Fish farming has a long history in France. In the Middle Ages, French monks were breeding fishes in lakes and ponds. When artificial reproduction for salmon trout was established at the end of the 19th century, French salmon aquaculture soared.
Around the world, fishing captures are capped to 90 million metric tons (mt) since the 1990s, and most of the fisheries have now reached the limit of sustainable exploitations of the natural resources. Globally, fish consumption has doubled between 1973 and 2003. In France, the annual consumption of aquatic products per person has grown from 51 pounds in 1990 to 77 pounds in 2005. Fish farming is providing a new source of fish to address this consumption raise while preserving the fish species.
Aquitaine, Brittany, and Nord-Pas-de-Calais regions lead the French fish farming sector
There are currently about 500 production sites in the French territory. The regions of Aquitaine, Brittany, and Nord-Pas-de-Calais count for 65 percent of fish farming production. At the European level, France is the third largest producer of freshwater-farmed trout with an amount of 36,000 mt per year. Trout is one of the top 10 favorite fishes of French consumers.
Sustainable management for fish farming
Food used in the French fish farming sector must comply with high environmental standards outlined in European Union legislation to preserve natural resources and not to compete with human consumption. In order to utilize fish species that are not consumed by humans, fish-farm food contains 20-25 percent of fish meal, 10-15 percent of fish oil, and some plant products, vitamins, and minerals. The Agronomic Research National Institute (INRA) and the French Research Institute for Sea Exploitation (IFREMER) are conducting research about replacing raw marine materials (fish meals and fish oil) with raw plant materials. Currently, to produce 2.2 pounds of trout, you need 5.3 pounds of wild fish as feed. By 2020, French research institutions want to lower this rate to 2.2 pounds.
Another key tool for sustainable management is called “IDAqua.” It was created in 2006 by professionals, research institutes, and public administrations. Using “IDAqua,” each fish farmer can establish an environmental and economic balance sheet of his farm. The comprehensive program “ProPre” (2009-2011) was also created to do random environmental analysis of fish farms to evaluate the environmental impacts of the fish production with documented data.
Marine fish farming, a new sector in expansion
At the beginning of the 1980’s, because of the work of French research institutions (Agronomic Research National Institute, or INRA, and the French Research Institute for Sea Exploitation, or IFREMER), the marine fish farming sector soared in France. The number of marine fish farming companies increased until 2000, mostly along the Mediterranean coast. Three-quarters of French marine fish farming companies specialize in fish breeding, and the fourth quarter specialize in fish hatcheries dedicated to selling eggs and fries. Today, France produces 6,200 mt of fishes from marine farming: 3,000 mt of sea bass, 1,500 mt of gilt-head sea-bream, 300 mt of turbot, 1,400 mt of meagre and salmons, and 300 mt of sturgeon. French hatcheries are globally recognized for their expertise in fish reproduction management and juvenile breeding, and 40 percent of the marine fish farming turnover is made by exports.
A success story in the fish-farming sector: French caviar
Contrary to popular belief, caviar is not only produced in Russia. Since 1982, the European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio) has been protected and cannot be captured or sold in Europe. In order to develop sturgeon breeding in France, research institutions imported a new species from Siberia (Acipenser baeri ) with a shorter biological cycle (seven to eight years of growth instead of 15). Due to the success of Acipenser baeri reproduction in freshwater, sturgeon breeding increased in the beginning of the 1990s in the Aquitaine region.
Today, France is one of the main producers in the world with 17 companies dedicated to caviar production, amounting to 19 mt produced annually (140 mt is produced globally). For a long time, French caviar was mostly dedicated to domestic markets, but companies are now looking for export opportunities.