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Evaluation of genetic impact of aquaculture activities on native populations - A European network

Final Report Summary - GENIMPACT (Evaluation of genetic impact of aquaculture activities on native populations - A European network)

The continuing global decline of the wild fish stocks has been accompanied by a parallel increase in aquaculture. Over the past ten years, worldwide production of farmed fish has more than doubled, with farming activities now producing half of the fish directly consumed by humans. Similar trends are seen for shellfish. The potential for genetic effects of aquaculture on natural fish populations have aroused a great deal of concern among scientists as well as the general public. The perceived risks are often associated with cultured and native fish, and the adverse effects of ecosystem interactions. Public health issues are also a matter of concern. The project GENIMPACT, financed by the European Commission, started in November 2005 to review existing knowledge necessary to assess genetic effects of aquaculture on biodiversity, review future research needs, and disseminate this information to a wider public. To achieve this, GENIMPACT convened a series of expert workshops on risk assessment and interbreeding and aquaculture ecosystem interactions.

The gaps in our current knowledge, and the suggested research priorities identified during these expert workshops were discussed with stakeholder representatives during a fourth workshop. The outcomes of the workshops were presented and made available for public discussion in the International symposium on genetic impacts from aquaculture: Meeting the challenge in Europe (please see http://genimpact.imr.no/symposium online). The symposium was held on 2-4 July 2007 in Bergen, Norway, a centre for marine science in northern Europe close to areas with large farming activity of Atlantic salmon and advanced research facilities for new aquaculture species such as Atlantic cod. The symposium, hosted by the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, was attended by key figures from science, industry, NGOs and governmental and intergovernmental organisations. The symposium offered an opportunity to take part in defining the European agenda with regards to management of this threat and setting future research priorities. More than 60 participants from 12 countries attended.

The themes, results, topics and issues presented at the four previous GENIMPACT workshops were discussed with symposium participants. The discussion evidenced that there are still major research gaps to be filled, in particular in relation to the differences in species biology, and how this affects interaction outcomes, and levels of present knowledge available for the different species. Addressing these gaps in the near future needs to be a key research priority. This research is essential for the definition and establishment of the best management practices to minimise the genetic impact of aquaculture activities on wild populations. The maximum number of escapes which might be able to be sustainably tolerated is likely to vary among the different species considered, though for most species there is still not enough information available on wild populations and on the fitness of escaped individuals in the wild.

Building on this basic work, it was generally agreed that more research is needed to understand the real negative impact of escapees. Besides Atlantic salmon, for which a lot of work has been done, there is virtually no or limited information for most other species.

Much discussion concentrated on the importance of genetics and the application and development of more molecular markers. It was felt that molecular markers can be expensive but escapes also have high economical costs. Nowadays, however, molecular genetics technology is improving and prices are decreasing, thus creating an optimistic future for the use of genetics in the aquaculture industry.

The GENIMPACT steering committee met after the symposium to consider the points raised in the discussions regarding the priority areas for research. They considered those areas which were key to informing the development of management approaches to address cultured-wild interactions which will aid the development of a sustainable balance between aquaculture and the need to conserve wild fish stocks.

The coordination project GENIMPACT has not produced exploitable results, defined as knowledge having a potential for industrial or commercial application in research activities or for developing, creating or marketing a product or process or for creating or providing a service. The aim of the project was review existing knowledge necessary to assess genetic effects of aquaculture on biodiversity, review future research needs, and disseminate this information to a wider public.

The dissemination of the results of GENIMPACT was embedded in the project from an early stage. A website (please see http://genimpact.imr.no online) was set up and advertised to science and stakeholders in order to keep those interested in the subject updated.

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