Governance and Outlook — Seafish

European Sea Bass

Dicentrachus labrax

Governance and Outlook


Governance systems play an important part in ensuring environmental sustainability, and whilst these have evolved rapidly with the growth of the industry, there are differences between regions and countries. Poor governance can result in industry stagnation, the spread of preventable diseases, environmental damage and opposition to aquaculture activities by local communities and groups such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Key governance responsibilities are ensuring environmental assessment and decision making processes are in place for sensitive and coastal ecosystems, which help deliver sustainable aquaculture whilst managing possible adverse impacts. Other regulatory and governance aspects should cover aspects such as water abstraction and discharge, health monitoring, and so forth.

Four principles – accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of governments, equity, and predictability of the rule of law – are necessary for effective aquaculture governance. These principles should guide the administration, legislative and regulatory framework of aquaculture. In addition to governments, other stakeholders such as communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and producers should also be involved in the governance of the industry1.

Sea bass farming is largely undertaken in European countries (EU) or in the European Economic Area (EEA) of the Mediterranean, where governance systems are in place to support aquaculture development2. EU/EEA regulations require all aquaculture production businesses to be registered with the authorities. There are also a range of important environmental regulations that sea bass producers need to adhere to, to minimise the potential adverse impacts aquaculture may pose to the environment. These typically regulate site location (planning), the use of chemicals and veterinary medicines, release of nutrients, escapes of farmed animals and other key environmental issues. Disease risks are also tightly regulated in producer countries with inspection schemes to confirm farms are free of serious (i.e. notifiable) diseases.


Production of European sea bass has grown strongly in the last decade and represents a successful aquaculture industry. Production in cages has increased, but the on-going consequences of the global financial crisis of 2007–2009, and the Eurozone debt crisis from the end of 2009 have to some extent limited growth of the sector, particularly in Greece. However, in Turkey growth has been less constrained by economic factors and has seen substantial increases in sea bass production.

Farmed sea bass from the Mediterranean is mostly for export, mainly to mainland Europe, particularly Italy and Spain. Greece exports around 70% of its domestic production, and exports have expanded into new markets, such as the UK, Germany and France. Trade in sea bass seed includes not only the largest producer countries, but countries such Italy, Spain and France which help supply grow-out farms across the Mediterranean.

As sea bass aquaculture grew between 1990 and 2002, production costs were driven down and product saturated the market. Prices subsequently declined rapidly by more than two-thirds; this can be attributed to the limited demand from smaller, more traditional markets for sea bass (mainly in southern Europe), the lack of diversified products, and limited focus on market development and promotion at the time. However, the drop in price subsequently opened up new markets and helped expand existing ones.

Acceptable profit margins for sea bass producers can only be sustained through further improvements in productivity and product diversification. In recent years the sector has found new market opportunities which show increasing trends in sea bass consumption (e.g. Russia and the US).

Greek and Turkish sea bass (and sea bream) production are likely to continue to dominate Mediterranean aquaculture for the foreseeable future2. The outlook for the farmed sea bass sector in 2017 was cautiously positive3, so long as prices are maintained at economically sustainable levels. However, this is dependent on the rate of production volume growth and the progress made towards farm cost reductions, as well as market demand.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has recently (September 2018) launched a specific standard which incorporates sea bass, sea bream and meagre4.


  1. FAO
  2. FAO
  3. Globefish
  4. ASC