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New species for EU aquaculture

EU aquaculture

Constantinos C Mylonas, Rocio Robles, Gemma Tacken, Marija Banovic, Athanasios 

Krystallis, Lluis Guerrero and Kriton Grigorakis, collaborators on the EU DIVERSIFY project, explore the biological and socio-economic potential of new-emerging candidate fish species for the expansion of the European aquaculture industry.


The aim of the EU DIVERSIFY project was to expand the European aquaculture industry by diversifying its production and introducing new/emerging species with important advantages over those cultured currently, such as fast growth, large size or low requirement for fishmeal and oil. Another objective was to determine the drivers for market acceptance of the new food prototypes in order to position the EU aquaculture sector as a leader in aquatic food production.

The EU is the largest importer of fisheries and aquaculture products in the world. However, aquaculture accounts for only 20% of fish production in the EU, while the worldwide contribution of aquaculture towards seafood production is >50%[1]. An efficient, sustainable and market-orientated expansion of the EU aquaculture sector based on new fish species and products will reduce the dependence of the EU on imports, reduce the pressure on over-exploited fisheries and explore new segments and tailor-made products for the EU market. DIVERSIFY has identified six new/emerging finfish species, with great potential for expanding EU aquaculture[2].

These fish species were chosen based on their biological and economic potential to stimulate aquaculture across the entire European geographic area. The fishes selected for study were meagre (Argyrosomus regius) and greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili) for warm-water marine cage culture, wreckfish (Polyprion americanus) for cool-water marine cage culture, Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) for marine cold-water culture, grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) a euryhaline omnivore for pond/extensive culture, and pikeperch (Sander lucioperca) for freshwater intensive culture using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). A wide range of factors, including reproduction, genetics, nutrition, larval and grow out husbandry, fish health, socioeconomics and final product quality were investigated for all these species.

An important barrier to the introduction of new fish species is that a large proportion of EU consumers is product-loyal in buying food.

Socioeconomic research

A science-based, applied market development approach was adopted to explore the perception of aquaculture products in general and of specific new fish products. The project addressed market potential and demand factors and motives, consumer and professional buyer preferences, and added value from new product development in relation to raw products.

An important barrier to the introduction of new fish species is that a large proportion of EU consumers is product-loyal in buying food and, therefore, in-depth market research was required to understand consumer attitudes.

Market research identified the potential for new aquaculture fish products in cross-cultural consumer segments with increased-to-strong interest in new products in the main EU fish markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK). DIVERSIFY has developed new processed fish products and carried out sensory and conceptual testing by consumers in the five selected countries. This resulted in a sensory positioning in relation to other species in the market and identified opportunities for marketing. Market research indicated that buyers and consumers would welcome new species, if they are a) sustainably farmed, ideally in domestic or EU waters; b) fresh (especially southern-EU) or mildly processed (northern-EU); c) easy to prepare and/or ready to eat; and d) competitively priced.

In Europe, greater amberjack showed the most promising market opportunities, given its large size, processing potential and superior sensory characteristics. Grey mullet is a very interesting species requiring less fish meal and fish oils in its diet, which increases the sustainability of its production methods. No specific region with a preference for this species was identified. Wreckfish has very firm flesh that differentiates it readily from the other fish. The remaining species (Atlantic halibut, pikeperch and meagre) have certain advantages due to their biological and physical characteristics and are of interest in specific regions of Europe.

Research showed that the introduction of new species would have most impact if carried out on a country-by-country basis, because each market has different factors and motives that affect purchase behaviour. In some countries, the growth model shows that early adopters encourage the majority of consumers to try the new species, while in France, early adopters try the product readily, but encouraging the majority of consumers to try the fish needs extra marketing effort. In all countries, introduction of the new products in conjunction with a reference product that consumers already know improves acceptance and purchase by retail buyers and consumers. Changing the price to penetrate the market was only successful in Spain. In all other markets, price changes had a negative impact on market penetration.

The research has provided new insights in choice and buying behaviour of fish in the five main markets of the EU, identifying the most relevant segments of consumers in the five countries, how the product should be priced to have a good margin and where costs could be reduced to improve the margins.

