Licensing & Permissions

England’s aquaculture industry is currently made up of a diverse range of mostly small and medium sized enterprises that are close to local markets.

Farms produce a range of finfish, shellfish and crustaceans in marine, intertidal and freshwater environments. With increasing drivers of food and nutritional security, a growing population and increasing demand for healthy products the English industry must increase production to meet these needs.

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) has developed guidance on English Aquaculture regulatory issues which is collated in this single Seafish hosted portal to assist businesses and regulators deal with aquaculture applications. As owners of this guidance Cefas have in place annual review and update schedules. Any comments or questions about the Toolbox and its contents should be directed to Cefas.

Aquaculture Regulatory Toolbox for England

Here you will find Cefas guidance on regulatory requirements for new aquaculture businesses in England covering existing and emerging sub-sectors. This information has been offered on the Seafish web site since March 2016 and the PDFs downloadable below were most recently updated by Cefas in March 2019. Note: A similar toolbox providing Cefas guidance for aquaculture businesses in Wales is available on the Marine Wales website.

Initial Documents

Aquaculture Sectors

Licensing of Marine Aquaculture

Crown Estate Leases

Where the seabed is owned by the Crown then The Crown Estate (TCE) has a statutory duty to obtain a return for the use of land within that ownership and so rental is due for areas of seabed used for commercial purposes, including aquaculture. As such TCE is responsible for granting aquaculture leases for deployment of aquaculture equipment on the seabed (e.g. fixed gear such as in rope mussel cultivation) out to 12nm.

Some limited private ownership of the seabed does occur around the UK where these private property rights prevent public fishing. Permission to operate an aquaculture business within these privately-owned areas would therefore be subject to a lease arrangement between the land owner and the aquaculture operator.

Seabed rentals charged by TCE for shellfish are linked to the amount of equipment on site and specified in the lease i.e. these relate to fixed gear aquaculture operations not seabed cultivation. The TCE website states that the majority of shellfish farms pay a relatively small amount which reflects the nature of the industry, being largely comprised of small-scale farms.

In England and Wales an application to TCE for a fish or shellfish farming lease can be made at any time.  Statutory consent is not required as a prerequisite. If statutory consent has not been obtained, then rather than a full lease, a lease-option will be offered.  A lease-option will be important where an applicant does not want to commit to the expenditure of pursuing statutory consent without some assurance that a lease will be granted if consent is obtained.  A lease-option agreement would remain in place until statutory consent is granted but would lapse if the consent is not granted within the period specified in the option agreement. (Source: www.thecrownestate.co.uk/coastal/aquaculture/working-with-us/aquaculture-leases/)

Fishery Orders

Licensing to undertake seabed cultivation where some rights of ownership or tenure accrue to the aquaculture operator are normally granted through a type of Fishery Order known as a Several Order under the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 and these cover areas out to 6nm. Given the need for bivalve shellfish to be within the area of primary productivity if reasonable growth rates are to be achieved, then 6nm should cover most areas considered for offshore seabed cultivation.  The granting of a Several Order is for a fixed time period and in effect removes the public common law right of fishing.

The underlying rationale for the granting of a Several Order is that the productivity of the fishery must be enhanced and the applicant for a Several Order must therefore supply a management plan stating how this will be achieved.

In England, Several Orders are granted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) whereas in Wales this power rests with Welsh Government. The process of obtaining a Several Order can be a time consuming and possibly costly process especially if there are public objections to the application necessitating a public enquiry.  In England the option does exist for Several Orders to be granted to the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) which may then lease the rights under the order.

For further information regarding Fishery Orders please see the following website:

Fishery Orders

Marine Licences

Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for marine licensing of certain activities in English inshore and offshore waters and for Welsh and Northern Ireland offshore waters.

In general shellfish aquaculture activities are exempt from the requirement for a marine license.  The Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011, as amended by the 2013 Order, exempts “the deposit of any shellfish, trestle, raft, cage, pole or line in the course of the propagation or cultivation of shellfish”.  The MMO state that this is provided that the deposit is unlikely to cause obstruction or danger to navigation and that the deposit is not made for the purposes of disposal.  The likelihood of impacting shipping should always be ascertained through discussions with the appropriate competent organisation e.g. local harbour authority.

It should be noted however that whilst most shellfish aquaculture activities are exempt from marine licensing by the MMO or NRW an exemption notification must be obtained before any activities can be carried out. Further information about marine licensing is available on the MMO and NRW websites.

Aquaculture Production Business Authorisation

Obtaining an APB Authorisation

Under the Aquatic Animal Health (England and Wales) Regulations 2009 all aquaculture production businesses (APB’s) must be authorised by the competent authority.  For England and Wales, the competent authority is the Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

Applications to establish a new APB, change ownership of an APB or to change use and species at an existing APB can be made by submission to the FHI of a completed Form AW1.  This form can also be used to request permission to introduce alien and locally absent species under The Alien and Locally Absent Species in Aquaculture (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

The information requested by the Form AW1 includes details about the applicant and owner/operator; proposed changes to an existing APB; details of the site to be developed; species to be cultivated; facilities to be utilised; details of entitlement to operate e.g. lease contract.  The form can be supplemented with additional information about the proposed aquaculture operation which could include mitigation approaches for any known impacts on that site.  The latter is especially relevant where the APB may be located within or near an inshore or offshore European Marine Site (EMS) such as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).

