Expert committee for effective and sustainable use of the coastline in the aquaculture industry

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs

Summary of report

Over the past 40 years, the aquaculture industry has experienced an incredible development. With a growth in production from a modest 531 tonnes in 1971 to approximately 1 million tonnes in 2010, the aquaculture industry has established itself as one of our most important coastal industries. To achieve this, the industry has demonstrated along the way an impressive ability to solve a long series of challenges related to technology, operations, disease, breeding, feed, the market, etc. A foundation is now in place that gives the aquaculture industry the potential to become one of the Norwegian economy’s most important export industries when the oil era has come to an end.

Over the past 40 years, the aquaculture industry has experienced an incredible development. With a growth in production from a modest 531 tonnes in 1971 to approximately 1 million tonnes in 2010, the aquaculture industry has established itself as one of our most important coastal industries. To achieve this, the industry has demonstrated along the way an impressive ability to solve a long series of challenges related to technology, operations, disease, breeding, feed, the market, etc. A foundation is now in place that gives the aquaculture industry the potential to become one of the Norwegian economy’s most important export industries when the oil era has come to an end. 

The mandate of the Expert committee for effective and sustainable use of the coastline in the aquaculture industry has included making proposals for a new overall management plan for the coastline. The purpose of the management plan is to contribute to the aquaculture industry utilising the coastline in a sustainable and effective manner, with a minimal amount of environmental impact and risk of infection. The coastline management plan of the future must also contribute to a balanced co-existence with other interests in the coastal zone. The availability of productive areas in the coastal zone is one of Norway’s most important competitive advantages as a fish farming nation. The coastline has long been viewed as a surplus resource, the usage of which did not involve any express requirement for a comprehensive management scheme. Given the growth within the industry, this situation is now a thing of the past. Access to good farming locations is a scarcity factor in terms of a sustainable development for the industry. Large regional differences also exist in terms of the use of the coastline and production intensity. The greatest potential for growth is in the north. In the south, where intensity is the greatest, the greatest environmental challenges are also to be found. Here in both the short and long term, the potential for economic growth will be primarily connected to a reduction in production losses and more effective coastline utilisation. The committee’s proposals take into account the anticipated development and as such are based on the assessment that the challenges regarding use of the coastline over the next ten years will be predominantly related to the farming of salmon and rainbow trout. 

Part 1 of the report provides an overview of the natural framework conditions, the status and 40 years of development in the aquaculture industry in Norway. Some developmental features in other salmon producing nations are illuminated, along with probable developmental features of the Norwegian industry. In a ten-year perspective, the farming of species other than salmon and rainbow trout will not represent significant coastline-related challenges. With respect to the mandate, the committee is of the opinion that the understanding of the term “coastline area” must be expanded beyond the traditional two-dimensional sense related to surface area. Among other things, the impact on the external environment and mutual impact and transmission of infection between facilities should be included in the term. 

In Part 2 different issues are discussed relating to the aquaculture industry’s use of the coastline area, and points of relevance to the design of a future coastline management plan are highlighted. Themes discussed include fish health and welfare, the large production losses in specific regions, the environmental impact from aquaculture and the assessment of conflicts in relation to other user interests in the coastal zone. In a separate chapter, the planning and application processes in connection with the establishment and relocation of aquaculture facilities are outlined. Part 3 contains the committee’s recommendations. According the committee’s assessment, the industry now faces three main challenges in terms of disease and environmental impact, all of which are related to use of the coastline and production scope. Sustainable development in the industry is wholly dependent upon solving these challenges. The three main challenges are salmon lice, escaped fish and production loss. A new, overall coastline management plan must be viewed in the context of solving these challenges. It is also important to emphasise that any coastline-specific measures will contribute to the resolution of these challenges but in isolation will not be sufficient to solve them. 

Three key elements form the basis for the committee’s proposal, each of which represents a particular challenge:

  • The coast is divided into separate production areas
  • The production areas are divided into zones with coordinated sea transfer of smolt and fallowing 
  • Mitigation measures in a production area are managed through indicators and regulations dictating correct procedure.
  • The industry is given a greater direct social responsibility in the individual production areas in order to solve joint challenges. 

The proposals are based on and intended to further a development within the industry that has already been underway for some time. Important aspects of this development are fewer facilities than was the case a few years ago, with locations often further out on the coast, and the facilities are larger, and produce more. A feature of the development is relocation from less suitable to better sites, and a greater degree of cooperation between farmers than previously, through the coordination of operations and fallowing. The structural changes in the industry with respect to larger and fewer companies and processing plants have weakened local ties of the industry in many municipalities. When the positive ripple effects of fish farming are unevenly distributed, it is reasonable to assume that the municipalities’ interest in making accommodations for fish farming will be correspondingly reduced. This is a fourth main challenge, the solution of which is initially the industry’s responsibility. The committee proposes that an evaluation be made of whether the recently introduced scheme allowing the local authorities to levy property taxes on aquaculture facilities is functioning as intended. Such an evaluation should be made after the property tax scheme has been in effect for a period of time. 

A fifth challenge, which is related to the above, is the need for planning competency, the rotation of coastal zone plans, and the development of broader regional and inter-municipality collaboration on such plans. Administrative limits are seldom adapted to the ecological conditions in the coastal environment. The committee submits a number of proposals related to the planning processes. 

The committee will in the following highlight a number of proposals from the proposed measures of part 3 that are perhaps more groundbreaking and thereby potentially more controversial than others: 

  • Division of the coast into separate production areas to reduce the spread of disease and parasites. Each individual permit is assigned to a designated production area
  • Division of the production areas into release zones with the simultaneous fallowing of all facilities for a period of a minimum of one month before release
  • Establishment of an indicator for loss of production and a corresponding regulation regarding the procedure for adjustment of maximum allowable biomass (MAB) in the respective production areas. Corresponding indicators and procedure regulations for lice and escaped fish are to be studied.
  • The option of permanent transfer of permits from production areas with high rates of production loss to areas with low rates of production loss and a satisfactory environmental status, particularly with an eye towards salmon lice and fish escape.
  • No new permits granted or approval of increased MAB for salmon farming before a new system of production areas and release zones has been established.
  • More liberal access to food-fish farming operations on land and within closed sea facilities.
  • Recommendation to the industry regarding a permanent organisation of joint measures in the individual production area.

The members have contributed to the committee work with knowledge from different perspectives in research and management. We have all learned a great deal through this work process and would like to thank the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs for the confidence in the members demonstrated through the appointment.

The committee’s recommendation is unanimous.