Following the publication of an Aquaculture Overview for the Norwegian Sea in 2021, the Celtic Seas becomes the second ICES ecoregion to have an Aquaculture Overview developed. The overview, published this week, provides up-to-date information on aquaculture activities as well as aquaculture science within the ecoregions.
Francis O'Beirn, Marine Institute, Ireland has been spearheading the latest publication. He is the Irish member of ICES Science Committee (SCICOM) and has been working with aquaculture in various ICES groups for the past 20 years.
Building on our expertise
"While the Aquaculture Overviews are a new advisory product, they are modelled closely on the more longstanding products, the Ecosystem and Fisheries Overviews" says O'Beirn.
ICES has extensive experience with Ecosystem and Fisheries Overviews. With these advisory products, information is provided on the status of fisheries and fish stocks in our ecoregions, as well as overviews of the state of the ecoregions themselves, using the ecosystem-based approach.
O'Beirn says, "It was felt that ICES needed to become more involved in the provision of advice related to aquaculture". However, providing advice on aquaculture meant taking a different approach. ICES member countries have signed international agreements to work together on fish stocks outside of national jurisdictions – as aquaculture typically occurs within a country's domain, there aren't such agreements in place.
"So we surveyed a number of stakeholders within ICES region", says O'Beirn, "that included environmental NGOs, regulatory bodies, and academics. We sought input from them as to what should constitute an overview. What information would they like to see? What information was missing? Their responses formed the basis of these overviews".
The resulting overviews have relevance to stakeholders such as regulatory bodies and environmental NGOs, but also to the public. "They might be considered a one-stop shop for information on aquaculture in a particular ecoregion, wherein summary information can be found on the species cultured, the level of production, the socio-economic importance, and also identifying important environmental interactions and acknowledging the interactions with other users in the area".
The overviews also include available information on aquaculture systems used in an ecoregion: history of production as well as the regulatory and management frameworks in different areas of that ecoregion.
The Celtic Seas ecoregion comprises much of the UK and all of Ireland with aquaculture practiced in all coastal waters, intertidal and subtidal. In terms of aquaculture production, it is considered more diverse than the Norwegian Sea: species produced include a wide range of finfish, shellfish and seaweeds. The overview process began a year ago for the Celtic Seas ecoregion, which relied on input from five regulatory jurisdictions. "That presented a challenge because different countries have different regulatory regimes. In particular, in the UK aquaculture is a devolved matter, so the regulation and management is handled separately within each jurisdiction" says O'Beirn.
The overview also presented some interesting information in relation to aquaculture in the ecoregion. "In particular, the importance of aquaculture for coastal and isolated communities from a socio-economic perspective was highlighted – it appears to be a very important contributor to those economies and to people living in those areas.
In the Norwegian Sea, the primary aquaculture activity is finfish farming. In the Celtic Seas, while finfish farming is also the primary activity in Scotland, shellfish culture is also extremely important, particularly in Ireland and parts of the UK (molluscs dominate in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, and Wales, in terms of production and number of enterprises). This diversity in terms of production systems used and geographic spread also highlights a number of issues relating to environmental interactions. For example, "How does shellfish culture interact with species and habitats of conservations importance, including shorebird species and what management actions can be applied to mitigate any risks identified?", asks O'Beirn, “these are issues that need ongoing consideration and are the subject of ongoing research in the ecoregion".
Filling the gaps
As well as considering future projections, that is, whether or not aquaculture might develop in an area, another important aspect is that these products identify where there are gaps in knowledge. "And it will be up to the ICES community to maybe fill those gaps in the future", says O'Beirn.
"It provides a lot for future discussions", says Ann-Lisbeth Agnalt, Institute of Marine Research, Norway, and Chair of ICES Aquaculture Steering Group, "there is always talk of increasing aquaculture production and products. Within ICES, aquaculture is not yet as big as fisheries but it is going to grow in the future, so I think this also provides the foundation for fruitful discussions on where to grow and how to grow and take into consideration the environmental impact, the social and economic aspects of it as well".
Agnalt listens to these emerging discussions on knowledge gaps in the overview workshops. "You see new scientific areas of importance surfacing - which feeds into my position and the possibility of creating new expert groups on these aspects as they will be important for the overviews – animal welfare, sustainable feed, food safety and nutrition – these are three examples of areas that have emerged from the Aquaculture Overview discussions".
ICES Advisory Committee Chair Mark Dickey-Collas is excited about this publication, "This is the second Aquaculture Overview that ICES has published. It integrates the environmental and social-economic aspects of marine aquaculture in the Celtic Seas - that has not been done before. I think that it will be a powerful resource to planners, managers, and decision-makers".
“They are extremely important for ICES and ICES community", says O'Beirn, "given the global emphasis on the expansion of aquaculture, ICES needs to be a player. ICES has the tools to work closely with regulators, industry, and environmental NGOs on all of the aspects relating to the science – and to broaden it out and draw in the expertise from oceanography and, importantly, the whole socio-economic side. I think this is a very important aspect that needs to be considered with regard to these overviews – and within ICES in general."
Agnalt also sees the overviews having an impact beyond ICES. "If you're moving into an area where different institutions are not cooperating, I think this can identify a gap in knowledge so you can also provide a better foundation for better cooperation in the future. I also work with developing countries in aquaculture and it's quite interesting to see how these are received", says Agnalt, "This is the way forward, also on a global level. And with my role, I can promote this work of ICES".
Read the overviews
The newly published Celtic Seas ecoregion – Aquaculture Overview and the updated Norwegian Sea ecoregion – Aquaculture Overview are now available to view and download in ICES library.
The accompanying scientific reports from the Workshop on the Celtic Seas Aquaculture Overview and the Workshop on the Norwegian Sea Aquaculture Overview can also be found in ICES library.
Oyster farm, Woodstown Bay, Waterford, Ireland.