The Chairman of HAPO, Mr. Apostolos Touralias, talks to Ambrosia Magazine about the future of the aquaculture in Greece.

Interview: Charitomeni Vonta

Fish farming in Greece is a major industry within the wider Food and Beverage sector, and how could it not be, in a country with a whooping 13.676 klm of coastline, which places it 11th worldwide, despite the country’s relatively small size. Mr. Apostolos Touralias, chairman of the Board of Directors at HAPO (Hellenic Aquaculture Producers Organization) talks to Ambrosia Magazine about the organization, its scope, the challenges it faces, and the truly interesting future perspectives, not only for HAPO, but for the entire sector.

HAPO is the main producers’ organization in the field of fish farming in Greece. Tell us a few words about the purpose of its creation and field actions.

The Hellenic Aquaculture Producers Organization, HAPO, was founded in 2016 and is the main body for the development of Greek Aquaculture. Today, it provides a unified voice for the majority of Greek fish farmers, representing over 90% of all Greek production. Its core objectives are promoting sustainable agriculture, representing industry interests, enhancing competitiveness, promoting collaboration and knowledge exhange, addressing industry challenges.

Established as a collective, private, non-profit producers’ organization, HAPO offers its members a range of active support in terms of collaboration, development, consulting, problem solving, networking and education. The organization plays a major role in shaping policies and rules that affect the industry directly and influences decisions by ensuring that the regulatory framework supports sustainable and responsible fish farming practices. Furthermore, it operates as a resource hub, supporting its members in their “navigation” in the complex sector of fish farming. HAPO aims towards strengthening the social acceptability of Greek fish farming and promoting the products of its members, which as a result will increase the volume of production and the value of Greek fresh fish, born and raised in the marine farms of HAPO’s members.

“In Greece, Fish farming is developed in isolated areas of the coastline, away from urban pollution and other non-industry activities”

Does HAPO have an international presence?
Of course, and with a significant impact. The presence of Greek fish farming in European institutions and international organizations and its importance is constantly growing, both due to Greece’s leading position as the largest producer of farmed fish in the European Union, as well as due to the complex institutional framework for the operation of aquaculture businesses and the rules for the disposal of their products. It is an institutional framework that changes frequently in order for the production process to adapt effectively to the challenges at hand. In this context, HAPO is a member of two important European bodies:
The European Federation of Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), which consists of 23 national associations of aquaculture producers.
The Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC), which is responsible for drafting recommendations to the European Commission and Member States for any new legislative, regulatory or legal measure, at European or national level, affecting the Aquaculture industry.
In addition, HAPO has developed cooperative relationships with International Organizations, Research Centers and International Scientific Committees. Its staff participates in working groups that are set up to deal with emergencies, such as sanitary and health issues.

Tell us a few words about HAPO’s members, the total production and the total export activity.
HAPO’s effort began in mid-2016, in difficult times and an unfavorable economic climate, with the decision of 21 producers to escape from introversion and cooperate with each other in order to achieve the diversification of Greek fish. The decision taken was to invest private resources in the national identity of the product.
In Greece, fish farming is present in 10 of the 13 country’s districts and it is developed in isolated areas of the coastline, away from urban pollution and other non-industry activities. Today, HAPO consists of and represents 21 members with units all over the Greek coastline, mainland and island. The members, small, medium or large companies, take risks, invest in Greece and abroad, develop their commercial activities, and aim exclusively at profitable growth, practically strengthening the inexhaustible potential of the sector. At the same time, foreign investments have been completed, and as such, Greek fish farming has everything it takes to attract investments. In 2022, Greek fish farmers produced 145,000 tons of catch, worth €700 million. Exports make up 80% of total production, i.e. 105,000 tons worth €580 million. We remain committed to our strategic goals of achieving a model of sustainable production growth at a rate of at least 4% per year and improving the terms of trade for the products of our members in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for Mediterranean Aquaculture products and increase our market shares internationally.

“At this point, big part of the Spatial Planning for Marine Aquaculture is pending. To date, 25 requests have been submitted, yet only 6 have been established.”

What are the markets in which HAPO members are active and what are the best selling products?
Farmed fish occupy the second place among our country’s exporters of agricultural products, contributing to the country’s positive trade balance. The 2023 figures are already encouraging as the upward trend in exports recorded last year continues. The evolution of sales over time shows that the Mediterranean fish farming sector is highly extroverted: 80% of production is available in markets outside Greece and products are exported to 40 countries. The main markets that absorb more than half of the Greek production are within the EU (Italy is the main exports’ destination followed by Spain and France). In these 3 countries, exports correspond to 58% of Greek production or 72% of total exports. Greek fish farming is famous for the production of many species. Today, 5 species of fish are farmed: sea bream, sea bass, meagre, pagrus major and amberjack. The latter is the most recent addition after many years of research, and sea bream and sea bass are the best sellers in Greece and abroad.

What are HAPO’s next moves?
HAPO will continue improving sustainability measures and promoting responsible practices among its members, enhancing the competitiveness of Greek aquaculture products in domestic and international markets, exploring new export markets and meeting consumer demands for sustainable and high-quality seafood products. By embracing innovation, HAPO encourages research and development initiatives, collaborations with technology providers and the adoption of advanced practices to improve production efficiency, disease management, feed optimization and overall farm operations. It will facilitate the exchange of ideas, experiences and best practices among its members and industry stakeholders, since collaborative efforts can help address challenges collectively and promote continuous learning within the sector. In the list of HAPO’s priorities is community engagement aiming to strengthen relationships with local communities and support initiatives that contribute to community development, job creation and the well-being of the areas where aquaculture operations are based.

HAPO is engaged with government bodies, policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure a favorable regulatory framework and address challenges related to licensing, permits, and compliance. The most important of them is the allocated Aquaculture Zones (ΠΟΑΥ/ ΡΟΑΥ) that aims to spatially organize aquaculture management areas. To date, 25 requests have been submitted, yet only 6 have been established. Their establishment constitutes a strategic priority and major tool for development. Unless the various obstacles against them are lifted the great potential of Greek aquaculture will remain untapped.