Meld. St. 20 (2014–2015)

Update of the integrated management plan for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area including an update of the delimitation of the marginal ice zone— Meld. St. 20 (2014–2015) Report to the Storting (white paper)

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1 Introduction

Norway is a maritime nation. The seas and coastline have shaped the development of Norwegian society and played an important part in forming the Norwegian sense of identity. Norway’s marine areas support a wide range of species and habitats and provide us with valuable resources, some familiar and others that we are still learning about. Many sectors of Norwegian industry and the Norwegian economy are closely linked to the seas, from maritime transport and shipbuilding to fisheries, aquaculture and the petroleum industry.

1.1 Integrated, ecosystem-based marine management

The white paper Protecting the Riches of the Sea (Report No. 12 (2001–2002) to the Storting) was the first in which the Government presented a more ecosystem-based and cross-sectoral marine environmental policy using integrated management plans as a tool. At the time, the management system was fragmented, and there was no coherent knowledge base. Since then, integrated management plans have been drawn up for all Norwegian sea areas. The management plans have been published in the following white papers:

  • Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea and the Sea Areas off the Lofoten Islands (Report No. 8 (2005–2006) to the Storting).

  • Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Norwegian Sea (Report No. 37 (2008–2009) to the Storting).

  • First update of the Integrated Management Plan for the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea–Lofoten Area, Meld. St. 10 (2010–2011).

  • Integrated Management Plan for the Marine Environment of the North Sea and Skagerrak Meld. St. 37 (2012–2013).

The purpose of the management plans is to provide a framework for value creation through the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem services in the sea areas and at the same time maintain the structure, functioning, productivity and diversity of the ecosystems. The management plans are thus a tool both for facilitating value creation and food security within sustainable limits, and for maintaining good environmental status.

The management plans clarify the overall framework and encourage closer coordination and clear priorities for management of Norway’s sea areas. They are a clear expression of Norway’s willingness and capacity as a coastal state to ensure sound management of its marine areas.

Figure 1.1 The Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan area.

Figure 1.1 The Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan area.

Source Norwegian Polar Institute.

1.2 Background and basis for this update of the management plan

The 2006 integrated management plan for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area and the management plans for the Norwegian Sea and for the North Sea and Skagerrak all included a broad-based, overall description of the relevant sea areas, including ecosystem status and trends, as a basis for determining the measures to be introduced. An update of a management plan has a more limited scope, dealing with a restricted number of issues, knowledge updates or part of the geographical area of the management plan. In the 2011 update of the Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan, there was a special emphasis on descriptions and assessments for the waters off the Lofoten and Vesterålen Islands and Senja. The updates also ensure that the general framework for management of the area continues to be appropriate during the period before an overall revision of the management plan. According to plan, a complete revision of each management plan will be carried out about every 15 years.

In the present update of the management plan, the Government will focus on the northern/Arctic part of the Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan area. Human activity has less direct influence on these waters than on any other part of Norway’s sea areas, but at the same time this is the region that is showing the earliest signs of climate change. Changes in the extent of the sea ice are making new areas accessible for human activity, particularly shipping, fisheries and petroleum activities. These changes will make new demands on the administrative authorities.

Updated knowledge about the state of the environment and new measurements of sea ice extent have improved our understanding of the geographical location of the particularly valuable and vulnerable areas in the management plan area. The Government is not proposing to alter the definition of the marginal ice zone as a particularly valuable and vulnerable area used in the earlier versions of the management plan, but will update its delimitation for the purposes of the management plan on the basis of new measurements of sea ice extent.

No changes to the framework for commercial activities in the Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan area are being proposed at present.

In 2020, the Government will publish a white paper presenting an overall revision of the management plan for the entire Barents Sea–Lofoten area. As part of the scientific basis for the revision, the definition used as a basis for determining the delimitation of the marginal ice zone will be reviewed.

The management plans describe changes in the marine environment as a result of climate change. They also describe the influence of human activities in the management plan area on marine ecosystems, including activities that result in greenhouse gas emissions and may contribute to climate change. However, the management plans are not intended as direct climate policy tools. Decisions on policy instruments and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are made as part of other processes, not through the marine management plans.