Processing generally had a negative effect on nutritional quality of the majority of products, reducing the proportion of essential fatty acids, i.e. EPA and DHA, when compared to the corresponding fish fillets.

Farmed European seabass harvested from the Mediterranean

Product development

The project aimed to develop new product concepts from the selected fish species based on consumer and expert input and to measure their technical and organoleptic characteristics[3-6].

In order to generate ideas for product concepts for further testing, focus group discussions were held with consumers and interviews were conducted with experts in the selected countries. In total, fifteen feasible ideas were generated from consumer focus groups. The experts interviewed agreed that the new products developed by the project were attractive and feasible with potential in the marketplace, provided that they are developed in close association with fish farmers and consumers they could increase the diversity of choice.

New product concepts emerging from consumer focus groups, including mass-market products, products targeted to specific market segments and added-value products, were screened resulting in 12 concepts that were suggested for further product development. Prior to product development, an extensive characterisation of the raw material was performed. Five of the selected fish species (meagre, pikeperch, greater amberjack, grey mullet and wreckfish) were studied for their fillet composition, technical yields, fillet sensory properties and mechanical texture. The results identified the processing products best fitted for each species. Prototypes of new products were developed in commercial format (size, packaging and presentation) based on the market potential of the new species, consumer value perceptions and segmentation, the physicochemical characteristics of the raw materials, the technical properties of the products and the availability of similar products in the marketplace. As wreckfish is not available at all yet as a farmed fish, it was not possible to create prototypes from this species for testing. Twelve different prototypes were developed using four fish species.

Meagre was used to develop ‘frozen fish fillets with different recipes’, ‘fish burgers shaped as fish’ and ‘ready to eat meal: salad with fish’. Pikeperch was used for ‘fresh fish fillet with different ‘healthy’ seasoning and marinades’, ‘ready-made fish tartar with additional soy sauce’ and ‘fish spreads/pate’. Grey mullet was used for ‘thin smoked fillets’, ‘ready-made fish fillets in olive oil’ and ‘fresh fish fillet with different ‘healthy’ seasoning and marinades’.

Finally, greater amberjack was used for ‘frozen fish fillet that is seasoned or marinated’, ‘ready-made fish tartar with additional soy sauce’ and ‘fresh fish steak for grilling in the pan’. Guidelines, processing conditions, technical specifications and troubleshooting were established for these products as well as basic information on packaging, preservation, preliminary product shelf life and consumer handling/cooking specifications. These new product concepts had differing degrees of complexity, but in all cases it was possible to produce prototypes using the selected fish species. The results suggested that it was possible to produce these products at an industrial scale, which was corroborated by the presence of other similar products in the marketplace.

The technical characteristics and quality of the new products were assessed[7]. The proximate composition of the products (protein, lipid, moisture, inorganic and carbohydrate content), the energy content, the quantitative nutritional value in terms of fatty acids and the sensory profiles were determined. As expected, processing had an effect on both the proximate composition and fatty acid quality of the products when compared to the raw fillet tissue. However, the effect depended on the processing method used, as well as the inclusion of additional materials (such as olive oil) during the product formulation. Processing generally had a negative effect on nutritional quality of the majority of products, reducing the proportion of essential fatty acids, i.e. EPA and DHA, when compared to the corresponding fish fillets. All processed products exhibited unique, more complex, sensory profiles, with more attributes than the unprocessed cooked fillet of the species. The characteristics of the processed products in the majority of cases were connected to the added materials and/or the processing method.

Finally, the correlation between the fish dietary history (e.g. dietary fat and protein levels, fat sources, etc.), other rearing parameters (e.g. rearing system, temperature, or density) and the end-product quality was evaluated. Results indicated that filleting yields and protein contents were not influenced significantly by rearing and dietary histories at grow out stage. Greater amberjack displayed the highest filleting yields and final contents of protein, fat and especially highly unsaturated fatty acids. Due to its vulnerability to fat oxidation, it was suggested that commercial sizes should be 1-2 kg with a relatively lower fillet fat content than bigger fish. Meagre filleting yield and protein content were quite attractive. This species has a characteristically low total fat content – an attractive feature for low fat dietary regimes – that is not influenced by the dietary or growing history of the fish. Grey mullet was confirmed as the best candidate for marine ingredient substitution of its diet either by terrestrial or marine origin vegetable sources. Diet had an important effect on the sensory characteristics of the grey mullet, especially in relation to the fillet fat content and its oxidative stability.

