquaculture policies for the period 2021-2027. The sustainable and responsible aquaculture carried out on our coasts is compatible with the other strategies promoted by the European Union, which is why projects promoted by the Canary Islands receive support from EU funds. We have an important job ahead of us in terms of making use of the support available to producers of certain fisheries and aquaculture products on the Canary Islands under a government programme called POSEICAN Pesca. We are the only ­outermost region of the Union that has successfully developed this activity and the coming years will be decisive.

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