Europe is the part of the world that is most dependent on fish imports. This situation is due in part to the drastic cuts in local sea fish quotas and the collapse of fish stocks, which have also been observed in Sweden. The increased level of imports may have several consequences: low supply and high prices lead to a decrease in consumption, which in turn results in public-health problems as fish forms part of a healthy diet.
The fact that we make use of fish stocks in other parts of the world also contributes to over-exploitation, as well as to multinational fisheries enterprises dislodging local fishing industries. The EU, for example, has bought substantial fishing rights along the coast of Africa. Imports also lead to long-haul transport and make quality control more difficult.
At the same time, there has not been great support for the idea of making up for reduced fishing by developing Swedish fish farming. In its latest research bill, however, the Swedish Government stresses “increased knowledge for the development of aquaculture” as a high-priority area of research.
The EU has also announced research funds to improve the competitiveness of the European fish-farming industry. One consequence of this is the launch of the EU project LIFECYCLE, which is directed by Professor Thrandur Björnsson and his research team at the Department of Zoology of the University of Gothenburg.
The purpose of LIFECYCLE is to enhance knowledge of the physiology of fish so that the problems that arise in relation to the life processes of farmed fish can be tackled. Examples of such problems are disruption during larval development and growth, in metamorphosis and puberty, in immunological defence and in adaptations to the environment. Through new research, the project is intended to enhance biological knowledge of these life processes, identify answers to practical problems and improve the fish-farming process, in terms of both ethics and quality.
A total sum of SEK 130 million is being invested in the project. The EU is contributing around SEK 64 million, around ten million of which will be used at the University of Gothenburg for research on growth and development physiology, intestinal physiology, the adaptation of fish to different environments and hormonal regulation of different life processes.
”In this project we will be primarily conducting research on the four most important farmed species in Europe, Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, sea bream and European sea bass, but also on species such as cod and halibut,” says Björnsson.
Fourteen research teams from nine countries are taking part in the four-year EU project which started on 1 February 2009. In the spring, researchers involved in the project will meet in Gothenburg for detailed planning of the cooperation and large-scale trials.