Production at an industrial scale of the developed fish products was considered feasible. The technical yields achieved were good for all products, thus providing potential for high profit margins. The duration of high quality shelf life varied depending on the product type, but also on the optimisation of processing and preservation procedures. Frozen and sterilised products (e.g. oil-preserved fish fillet and fish pate) had long high quality shelf life, spanning months, while fresh products had a high quality shelf life of a few days, varying depending on the ingredients included, the manufacturing process and the packaging type.

There is a clear need for the aquaculture industry to persuade/engage consumers that new aquaculture products can constitute an excellent source of sustainable, high quality food.

Grey mullet fillet in oil, one of the new products developed in DIVERSIFY

Consumer value perceptions and behavioural change

Consumer studies aimed to understand market segmentation and value perceptions about aquaculture fish and to assess sensory characteristics and optimal attribute combinations of the new fish products.

Consumer value perceptions and segmentation

Based on a number of psychographic characteristics (i.e. category involvement, domain-specific innovativeness, subjective knowledge, suspicion of novelties and optimistic bias) three cross-cultural consumer segments were identified that comprise the top fish markets in Europe (i.e. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK)[8]. These were named ‘involved traditional’, ‘involved innovators’ and ’ambiguous indifferent’. The consumer segments were found to be uniform across the countries investigated creating opportunities for new product concepts across Europe. European aquaculture could benefit from raising consumer awareness in the different segments about aquaculture products. The future of aquaculture seems less dependent on geography and more dependent on consumer lifestyles and their psychographic profiles.

Consumer sensory perceptions

Sensory profiles of six new products from the DIVERSIFY fish species (with low, medium and high processing levels) showed that products with a lower degree of processing generated higher overall consumer acceptability. However, products with a higher degree of processing were found to be more acceptable to consumers who do not like fish because of its taste, odour and the presence of bones. Differences in the overall acceptability and preferences across the different consumer segments were minimal.

Optimisation of intrinsic-extrinsic attributes

The optimal intrinsic-extrinsic quality profiles of the new products were determined using prototypes from the DIVERSIFY fish species[9]. The results indicated that it was possible to create new aquaculture products targeting similar consumer segments across all the big EU markets. A similar pattern in consumer choice-drivers was observed, with country of origin and price coming first, followed by quality certification (i.e. Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) – label); nutrition/health claims appeared to have varying effects. In the aquaculture industry, the use of an ASC label signals to consumers that products come from a ‘controlled’, certified and responsible aquaculture source and increases the probability of consumers choosing and trusting a product.

Communication and behavioural change

The importance of communication in changing consumer attitudes and behaviour towards the newly developed product prototypes from DIVERSIFY fish species was demonstrated. There is a clear need for the aquaculture industry to persuade/engage consumers that new aquaculture products can constitute an excellent source of sustainable, high quality food. Results suggested that aquaculture products should not be promoted using generic messages, but should emphasise the traceability and health benefits as well as promoting the products as tasty alternatives for modern diets and responsible consumption.


The main impact of DIVERSIFY is expected to be the improvement of production technologies for the new/emerging fish species assessed in the project[10-12]. Furthermore, DIVERSIFY provides useful information on consumer perception and preferences that could help to increase the consumption of aquaculture products in the EU. An integrated approach combining biological, technological and socioeconomic activities will lead to a reduction in the dependence of the EU on imports from third countries, which do not always meet the desired standards for health, production methods and environmental quality.

