A team of European aquaculture experts will begin a four-year study worth almost €7 million to establish new strategies and models for sustainable growth in the industry.
The Tools for Assessment and Planning of Aquaculture Sustainability (TAPAS) project, led by the University of Stirling, will create cost-efficient management tools and practices for the European aquaculture sector to investigate the scope of fish and shellfish farming activity in a location, social interactions, potential environmental impacts and any future risks.
Professor Trevor Telfer of the Institute of Aquaculture is leading the multi-partner study which starts this month and will seek to establish a comprehensive "toolbox" to support transparent and efficient licensing, enhance environment sustainability and aquatic food security while tapping into the potential for food production and jobs.
Professor Telfer said: "As a Consortium we will evaluate structures currently in operation across the EU's seas, lakes and rivers, examining various environments and developing new approaches to deliver computer-based support systems for sustainable aquaculture expansion."
This work is in line with the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive to protect marine environments more effectively and will provide consistent real-time monitoring, observation, early forecasting and management technologies.
Dr Ian Payne of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, said: "As Europe continues to produce millions of tonnes of food each year, we want to ensure this industry is feeding the world in a sustainable way, while taking care of the environment. By developing new, flexible and unified approaches to aquaculture planning we aim to strengthen sustainable growth in the vital marine and freshwater sectors."
The research team will collaborate with industry, regulators, certifiers and other stakeholders to ensure the toolbox they create is accessible, using training and outreach activities to improve the image of European aquaculture and promote an integrated sustainability strategy.
Dr Stefan Simis of Plymouth Marine Laboratory added: "The breadth of experience gained through our 15 consortium partners brings together sophisticated technologies, such as computer models and satellite observations, and decision making capabilities into a streamlined toolkit for regulators and producers throughout Europe."
The collaborative work will play a major role in the European Commission's strategy to achieve smart growth in aquaculture production across the region's seas. Key drivers for the economy, these waters presently represent approximately 5.4 million jobs and generate a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year.
Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod said: "Today's announcement of €7 million to improve the future sustainability of aquaculture as part of the Tools for Assessment and Planning of Aquaculture Sustainability project is great news. This significant award reinforces Scotland's reputation as an international centre of excellence at the forefront of aquaculture science, technology and research.
"Scotland, with its world class fish farming sector generates £1.86 billion of economic activity every year and supports 8,300 jobs. This industry has fantastic potential to achieve further sustainable growth, aided by our cutting edge research capability such as that at Stirling, often in co-operation with international partners."