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An introduction to the Government’s new aquaculture strategy

The Government launched its new aquaculture strategy entitled ‘A Sea of Opportunities’ on 6 July. The primary purpose of the strategy is to set a course for the Norwegian aquaculture industry for the coming 10–15 years and to facilitate sustainable growth in the industry. This is a general strategy, but it also sets out a number of objectives and wishes for the industry. This article will deal with some of the main points of the aquaculture strategy.
fish farm in Norway

The objectives in brief
The Government would like to see the aquaculture industry grow, provided that it can do so in a sustainable manner. Statistics produced by the Directorate of Fisheries show that Norway produced and sold a total of just under 1.5 million tonnes of rainbow trout, trout and Atlantic salmon in 2020. By comparison, Minister of Fisheries and Seafood Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen stated in connection with the launch of the new aquaculture strategy that Norway should aim to increase its production of these species to 5 million tonnes by 2050.

In order to achieve the goal of sustainable growth, the Government will help the aquaculture industry to

  1. ensure good fish health and fish welfare
  2. produce sustainable seafood with a small climate and environmental footprint
  3. produce healthy and safe seafood that meets nutritional needs and food preferences
  4. ensure good access to the markets where the products are competitive and be able to document that Norwegian seafood meets applicable requirements as regards food safety, sustainable production, fish health and welfare etc.
  5. contribute to good and profitable jobs and local ripple effects along the entire coast of Norway and revenue to society

The aquaculture strategy outlines a number of measures to achieve the goals set. The Government has announced that a committee will be appointed to review the objectives for regulation of licencing and the system as a whole and look at how it can be adapted to deal with both present and future challenges. The committee, which is scheduled to start its work this autumn, will also consider how the administrative regime can become better coordinated and more efficient.

In the following, we will discuss some of the main points intended to facilitate the attainment of sustainable growth in the industry.

Goal: a uniform and simplified licensing system
The Government has announced a review of the licensing system to simplify it and make it more uniform.

An aquaculture licence is required to engage in aquaculture activities. The licence entitles the holder to produce specific species in limited geographic areas (sites) subject to the prescribed restrictions on the scope of the licence that apply at any time. Each licence is limited in terms of maximum allowable biomass (MAB) (number of kilos of live fish). An appointed committee will consider whether MAB is the only suitable instrument for limiting aquaculture permits, or whether the system should be amended or supplemented.

The Government also wishes to improve and develop the traffic light system, both in terms of its regulatory framework and knowledge base. The current traffic light system has caused production capacity to be reduced in some production areas, and this is a highly topical subject at present. An appeal case is scheduled to begin before Gulating Court of Appeal on 31 January 2022. The background to the case is that fish farmers in production area 4 believe, among other things, that there is no scientific basis for the reduction in production capacity imposed on them. (For further information about this topic, see our previous article on the district court proceedings in the case here).

The Government is also clear that the framework conditions for land-based aquaculture must be reviewed, as well as the licensing system for special licences etc. The aquaculture strategy also emphasises that a great deal of regulatory development will be required in order to enable the potential for offshore aquaculture to be realised. For example, the procedure for setting aside areas for aquaculture usage outside the geographical scope of the Planning and Building Act will need to be revised.

Goal: safeguarding fish health and welfare
The aquaculture industry is facing important challenges in the field of fish health and welfare. More challenges remain to be resolved if the industry is to continue to grow. Fish health is therefore an important focus area in the aquaculture industry. The Government points out that the impact of salmon lice on wild fish and the transmission of lice and diseases between neighbouring sites represent major obstacles to increasing production at present. This is the reason for focusing on how the structure in several production areas should be changed for the better in order to improve biosecurity, fish health and fish welfare, and reduce mortality – all factors that will contribute to higher production.

Focus on climate, the environment and circular economy
Sustainable and efficient production that complies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals will be required if the industry is to continue to grow as envisaged in the aquaculture strategy. In particular, the Government emphasises efforts to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. Sustainable feed resources, electrification and circular economy are key elements of these efforts. More than 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from the aquaculture industry come from fish feed, while about 90 per cent of the raw materials are imported. The Government points out that aquaculture producers will increasingly be required to document their sustainability and footprint to import authorities, private market players and consumers.

In its aquaculture strategy, the Government also focuses on digitalisation and sharing of data to ensure sustainable growth, an action plan for freshwater fish farming, and new species and seaweed in aquaculture. We will not go into these topics in the present article.

Concluding comments and the road ahead
It will be interesting to see what practical implications the aquaculture strategy will have, particularly considering that the strategy is not the sole factor determining important conditions for the industry. If agreement is reached, a lot of work remains in following up the work and recommendations of the different committees, including the development of a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture and the review of the licensing system. Following this autumn’s general election, it will also be interesting to see if a potential new government will follow up the main points of the aquaculture strategy (in Norwegian).