Beyond Monoculture Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) in Europe

Beyond Monoculture Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) in Europe

Author: Amy Firth, FAI Farms

Find out about FAI Ardtoe’s work on the potential of Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) to deliver greater productivity and reduced environmental impact for the European aquaculture industry.

Beyond Monoculture Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) in Europe

What is Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA)?

Aquaculture is the production of fish, invertebrates and plants (seaweeds) in aquatic systems and by a variety of production methods. Typically, these different types of organisms are grown separately. Integrated Multi Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is a concept where different species are grown together in such a way that the invertebrates and/or plants can recycle the nutrients that are lost from the culture of the other species.

IMTA systems can be environmentally responsible, diverse, profitable and a source of employment in coastal regions across Europe. FAI Ardtoe has been part of a 4-year collaborative research project, IDREEM, looking at moving IMTA beyond the current state of the art and demonstrating its viability for the European aquaculture sector.

Project Coordinator, Dr Hughes, explains: “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.

"After four years of hands-on practical experience, the project has achieved a better understanding for aquaculture producers. Research 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 the key steps that are necessary to move forward with commercial IMTA;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 may increasingly become an important tool for the development of the economic and environmental sustainability of the European aquaculture industry.