The Italian shellfish industry is a significant contributor to both the volume and value of the national fisheries and aquaculture production.
The sector is mainly composed by three branches: Clams, Mussels and Oyster.
The clam (Tapes philippinarum and Tapes decussatus) industry continues to present a satisfying production level, as Italy is stably the leading European producer. Oyster (Crassostea gigas and Ostrea edulis) production is relatively recent to Italy, yet it presents great potential for development as the country has the capacity to breed high-quality products, and the demand for internal consumption is primarily met through imports.
On the contrary, the Mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) industry is currently experiencing a challenging period, with a diffused difficulty to get enough revenues to remunerate the productive factors and make structural investments.
Considering that shellfish production plays a central role in the current European food strategies, the sector’s primary challenge is thereby to identify a sustainable development pattern, able to ensure a conservative use of resources and the food safety, while meeting the growing demand for seafood.
This paper is part of the dissemination process of the VALUE-SHELL project, financed by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forests. The project has been financed as part of the institutional and technical-scientific support activities for the implementation of the National Strategic Plan of Aquaculture.
Moving from the findings gathered during the VALUE-SHELL project, the purposes of this paper are to present the main problems and needs of the Italian shellfish sector, to highlight the current state of the industry and to suggest sustainable intervention actions. Policy recommendations should be addressed to solve or mitigate current weaknesses and support the development of the opportunities and the potentials of the sector.
Materials and methodology
The study was conducted during 2022 through a desk research on molluscs’ industries structures and the different typologies of public interventions and support.
To assess the needs of the sector it was used a collaborative approach, consisting of interviews to stakeholders, such as local administrators and research centers, and focus group meetings with the fundamental participation of small/medium producers, often organized in cooperatives.
Stakeholders have been singularly interviewed about the main sectorial problems from their professional point of view.
Producers were consulted by organizing five focus group meetings on a territorial basis (Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, Sardegna, Puglia and Campania). The realization of the focus group meetings has been made possible by the collaboration of AMA (Mediterranean Aquaculture Association), the most representative molluscs producers association in Italy.
Moreover, an additional focus group meeting has been conducted within the EATIP experts to share the main results of the project and acquire more knowledge at European level.
Problems and needs emerged during the project’s activities has been categorized according to their prevalent nature within the four sustainability pillars (environmental, economic, social, and institutional).
The collaborative process allowed to confront the problems and needs experienced by producers from different areas and overall situations.
From a sustainability point of view, the main reported critical aspect regards the Institutional side, due to the lack of a specific aquaculture law governing the sector and the current fragmentation of competences among different entities. In this field, the most relevant issues concern the bureaucratic concessions of marine areas for aquaculture use and the ongoing process of delimitation of the AZA (Allocated Zones for Aquaculture), an instrument that could solve the conflicts between different spatial uses and grant to shellfish producers the ability to plan mid and long-term investments.
With regards to the economic sustainability, some structural characteristics do create issues in the overall economic performance. Between those should be named the increased production costs and the difficulty to introduce income integration by aquaculture tourism and offer diversification.
Environmental sustainability does involve the relationship between shellfish production and the environment on which it is carried on. Main problems from this aspect comprehend global warming, the need for ecosystem equilibrium in the sea populations (predatory species) and measures to reduce both sea pollution and cementing of coastal freshwater springs.
For the social sustainability, from the focus group meetings emerged a diffused fear on the generational turnover, also connected to the scarcity of adequate professional training and scholastic sectorial education.
The project, both in its policy review and in the collaborative meetings components, found out the main bottlenecks in the sectorial policies that do not allow to completely fulfill the producers’ needs.