Value creation from commercial activities is a relatively minor topic in the present white paper. However, this will be a key topic as scientific work on the management plan continues. A great deal has already been done to build up a body of knowledge in connection with the previous update of the Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan in 2011 and a white paper on the petroleum industry published in the same year. This includes knowledge about the potential impacts of petroleum activities in unopened areas along the coast of Nordland and Troms counties, and about the direct and spin-off effects of expanding commercial activities such as tourism and fishery-related enterprises. The results of this work will form an important part of the scientific basis for the revision of the management plan in 2020.

In the previous versions of the Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan, the marginal ice zone is described as a particularly valuable and vulnerable area, delimited using statistical methods of expressing sea ice extent. In recent decades, there has been a clear negative trend in sea ice extent in the Barents Sea. Calculations of the extent of the marginal ice zone have been based on older ice data that are no longer representative of current ice conditions. In the present white paper, the delimitation of the marginal ice zone for the purposes of the management plan is therefore updated using ice data for the period 1985–2014.

The northern part of the management plan area includes the fisheries protection zone around Svalbard and the territorial waters of Svalbard. Activities within the territorial waters of Svalbard are regulated by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. Norway has ambitious goals for maintaining a more or less undisturbed environment in Svalbard, set through white papers specifically on Svalbard, most recently in 2009 (Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting) and subsequent Storting debates on these white papers. Large nature reserves and national parks protect 87 % of the territorial waters and most of the coastline of Svalbard. Management plans are being drawn up or have been adopted for all of these to ensure that the purpose of protecting the areas is achieved. In the northern Barents Sea region, there are close links between terrestrial and coastal species and ecosystems in Svalbard and those in surrounding sea and drift ice areas, and they are interdependent. The territorial limit 12 nautical miles from land around Svalbard is an administrative boundary, but does not reflect an ecological boundary. An integrated management regime is therefore needed that helps to achieve the goals set for areas both within and outside the territorial waters around Svalbard.

1.3 International cooperation

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea constitutes the basic international legal framework for all maritime activity. The Convention applies to all sea areas, including the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. It sets out detailed rules on the rights, duties and responsibilities of states as regards promoting peaceful and sound utilisation of the seas and taking into account the protection of the marine environment and other important interests. Under the Law of the Sea, Norway has jurisdiction over substantial resources. Coastal states also have a clear duty under the Convention to protect the marine environment in their waters, so that Norway has a major responsibility for ensuring sound management of the areas under its jurisdiction.

Under the Law of the Sea, countries also have a duty to cooperate at regional and global level to protect and preserve the marine environment. For the area in focus in this update of the management plan, the most important cooperation forums are the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Arctic Council, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment in the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Convention), the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and the bilateral environmental cooperation and fisheries cooperation between Norway and Russia. In addition, there is substantial research cooperation, for example under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

The International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Extreme weather conditions, winter darkness, ice-covered waters, the limited availability of communication systems and the remoteness of polar waters make it challenging to ensure the safety of shipping and avoid damage to the vulnerable environment. In recent years, IMO has intensified its efforts to provide for ship, crew and passenger safety and to improve protection of polar waters. The adoption of the Polar Code is a particularly important step. The Code is internationally binding, and establishes additional requirements for ships that are to operate in Arctic or Antarctic waters. The safety requirements were adopted in November 2014 and the environmental requirements in May 2015. The entire Polar Code is to enter into force from 1 January 2017 and will apply in the areas defined as polar waters. The Polar Code is further discussed in Chapter 3.

Figure 1.2 Area of application of the IMO Polar Code in Arctic waters.

Figure 1.2 Area of application of the IMO Polar Code in Arctic waters.

Source International Maritime Organization

The contribution of shipping to climate change in the Arctic is also on IMO’s agenda. Ships generate emissions of soot, or black carbon, which is a short-lived climate forcer that has a particularly strong impact in the Arctic. IMO is seeking to reach agreement on a definition of black carbon emissions and identify methods of measuring these emissions and control measures to reduce them.

The Arctic Council

The Arctic states are engaged in extensive cooperation within the framework of the Arctic Council to promote sustainable, ecosystem-based management of marine areas. Norway has been playing a leading role in this cooperation with the aim of creating greater understanding of the importance of an ecosystem-based approach to management of Arctic waters. A new Arctic marine strategic plan is being drawn up for the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in spring 2015. It includes strategic goals to improve knowledge of the Arctic marine environment, conserve and protect ecosystems, promote safe and sustainable use of the marine environment and enhance the economic and social well-being of Arctic inhabitants, and strategic actions for achieving these goals. The implementation of an integrated, ecosystem-based approach to management is a central element of the plan. This topic was also addressed by the Ecosystem-Based Management expert group, which submitted its recommendations in 2013.

