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

The INTEGRATE expert groups: Thematic Roundtables

Since Spring of 2018 when the technical workshops were completed by all partners, there has been a lot of workshop activity! Although we have not been able to coordinate timing of each workshop between all countries we have all been busy discussing the different IMTA topics of economics, social and regulatory aspects, and environmental aspects. A few of the main points from each of the workshop topics are summarised below. There will be a complete synthesised report of all workshops that have taken place produced later this year – keep your eye out for it on the INTEGRATE website or Twitter account!


Economic (Ireland – 12 experts, France – 16 experts)

Ireland: During a brainstorming session, each workshop participant was asked to come up with their top priorities for concepts to include in an economic best-practice definition. Of the 30 ideas submitted, 14 were contained in the first 2 categories: Ecosystem Services (7 contributions) – including the importance of incorporating non-market values, and Market Development (7 contributions) including market development for new IMTA products. The third category (4 contributions) was to do with Cooperation – and finding ways to incentivise cooperation between producers of different trophic levels. There was therefore quite some consistency between participants as to what should be included in the definition, and quite a few ideas for how this definition might be achieved.


The Irish experts discussing about economic bottlenecks and challenges for the development of IMTA.


France: This workshop took place on Monday 25th March, so the synthesis is under progress. The morning session was time to oral presentations in order to share information and initiate the discussion. In the afternoon, participants were split into 3 working groups with the same objectives: 1/ identify the key points which should be considered to build an “economic” definition of IMTA; 2/ Identify the economic bottlenecks to the development of IMTA; 3/ identify the priority axes for its development.

Social (Ireland – 22, Portugal – 23, Spain – 12, France – 16)

The main common point between Ireland, Portugal and France is the difficulty some people had with the IMTA acronym. It was suggested that this was off-putting and that the ‘multi-trophic’ phrase lost people as it is not intuitive to those outside ‘science’ communities. Seeing as few people know about IMTA in Ireland (< 20% of the general population) this could be deemed a problem. Related to this was a point about the lack of effective communication with those outside the aquaculture community…. A general conclusion was that while IMTA is an intuitive concept to those working within aquaculture, this is not being transmitted to those outside aquaculture, who are largely unfamiliar with it. In particular it will be necessary to demonstrate the concept to decision-makers. A degree of caution in how IMTA is promoted was considered necessary due to the sometimes-negative perception of finfish farming – and that other species in an IMTA system might suffer from the association. Somewhat contrary to this, not all finfish producers do find the concept of IMTA intuitive. Restricted access to marine installations and potential increased risk of fish diseases are two of the reasons to which fish producers refer in justifying their desire not to have other species close to fish cages.

France: An Eco-label might be a way to promote the environmental benefits, and then increase the social acceptance. But one must pay attention not to downgrade the other aquaculture sectors. IMTA must not replace other traditional aquaculture products.

Participatory process to build the IMTA projects: The conception of a new aquaculture sector based of the common interest. The IMTA activity must be integrated to the territory and to the activities already in place. The co-construction of the projects might be undertaken by alternative structures such as local authorities or marine areas, perceived as more neutral than local fisheries and aquaculture administration or professional organization by several stakeholders. So, a work on the representativeness of different stakeholders should be done: shellfish farmers must be represented to the management committees of watersheds, but residents and environmental NGOs should also be represented to marine culture committees, to increase concertation.


  French experts group working on the “social” definition and perspectives of IMTA


Bottlenecks for the development of best practices: 1/ the difficulty to ensure the traceability and the sanitarian safety for aquaculture products; 2/ the difficulties to set-up a label, especially because land-based and at-sea systems are too different to allow one standardized label. 3/ Technical aspects in relation with social issues (Insuring the local provenance of the farmed species, new skills needed for the employees, increased prices of these products); 4/ Lack of knowledge of the marine environment.