Amendments to Regulation 100 contained within the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) Regulations 2011 mean that “marine works” (shellfish farm in this case) now includes authorisations for APBs.  Therefore, where a proposed shellfish farm will take place within an EMS, the APB authorisation is now subject to the Habitats Regulations Assessment for plans or projects.  As such any shellfish farm application in an EMS is now required under Regulation 61 to undergo a Test of Likely Significant Effect (LSE) on the designated features. Therefore, if no other consents are needed, then the FHI as the competent authority must determine whether an appropriate assessment is required, based on information reasonably provided by the applicant, during which they must take into consideration any advice from Natural England and published guidance available from the European Commission. The application can only be consented to if it does not adversely affect the integrity of the EMS, based on the site’s conservation objectives.

The general consultation process for APB authorisation is the same for both England and Wales but with different consultees (Mike Gubbins, FHI, pers. comm.).  Consultees are granted up to 90 days in which to reply to the consultation process. The consultees used for shellfish sites will include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Food Standards Agency / Cefas Classification and Sanitary Survey teams
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • The IFCAs
  • The Crown Estate
  • The Local Authority

Any objections, comments or queries by the consultees will require investigation as part of the APB application process.  Before any authorisation of an APB can take place an assessment visit by an FHI Inspector will normally take place. This site visit allows the Inspector an opportunity to follow up on comments by the consultees and the Inspector will normally take this opportunity to discuss with the applicant the detailed conditions of authorisation that the site would be subject to whilst operating as an APB.

Biosecurity Measures Plan

As an integral part of the authorisation process for an APB, the applicant will be required to draw up and have approved a Biosecurity Measures Plan (BMP).  This BMP should help to identify disease risks associated with the proposed farm through shellfish movements, site procedures etc. and should then offer risk limitation or mitigation measures in this respect. It would be considered best practice within the BMP, bearing in mind the fact that introductions of non-native species would be illegal, to also consider any non-native or invasive species implications associated with the operation of the shellfish farm e.g. non-native introductions with seed movements.

Guidance and a template for the BMP is available on www.defra.gov.uk/aahm. It is recommended that the draft BMP is submitted to the FHI before the site assessment visit by the FHI Inspector.  This will then allow the Inspector time to review the BMP and then to offer informed advice to the applicant on finalising the BMP following the site assessment visit.

Following a Form AW1 application, and once a BMP has been approved by the FHI, no LSE has been confirmed (where applicable), a site inspection has been carried out and the consultation process has been finalised then an APB authorisation can be issued.

Surveillance Scheme

Authorised APBs will be assessed for risk in terms of disease prevention and control and will then undergo site visits by Inspectors at predefined intervals.  These inspections are designed to help ensure that the APB is operating within its authorisation conditions and as stipulated within the BMP.

Information on designated areas of notifiable diseases is available through Cefas on www.defra.gov.uk/aahm in the section ‘Disease Designations’. It is recommended that this website is reviewed periodically in order to keep up to date with disease occurrences, especially where a shellfish farm may be involved in bringing shellfish in from other areas.

Record Keeping

The authorisation conditions for an APB will state the minimum level of record keeping required in operating a shellfish farm.  This will include the following:

  • Movement records; CEFAS will provide a Movement Book, completion of which is considered the minimum level of record keeping in this respect. This Movement Book, or an equivalent electronic format, must be available for inspection at any time.  The movements recorded must include all shipments of molluscan shellfish into and out of the mollusc farming area including movements to processing.
  • Mortality records; The BMP template available from CEFAS contains a ‘Biosecurity log book’ template. This minimum level of information should be kept for any stock mortalities and must detail how dead shellfish were disposed of.  As with the movement records, these mortality records must be available for immediate inspection and in a format that can be copied for later analysis. It should be noted that any unusual or high mortality levels within farmed shellfish should be reported immediately to the FHI.
  • Annual production and economic data; Data detailing annual production of shellfish must be submitted annually and is normally either collected during the first site visit of the year or via a postal request, the shellfish producer may also be asked to provide additional economic data related to the business.

TAPAS Project

An ‘Aquaculture Sustainability Toolbox’ for flexible licensing and regulation of aquaculture in Europe.

What is TAPAS about?

Four year study to investigate the bottlenecks to fish farming licensing and more effective management of aquaculture carrying capacity.

Create cost efficient management tools and practices for the aquaculture sector across Europe

To support transparent and efficient licensing, enhancing environment sustainability and thus  improve the potential for food production and employment.

For further details visit the website or view the presentation:

TAPAS websiteTAPAS Presentation
Last updated: 13 March 2020