In addition, various Arctic Council working groups are working on the implementation of an ecosystem-based management regime. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme Working Group (AMAP) has identified Arctic marine areas of heightened ecological significance in the light of a changing climate and more intensive use. At the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in spring 2015, updated knowledge about short-lived climate drivers (methane, ozone and black carbon) will be presented. The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group (PAME) has conducted an assessment of Arctic shipping and has carried out a project on the use and carriage of heavy oil fuel (HFO). PAME has also assessed the need to designate areas in the high seas area of the Arctic Ocean that warrant protection from the risks posed by shipping, and has identified possible measures to reduce the risk of environmental damage. Moreover, work is in progress on a common framework that countries can use to designate marine protected areas (MPAs) in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Tourism in the Arctic is expanding, and PAME is therefore looking at measures and guidelines to promote sustainable marine tourism. The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group (EPPR) has prepared a guide to oil spill response in snow and ice conditions, which will be presented at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in spring 2015. The EPPR is also developing a searchable database of Arctic oil spill response assets. The working group is discussed further in Chapter 3.5.

In 2013, the member states of the Arctic Council signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, see Chapter 3.5. The operational guidelines for the agreement were developed and are maintained by the EPPR. A framework plan for cooperation on prevention of oil pollution from petroleum and maritime activities in the marine areas of the Arctic is being prepared for the ministerial meeting in April 2015.

The Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears

The Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was adopted in 1973 by the five Arctic states Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the US and Russia (then the USSR). Its purpose is to protect polar bears and their habitat through coordinated national measures taken by the parties to the agreement. The agreement is the key international instrument for cooperation on polar bear protection throughout their range, which in Norway means the northern part of the Barents Sea–Lofoten management plan area, including Svalbard and sea areas that are ice-covered for part of the year. Under the agreement, the parties have an obligation to ensure sound management of polar bear populations on the basis of the best available scientific data. The agreement requires the parties to take appropriate action to protect the ecosystems of which polar bears are a part.

In 2009. the parties to the agreement agreed to develop a circumpolar action plan and national action plans for the polar bear. The Norwegian Environment Agency has drawn up a Norwegian action plan, and the circumpolar action plan is scheduled to be adopted at the meeting of the parties in Greenland in autumn 2015.


The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Convention) unites 15 countries around the North-East Atlantic and the EU as parties in efforts to protect, conserve and improve the state of the marine environment. The OSPAR area is divided into five regions, and there has recently been a special focus on Arctic waters (Region I). OSPAR’s role in coordinating the implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive is important for parties to the convention that are also EU member states.

Figure 1.3 The five regions of the OSPAR area.

Figure 1.3 The five regions of the OSPAR area.

Source OSPAR.

The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) is a regional fisheries management organisation that is responsible for managing all fish resources in in international waters in the Northeast Atlantic. Its objective is to promote long-term conservation and optimum utilisation of the fishery resources of the Convention Area. The contracting parties are Norway, Russia, the EU, Iceland and Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland). Its most important tasks are to develop good control and enforcement schemes and promote a more ecosystem-based approach to management in its regulatory area. NEAFC adopts regulatory measures to ensure that fisheries are sustainable, such as TACs and seasonal closures. Regulatory measures are adopted by the contracting parties on the basis of scientific advice from ICES. NEAFC has a comprehensive control and enforcement scheme and also adopts regulatory measures to protect marine ecosystems that are vulnerable to pressures and impacts associated with fisheries.

In recent years, there has been close cooperation between OSPAR and NEAFC. OSPAR is responsible for surveys of the state of the environment for and identifying pressures and impacts on the environment, including those associated with the fisheries, while NEAFC is responsible for establishing measures to deal with the pressures and impacts of fisheries on the environment. In 2014, OSPAR and NEAFC concluded a collective arrangement with the purpose of further strengthening their cooperation.

The management plans and developments in the EU

In 2008, the EU adopted the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which is based on an approach and methods very similar to those of Norway’s integrated management plans. Although the directive is considered not to be relevant for incorporation into the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA), Norway shares its overall objectives. Moreover, implementation of the directive and its goals on good environmental status will be in Norway’s direct interest, since it applies to marine regions that are shared between Norway and the EU. The directive is the environmental pillar of the EU’s integrated maritime policy. The objective is for good environmental status to be achieved in the EU’s marine waters by 2020. Each member state is required to develop a marine strategy to this end, which must include a programme of measures, to be established by 2015, describing what the country will do to maintain good environmental status or achieve this by 2020. After this, the marine strategies, including the programmes of measures, are to be reviewed every six years, starting in 2018.