Priority areas for development: 1/Demonstrate the environmental benefits of the different systems and communicate on it. 2/Promotion of local production and find a place for IMTA and without downgrading the traditional aquaculture sectors. 3/Education, training and cooperation: Skill improvement is required to develop IMTA. Aquaculture employees might be demanding for training. 4/ Develop socio-economic studies to experience the profitability of such systems.


Spain: CTAQUA hosted the second Spanish roundtable to discuss IMTA social issues at its headquarters in el Puerto de Santa María on 25 January 2019. The event gathered 12 experts from academia, the aquaculture industry, relevant Spanish authorities, certifying organisations and specialised media.

Participants were split into pairs and asked to answer the following set of questions about IMTA and its social implications:

  • How could we capitalise the benefits of IMTA, e.g. market acceptability, ecolabels, etc.?
  • What is your point of view on social issues affecting the implementation of IMTA best practices, e.g. potential conflicts with other economic activities in the area, other types of aquaculture, etc.?
  • To what extent are current regulations obstructing/encouraging IMTA development?
  • What are the most important issues to consider when defining IMTA best practices?

Experts then discussed their answers as a group and the issues identified were later prioritised by means of an online questionnaire.

The conclusion drawn was that, from a social standpoint, the future development of IMTA rests on three pillars:

  • The suitability of the regulatory framework.
  • Food safety issues around IMTA products.

IMTA’s potential for job creation and improved consumer acceptability.


Spanish experts working on the “social” approach of IMTA


Environmental (Ireland – 22, Portugal – 23, France 29)

 In Portugal, it was suggested that IMTA should be developed and explained as a contributing process for the sustainability of the aquatic environment; meaning that it is not enough to assert IMTA as less polluting, but above all as a useful tool for the CIRCULAR ECONOMY, capable of producing “protein for direct / indirect human feeding through the recycling of by-products or organic waste. It should also be valued and evaluated as a producer of living organisms important for the conservation of marine ecosystems (detritivores, filter feeders, primary producers) in a site-specific manner and depending on the need for “reconstruction of the environment” and the trophic niche and / or ecosystem service that it performs. Here we can see the impossibility of separating IMTA into discrete topics of environmental/economic/social etc.


IPMA has mobilized an important group of experts to address the environmental aspect of IMTA


France: Bottlenecks for the development of IMTA: 1/ the complexity of IMTA applications (diversity of systems and associated good practices; Relevance of a common certification regarding the diversity of the systems questioned). 2/Lack of knowledges (difficulty to build common indicators; Lack of methodology for environmental evaluation and monitoring especially for open-sea systems; Species associations / interactions; Cost of the environmental surveys and lack of human resources). Pursue effort in different research fields: 1/Improve knowledge about aquaculture’s impact on the environment (especially for open-sea systems). Measure the impact of the system to prove its environmental benefits and to solve the negative points; 2/ Find diversification solutions for small scale producers; 3/ Master the production cycle in IMTA systems and monitor the different species interactions; 4/ Modelling (investment, economic sustainability); 5/ Create a homogenised template for environmental survey with an initial state, a proper follow-up survey and relevant indicators so the different stakeholders can easily evaluate the projects with common references.


Regulatory (Scotland)

Although there has been limited development of IMTA in Scotland, at present, the concept of IMTA has a very good ‘standing’ with various government and regulatory agencies, as it is seen as a positive and beneficial development for the industry as a whole, allowing diversification while mitigating some of the negative environmental issues associated with finfish aquaculture.

IMTA was first specifically mentioned in a regulatory sense, in the Scottish Government Seaweed Cultivation Consultation, which was held in 2015.  This looked at seaweed cultivation specifically, but gave government approval for the concept of IMTA, and promoted its development.

At a lower level, there has been no negative issue with the concept of IMTA from any of the Scottish statutory bodies (SEPA, SNH, Crown Estate, Marine Scotland etc.).  If anything, each of these bodies has been very positive about the concept, as it meets many of the objectives of each organisation. To summarise, in Scotland there appears to be little conflict between the development of IMTA, and the regulatory world.  Whether or not this attitude prevails as and when IMTA broadens its scope, remains to be seen.