Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) has the potential to deliver greater productivity and reduced environmental impact for the European aquaculture industry. IMTA systems can be environmentally responsible, diverse, profitable and a source of employment in coastal regions across Europe.These are some of the highlights of the special IMTA session held on 21st September at the Aquaculture Europe 2016 Conference in Edinburgh, organized by the European Aquaculture Society. The session chaired by Prof Kenny Black and Dr Adam Hughes (Scottish Association for Marine Science) presented the key outcomes of IDREEM, a collaborative research project launched in 2012, to move IMTA beyond the current state of the art and to demonstrate its viability for the European aquaculture sector.
“The whole idea of IDREEM was to put the industry at the centre of the project. It wasn’t about just research, but rather about mapping and benchmarking industry as it developed different IMTA production systems in Europe, says Dr Hughes, project coordinator. After four years of hands-on practical experience, the project has achieved a better understanding for aquaculture producers. Research and has shown that, even though the conditions are not yet fully in place in Europe for the wide scale adoption of IMTA, there is a growing commercial interest, consumer demand, and an economic and environment case for the adoption of IMTA, as well as clear policy drivers for its future development”.
The work carried out by 15 partners across Europe has gone a long way to develop IMTA into a practical proposition for European aquaculture. Through the life of the project seven different fin-fish producers have IMTA operations in place, and the first IMTA products have been brought to market and sold. Thus, the project has made real steps towards the development of IMTA through improved scientific and economic understanding and practical adoption. Nevertheless, several barriers still hamper the full commercial uptake of IMTA. “We spent a lot of time trying to understand the regulatory framework for the development of IMTA”, Dr Hughes says. “There is a policy driver for IMTA in National and European policy but there seems to be a gap between the policy and the regulation. For some countries the process of getting a licence for IMTA can be smooth and for others it can take several years. This acts as a large barrier especially for SMEs”.
The project has also identified they key steps that are necessary to move forward with commercial IMTA. One of these is the development of standards for defining IMTA and for establishing a certification system, that the industry can adopt and that can be understood by consumers and industry alike. Another point is to pursue a water body approach, rather than a farm-scale approach, to IMTA and to aquaculture management, in a more balanced way within a wider ecosystem, also to manage the social and environmental impacts. Furthermore, there is a need for a better understanding of technical and biological constraints of benthic IMTA, so that the deposition of waste from the fish cages could be used to develop efficient turnover of sediments and growth of harvestable product. Benthic species in an IMTA system offer the best directly measurable change in nutrient loading and are therefore a promising target for an IMTA development. Finally, we need to develop a market for aquaculture seaweed in Europe, as seaweed is a crucial component of most IMTA systems. For seaweeds to make a significant contribution to nutrient reduction they need to be grown in larger volumes than has been practiced to date. Meeting these challenges will require a large and combined effort, through policy makers, regulators, industry and research. Once these conditions are in place, IMTA will increasingly become an important tool for the development of the economic and environmental sustainability of the European aquaculture industry.
These findings are also well detailed in the final project publication “Beyond Monoculture -Developing Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture in Europe”, which was released on the occasion of the IMTA session at Aquaculture Europe 2016. Thie book outlines the activities, the main results and the lessons learnt during the four years of the project, including the experiences of the research and industry partners in managing seven different IMTA pilot systems in very diverse conditions across Europe.