Norway and the other EEA EFTA countries consider the directive not to be EEA-relevant because its geographical scope extends beyond that of the EEA Agreement. The EU was formally notified of this conclusion in autumn 2013, and the matter has been under consideration by the EU since then.

The European Commission has invited Norway to take part in the working groups that have been appointed to support implementation of the directive. The directive also specifies that member states should coordinate their strategies with each other and with third countries that share the same marine region. They should as far as possible use the mechanisms and structures of the regional sea conventions as a basis for this. In Norway’s marine areas, the OSPAR Convention is the relevant agreement. Through its participation in OSPAR, Norway can follow developments in the EU closely and also have an influence on how the directive is implemented.

The directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning was adopted in July 2014. It requires member states to establish maritime spatial plans by 31 March 2021. Its objective is to promote the sustainable growth of maritime economies, the sustainable development of marine areas and the sustainable use of marine resources. The maritime spatial plans must identify the spatial and temporal distribution of existing and future activities.

This directive also requires cooperation where possible with neighbouring countries and third countries, for example through regional institutional structures, and Norway is taking part in technical cooperation under the directive. The EU has not identified the directive as a text with EEA relevance, and Norway has not taken a position on this.

Norway’s bilateral cooperation with Russia

The main purpose of Norwegian-Russian cooperation on the marine environment is to maintain the clean, rich environment of the Barents Sea. This has developed into cooperation with a view to achieving ecosystem-based management of the whole Barents Sea. The Barents Sea is considered to constitute a single large marine ecosystem extending across the delimitation line between Norwegian and Russian waters. To ensure sound management of the Barents Sea, it is therefore essential to ensure that the management regimes on both sides of the delimitation line are based on shared knowledge and the same principles.

Norway and Russia have enjoyed close bilateral cooperation on environmental monitoring for many years. In the 1960s and 1970s, this started as fisheries cooperation which also included monitoring of environmental conditions. It has now developed into a joint system for monitoring the marine environment, including annual surveys. The monitoring programme includes marine resources, biological and oceanographic parameters and hazardous substances. A unique body of information on the whole ecosystem is being collected through this system.

One long-term goal has been to develop a concept for a management plan for the Russian part of the Barents Sea, based on the Norwegian model. Russia has now decided that the Barents Sea is to be a pilot area for the development of an integrated marine management system for the country as whole. Norway’s experience of developing integrated management plans and the results of the bilateral cooperation on the marine environment will be key parts of the process that Russia is now planning. Continuation of the cooperation is therefore being given high priority. In 2015, Norway and Russia will publish an update of the joint environmental status report for the Barents Sea and will use a common platform to present the knowledge base. During winter 2014 and spring 2015, scientists from a number of research institutions in both countries presented a proposal for indicators to be used as a basis for a joint environmental monitoring programme in the Barents Sea in the future.

The Barents Sea is one of the world’s most productive sea areas. The most important fish stock here, the Northeast Arctic cod, is also one of the best managed. The healthy state of the stock is due to a combination of favourable natural conditions and very successful and effective cooperation on management of the stock by the Joint Norwegian–Russian Fisheries Commission. Since the mid-1970s, Norway and Russia have practised joint management of the most important fish stocks in the Barents Sea: cod, haddock, capelin and Greenland halibut, and more recently also beaked redfish. A joint management strategy and cooperation on resource control, and in particular steps to combat IUU fishing, have been of key importance. At the annual meetings of the Joint Norwegian–Russian Fisheries Commission, the parties determine total allowable catches (TACs) for each stock and share them between Norway, Russia and third countries. The proportions of the TACs allocated to each country have remained unchanged, and are an important reason for the stability of the cooperation. The parties also agree on reciprocal fishing rights in each other’s zones and exchange quotas for both joint stocks and national stocks. The TACs jointly determined by Norway and Russia are based on management strategies agreed by Norway and Russia and on recommendations on catch levels from ICES, which includes both Norwegian and Russian scientists. The TACs are based on a precautionary approach, and the objective is to ensure a high long-term yield. In addition, the parties agree on various technical measures on for instance mesh sizes, minimum sizes, the use of sorting grids in trawl fisheries and criteria for closing areas to fishing because the intermixture of undersized fish is too great. The parties are also engaged in well-developed marine research cooperation, which dates back to the early 1950s. The results of this research form the basis for the management decisions made each year by the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission, and are therefore of crucial importance for the management of the joint fish stocks in the Barents Sea.