Constantinos C Mylonas (HCMR, Greece), Rocio Robles (CTAQUA, Spain), Gemma Tacken (SWR/DLO, The Netherlands), Marija Banovic (UAarhus, Denmark), Athanasios Krystallis (Hellenic Research House, Greece), Lluis Guerrero (IRTA, Spain) and Kriton Grigorakis (HCMR, Greece)

The DIVERSIFY (EU FP7- GA603121) consortium consisted of 40 partners from 12 European countries, made up of research and academic institutions, as well as nine SMEs, three large enterprises, five professional associations and one consumer non-governmental organisation. DIVERSIFY had a total budget of €11.8m and lasted for five years (2013 – 2018).

Dr Constantinos C Mylonas, Director of Research, Hellenic Center for Marine Research (HCMR), Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture, PO Box 2204, Heraklion 71003, Crete, Greece


Telephone +30 2810 337878

Rocio Robles, Ctaqua Technical Consultant, Edif. Ctaqua, Muelle Comercial s/n, 11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz-Spain



1. FAO, 2018. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 - Meeting the sustainable development goals. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 210 pp

2. Mylonas, C., Robles, R., Estévez, E., Papandroulakis, N., Fontaine, P., Norberg, B., Alvarez-Blázquez, B., Koven, W., Tachen, G., 2017. Exploring the biological and socio-economic potential of new/emerging candidate fish species for the expansion of the European aquaculture industry, European Aquaculture. European Aquaculture Society, Belgium, pp. 1-20.

3. Banović, M., Krystallis, A., Guerrero, L., Reinders, M.J., 2016. Consumers as co-creators of new product ideas: An application of projective and creative research techniques. Food Research International 87, 211-223

4. Alexi, N., Byrne, D.V., Nanou, E., Grigorakis, K., 2018a. Investigation of sensory profiles and hedonic drivers of emerging aquaculture fish species. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 98, 10.1002/jsfa.8571.

5. Alexi, N., Nanou, E., Lazo, O., Guerrero, L., Grigorakis, K., Byrne, D.V., 2018b. Check-All-That-Apply (CATA) with semi-trained assessors: Sensory profiles closer to descriptive analysis or consumer elicited data? Food Quality and Preference 64, 11-20

6. Lazo, O., Guerrero, L., Alexi, N., Grigorakis, K., Claret, A., Perez, J.A., Bou, R., 2017. Sensory characterization, physico-chemical properties and somatic yields of five emerging fish species. Food Res Int 100, 396-406

7. Grigorakis, K., 2017. Fillet proximate composition, lipid quality, yields, and organoleptic quality of Mediterranean-farmed marine fish: A review with emphasis on new species. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 57, 2956-2969.

8. Reinders, M.J., Banović, M., Guerrero, L., Krystallis, A., 2016. Consumer perceptions of farmed fish: A cross-national segmentation in five European countries. British food Journal 118, 2581-2597.

9. Banović, M., Reinders, M.J., Claret, A., Guerrero, L., Krystallis, A., 2019. A cross-cultural perspective on impact of health and nutrition claims, country-of-origin and eco-label on consumer choice of new aquaculture products. Food Research International 000, 000-000 (in press).

10. Fakriadis, I., Lisi, F., Sigelaki, I., Papadaki, M., Mylonas, C.C., 2018. Spawning kinetics and egg/larval quality of greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili) in response to multiple GnRHa injections or implants. Gen Comp Endocrinol 000:000-000 (in press).

11. Gisbert, E., Mozanzadeh, M.T., Kotzamanis, Y., Estévez, A., 2016. Weaning wild flathead grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) fry with diets with different levels of fish meal substitution. Aquaculture 462, 92-100.

12. Pérez, E., Linares, F., Rodríguez Villanueva, J.L., Vilar, A., Mylonas, C.C., Fakriadis, I., Papadaki, M., Papandroulakis, N., Papadakis, I., Robles, R., Fauvel, C., Roo, J., Peleteiro, J.B., Lluch, N., Pazos, G., Méndez, B., Sigelaki, I., Gómez, C., Pérez, M., Álvarez-Blázquez, B., 2019. Wreckfish (Polyprion americanus). New Knowledge About Reproduction, Larval Husbandry, and Nutrition. Promise as a New Species for Aquaculture. Fishes 4, 14.


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