INTEGRATE fosters cooperation for industrial transition towards Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) in the Atlantic Area

Final results webinar Session 1: the INTEGRATE project

In this session (full video available here) an introduction and overview of the project was presented by project coordinator Martha Bonnet Dunbar (CTAQUA), giving a brief overview of why the INTEGRATE project was developed and how. The reasons behind conceiving the INTEGRATE project were the following:

  1. Need for environmentally sustainable approaches to diversification of the aquaculture sector, as a growing industry in the bioeconomy
  2. Need to overcome remaining hurdles: IMTA in the AA is limited by socio-economic, administrative and regulatory challenges, although its implementation is encouraged by major policies, such as the EU Blue Growth Strategy, the Atlantic Action Plan, and Regional Innovation Strategies
  3. Need for industry relevant definition of IMTA in the European AA: previous EU FP7 project IDREEM more clearly defined barriers faced by IMTA, and how these can be overcome, including appropriate standards and certification that can be adopted by the industry and understood by policy-makers and consumers.

The partnership identified 4 main objectives for the implementation of the project, with the final goal of successfully implementing IMTA in the European Atlantic Area:

  1. To strengthen collaborative networking around eco-efficient aquaculture techniques
  2. To communicate the principles and benefits of IMTA and raise awareness of IMTA’s holistic approach
  3. To achieve market consolidation of EU sustainable seafood
  4. And to fulfil Atlantic Area & European Union regional goals as the industry transitions to resource-efficient technologies: so the promotion of green and blue growth in aquaculture

In terms of implementation, the project was divided into 6 work packages, work packages 4 to 6 focussing on the more scientific activities, like the pilot actions and environmental modelling, and accompanied by the first 3 supportive and transversal work packages with the aim of capitalising the knowledge generated and successfully communicating the results to the industry, academia, public administration and society at large. Taken together, the implemented activities helped the partnership develop and understand different models of IMTA implementation, their challenges and limitations and solutions to overcome these. As well as the socio-economic, regulatory and administrative hurdles in each partner country, focusing on the commonalities rather than the differences.
Starting off the more scientific part of the webinar, Bertrand Jacquemin (CEVA) and Jessica Ratcliff (NUIG) discussed what IMTA means and how it is perceived in the Atlantic Are and beyond. The first step was to develop s State-of-the-Art review of the common practices of IMTA in the Atlantic Area, work that is currently under peer-review for publication. The starting assumption of the literature review was that all cultivated aquatic organisms can be used within IMTA systems and that there was no expectation and/or a priori about the content of the articles. A two level analysis was applied to the resulting database, i.e. a quantitative followed by a qualitative analysis. The first result found was that there has been a rising interest in IMTA in the AA countries since 1996. A dominance of marine IMTA was observed in the AA countries, most likely due to a higher number and diversity of cultivated species for larger markets for products from the sea. There was also a dominance of technical studies above environmental, social and economic studies, which is explained by the simple fact that before evaluating why to implement IMTA we must know how to implement it. In conclusion the review highlights a common strategy within the Atlantic Area, and since AA countries show a common interest with complementary skills an efficient international collaboration is possible but a consensus is needed about what is behind the acronym of IMTA.

The INTEGRATE approach to defining IMTA

Starting from this basic need for a consensus of a definition for IMTA, the Integrate project developed its own approach toward this goal. Three main parts comprised this approach, i.e. a series of roundtables in each AA partner country, a questionnaire or IMTA experts and a definition event that took place in May 2019 in Porto, Portugal. The series of roundtables organised in each country were focussed on one aspect of IMTA each, i.e. technical, environmental, economic and social/regulatory. These 21 roundtables gathered a total of 350 participants across the countries to discuss bottlenecks to IMTA development and solutions to overcome these. The analyses of the outcomes of these roundtables has allowed commonalities and divergences among the AA countries to emerge. One main commonality was the frequently articulate desire or perceived need for a European definition of IMTA. Thus result led to an increase of the scope of the project to include further investigation of what this definition might be. As a starting point a questionnaire was designed to be sent to experts working within IMTA or knowledgeable of IMTA in order to understand in clear terms how IMTA is conceived. As with the roundtables this questionnaire included technical, social, regulatory, environmental and economic areas of IMTA.  An interesting result was that there was already actually quite a bit of consensus among the respondents. Through analysis, it became clear where consensus was totally lacking and areas where consensus existed but discussion was needed in order to tease out detail and specifics. Based on these results, questions were formulated and discussed at an IMTA definition event in May 2019. With 40 international experts in discussion sessions, followed by a synopsis of the discussions resulting in a draft definition for feedback from the experts and finally a consensus on a European definition of IMTA: “Enhanced production of aquatic organisms (with or without terrestrial component) of two or more functional groups, that are trophically connected by demonstrated nutrient flows and whose biomass is fully or partially removed by harvesting.”