In 1994, Norway and Russia entered into a bilateral agreement on combating oil spills in the Barents Sea. The agreement has been implemented in the form of a joint contingency plan and annual joint exercises, the most recent of which took place in the outer Varangerfjord, in the border area between Norway and Russia, in June 2014.

International research cooperation on the marine environment and the Arctic

The changes that are taking place in the Arctic mean that new knowledge is needed, particularly about climate and the environment. This involves complex issues and research needs, and we know that research in the polar areas is highly resource-intensive. Through international cooperation projects, we can bring together enough expertise and resources to generate knowledge on a scale that is not otherwise possible, for example to describe climate processes.

There are some international research programmes and projects under way in the Arctic at present, for example ASOF (an international programme on the oceanography of the Arctic and subarctic seas and their role in climate) and the EU-funded project ICE-ARC (Ice, Climate, Economics – Arctic Research on Change). In the latter, scientists from 11 countries are to look into the current and future changes in Arctic sea ice and the economic and social consequences of these changes in the area. There are currently no major international research programmes on Arctic Ocean ecosystems, but the five coastal states are developing several research programmes on topics including living marine resources and ICES has established a new group called Working Group on the Integrated Assessments of the Barents Sea.

priorities in Arctic research, sharing of data, simplification of the movement of samples across borders, research logistics and funding of possible projects and research in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council’s Task Force for Enhancing Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic (SCTF) is working towards a new agreement between the Arctic states to strengthen and promote research cooperation in the Arctic. Various difficulties related to research cooperation in the region have been identified, including restrictions on access to some areas, barriers to moving personnel, equipment and samples across national borders and inadequate coordination, data acquisition and exchange information. The aim is to establish simplified procedures that will allow closer cooperation. The task force will ask for an extension of its mandate at the 2015 Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council so that it can initiate formal negotiations on a legally-binding agreement.

Over the years, various forms of collaboration have been established, and these were strengthened during the International Polar Year (IPY). Some of them are being continued, for example through the Norwegian Polar Institute’s project Norwegian Young Sea ICE Cruise (N-ICE2015). The project involves close cooperation on climate research with institutions in Europe (Germany, France, Finland, the UK) and North America (US, Canada). All these countries and Russia are also important partners in ecosystem research.

The major international research programmes that operate at pan-Arctic level need to be strengthened. There are opportunities for funding through the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, since the programme is also open to the US and Canada. One of the seven societal challenges to be addressed by Horizon 2020 is entitled ‘Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the Bioeconomy’. Another is ‘Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials’. The Joint Programming approach makes it possible to pool national research efforts, and involves agreement between European countries on joint planning, implementation and evaluation of research programmes in key areas. The Joint Programming Initiatives JPI-Climate and JPI-Oceans are particularly useful networks for establishing close research cooperation.

There are leading climate and environmental and marine research groups in Norway. The Norwegian institutions that are most heavily involved in international research cooperation in the High North and the Arctic are the Norwegian Polar Institute, UiT the Arctic University of Norway, the Institute of Marine Research, the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), the University of Bergen/Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC), the University of Oslo, the Northern Research Institute (Norut) and the CICERO Center for International Climate and Environmental Research. The Fram Centre in Tromsø plays a key role in Norwegian climate and environmental research in the Arctic.

In collaboration with the research institutes, the Research Council of Norway has identified the following scientific priorities for Norwegian Arctic research:

  • climate research – understanding of the coupled ocean-ice-atmosphere system;

  • climate change and ecosystem impacts;

  • ocean acidification;

  • impacts of hazardous substances;

  • short-lived climate forcers (black carbon, methane).

When the new Norwegian ice-class research vessel is put into normal operation in 2018, this will be the start of a new era for Norwegian polar research. The new vessel will provide Norwegian scientists with a state-of-the-art research platform and offer new opportunities for building up knowledge about the northern Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. It will be equipped for all research disciplines within biology, climate, oceanography and geology.

A major international project including Norwegian participants is under preparation, in which the Alfred Wegener Institute’s research vessel Polarstern will be frozen into the ice in the central Arctic Ocean and then drift with the ice for a whole year.

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