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

Final results webinar Session 3: where is IMTA in the Atlantic Area heading?

The final session was devoted to the future perspectives of IMTA in the Atlantic Area, the importance of knowledge transfer, and the definition of a work framework for the development of IMTA.

Lars Brunner from SAMS started by presenting the importance of capitalisation for knowledge transfer in the INTEGRATE project. The aim of the capitalisation activities in this context is to transfer the IMTA experience and best practice into a series of events and learning materials that will take the project knowledge and disseminate it to interested stakeholders, such as students, industry partners and academia. These activities include the development of an IMTA community, in this case a LinkedIn group, training activities / teaching material for students, i.e. future professionals, which are all freely available on the project website, a series of thematic workshops on eco-efficient practices in aquaculture, as well as technical field visits (“living labs”), and the development of a supportive regulatory framework for IMTA, in the form of policy briefings for each of the Atlantic Area countries.

Following the capitalisation of the project, Marie Lesueur from Agrocampus Ouest in France presented their work on defining a framework for IMTA development: Action Plans for the Atlantic Area. One phase of the INTEGRATE project was to define a framework for IMTA development by proposing an action plan for the Atlantic Area. The objective was to study the IMTA sector in order to obtain an overview and propose recommendations in order to create a favourable context for its development. Firstly, they identified the existing IMTA sites in each country of the Atlantic Area and conducted a survey using interviews with producers, administration, technical and research institutes, and other stakeholder, also through workshops and roundtables. All the collected data were also complemented by an extensive literature review. Through this analysis, the main barriers and levers for the development of the sector were highlighted. Based on these results, a SWOT analysis was carried out at national level for each of the following aspects of IMTA: technical, social, environmental, economic and regulatory. This diagnosis was then used to draw up recommendations, which were discussed with multiple stakeholders in the aquaculture sector. The recommendations are based on the problems faced by the industry, including the difficulty to obtain production sites. One reason for this is the complex and time-consuming licensing process. Another reason is the difficulty to access space on land and at sea due to competition with other activities. Some recommendations here would be to improve licensing procedures, synthesis marine planning documents and standardise environmental surveys to homogenise licensing. An additional difficulty faced by producers is the lack of social acceptability. In fact, some projects have been restricted or even stopped following legal environmental issues. In this regard it could help to set up participatory tools to integrate IMTA projects in local area development plans, communicate the benefits of the ecosystem services provided by IMTA, and to communicate about IMTA principles and aquaculture practices, one the one hand to the industry including producers, funding organisations and decision-makers, and on the other hand, the public and consumers. Another difficulty faced is the lack of knowledge about how IMTA systems work, which makes it impossible to propose robust and economically viable models. In this regards, the recommendations are to intensity research on the interactions with the systems and with the environment, improve collaboration between scientists and the industry, and increase awareness and develop training courses to enhance innovation and develop new IMTA systems. And finally, stakeholders expressed difficulties in terms of valuation and visibility, since current systems are barely reaching commercial scale and there is no real evidence of economic sustainability. Here the main recommendations are to find solutions for the industry to diversify and ways to convert current aquaculture systems, find new species that meet the existing economic and environmental challenges, and give visibility to IMTA products in order to enable market differentiation.

As a final wrap up of the webinar, Martha Dunbar from CTAQUA gave a brief overview of conclusions and next steps. The main conclusions were that IMTA is a feasible option for the future of Atlantic Area aquaculture, there is growing interest from the industry to diversify their production for various reasons, including reducing risks through diversification, increased environmental benefits as well as non-productive activities, such as tourism. In addition, there is a growing market for sustainable products among European consumers, as well as national and European legislation. Furthermore, with the consensus of an IMTA definition as well as the technical manuals and implementation guidelines, we can help in harmonising approaches and implementation techniques for the purpose of comparison and reproducibility across countries in order to guarantee successful upscaling. A continued European and international collaboration is essential in order to further harmonise these approaches and profit from experiences gathered.