Meld. St. 20 (2019–2020)

Norway’s integrated ocean management plans — Barents Sea–Lofoten area; the Norwegian Sea; and the North Sea and Skagerrak— Report to the Storting (white paper)

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1 Summary

Value creation from Norway’s ocean-based activities now and in the future depends on maintaining good environmental status and high biodiversity in the marine and coastal environment, safeguarding the oceans as a source of food and using ocean resources sustainably. The management plans previously published for specific areas have established an overall framework and measures for the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems. In this white paper, the Government describes how it intends to continue and consolidate Norway’s integrated, ecosystem-based ocean management plan system.

Purpose of the management plans

The purpose of the management plans is to provide a framework for value creation through the sustainable use of marine natural resources and ecosystem services 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, and for maintaining the high environmental value of Norway’s marine areas.

Norway’s ocean management plan system

Norway laid the foundation for integrated, ecosystem-based ocean management in the white paper Protecting the Riches of the Sea (Report No. 12 (2001–2002) to the Storting). The white paper described the vision of maintaining clean, rich seas so that future generations can continue to harvest the wealth of resources that the sea has to offer. Since then, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) has considered and approved integrated, ecosystem-based management plans for all Norwegian sea areas.

The management plans clarify an overall framework and encourage closer coordination and clear priorities for management of Norway’s marine areas. They increase predictability and facilitate coexistence between industries that are based on the use of these areas and their natural resources. Activities in each management plan area are regulated on the basis of existing legislation governing different sectors. The various sectoral authorities are responsible for implementing the measures set out in the management plans, under relevant legislation that they administer.

This white paper brings together all the management plans for the first time. It includes a revised management plan for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area and updated management plans for the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea and Skagerrak. The Forum for Integrated Ocean Management and the Advisory Group on Monitoring are responsible for organising work on the scientific basis for the management plans, and there is a well-organised monitoring system for all three marine areas. There is now capacity in the management plan system to compile a sound, up-to-date scientific basis for a new white paper on the management plans every four years.

The Norwegian Government’s ocean policy

The Government is giving high priority to an active ocean policy and ocean-based commercial activities, both nationally and internationally. In spring 2017, the Government published its ocean strategy New growth, proud history and presented two white papers, The place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy (Meld. St. 22 (2016–2017)) and Update of the integrated management plan for the Norwegian Sea (Meld. St. 35 (2016–2017)).

In June 2019, the Government presented its updated ocean strategy, Blue Opportunities. The strategy highlights five key elements on which the Government’s ocean policy is based:

  • i) promoting, developing and defending the Law of the Sea;

  • ii) promoting conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems;

  • iii) contributing to knowledge-based management;

  • iv) supporting the implementation of international ocean-related instruments;

  • v) advocating an integrated approach to marine management that will underpin a sustainable ocean economy.

The Government has also taken important international ocean-related initiatives. In 2018, the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy was established. Its purpose is to create international awareness of the economic importance of the oceans, and an understanding that sustainable use of marine resources and safeguarding a healthy marine environment must be the foundation for increasing value creation. The need for integrated ocean management occupies a central place in the Panel’s work and was also a vital part of the backdrop to the Our Ocean conference that Norway hosted in Oslo in October 2019.

Environmental status and trends in Norwegian waters

Environmental status in Norway’s rich, productive seas is in many respects good, but climate change is having growing impacts, and is clearly affecting the status of ecosystems in both the North Sea and the Barents Sea. Current knowledge indicates that pressures and impacts related to climate change and ocean acidification will intensify markedly. Considerable challenges are expected to arise as a result of interactions between the expected impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, and the more direct local and regional impacts of human activity at sea and along the coast.

The Barents Sea–Lofoten area

In the Barents Sea, climate change has resulted in long-term trends of rising sea temperatures, shrinking ice cover and large-scale ecological changes, especially in the northernmost areas. The rising temperatures and shrinking sea ice cover have resulted in changes in ecosystem production and biomass. Total primary production (phytoplankton) has risen, and biomass has almost doubled, mainly as a result of rising quantities of Arctic krill species (zooplankton). There have also been observations of growing numbers of southerly krill species and a decline in the quantity of lipid-rich Arctic zooplankton species. The decline in sea ice has also had direct negative effects on ice-associated species, for example ringed seal, polar bear and a number of other species groups that live in and on the ice, such as ice algae, crustaceans and polar cod (Boreogadus saida). With a reduction in the area of suitable habitat available to many of these species, they may disappear from larger and larger areas of the Arctic. The Barents Sea is one of the areas where this is expected to happen most quickly, because of the rapid loss of sea ice in both summer and winter.

As a result of climate change and lower fishing pressure, some species, and particularly the cod stock, have expanded their range in the Barents Sea. At the same time, suitable habitat for Arctic species has become more restricted. So far, ocean acidification has not been registered in the Barents Sea.

The Norwegian Sea

In the Norwegian Sea, the water temperature has risen as a result of climate change and changes in ocean circulation, and acidification has been registered. Since 2006, observations of southerly species of zooplankton in the Norwegian Sea have been increasing. These are species that are common in the North Sea or further south and were previously not normally found in the Norwegian Sea. The changes observed in the species composition of zooplankton and fish communities are not as extensive as those recorded in waters further north and south, but the data for the Norwegian Sea are not as complete.

There has been some variability in zooplankton and fish production, but this is now relatively high for many species, while fishing pressure has decreased since the turn of the century. Inputs of pollutants are generally stable or declining. Many seabirds have suffered a dramatic population decline since the early 1980s.

The North Sea and Skagerrak

In the North Sea and Skagerrak, climate change has been causing significant warming since as long ago as the late 1980s. The water temperature is still high, and there has been a continuing spread of southerly zooplankton species, with substantial impacts on the rest of the ecosystem. There has been a considerable decline in kelp forests in the Skagerrak in recent decades. Marine heatwaves when water temperatures are abnormally high in summer have been an important contributory factor in this decline. Many fish stocks have grown considerably in recent years, while levels of pollutants have generally remained unchanged or declined.

Particularly valuable and vulnerable areas

Particularly valuable and vulnerable areas are identified on the basis of scientific assessments as being of great importance for biodiversity and biological production in an entire management plan area. The designation of areas as particularly valuable and vulnerable does not have any direct effect in the form of restrictions on commercial activities, but indicates that these are areas where it is important to show special caution, and where activities must be conducted in such a way that the ecological functioning and biodiversity of an area is not threatened. In the scientific basis for this white paper, the delimitation of three of these areas – the marginal ice zone, the polar front and the Eggakanten area (along the edge of the continental shelf) has been updated. The delimitation of some particularly valuable and vulnerable areas in the Norwegian Sea has been clarified and adjusted. The boundary of the sea areas surrounding Svalbard has previously only been delimited around Bjørnøya, but a preliminary demarcation line for the rest of this particularly valuable and vulnerable area has now been identified. In the North Sea–Skagerrak area, no changes have been made to the delimitation of particularly valuable and vulnerable areas.

The Forum for Integrated Ocean Management has evaluated the delimitation of the marginal ice zone as a particularly valuable and vulnerable area. This is a transitional zone whose value and vulnerability are linked to characteristic features and biological processes, and not just a dividing line between ice and open sea. After an overall assessment, the Government has decided to use the line where ice is found on 15 % of the days in April (15 % ice persistence), based on satellite observations of sea ice extent for the 30-year period 1988–2017, to delimit the marginal ice zone as a particularly valuable and vulnerable area.

Changing oceans

Norwegian seas are part of one continuous ocean system, and changes in other parts of the world’s oceans also influence areas under Norwegian jurisdiction. The entire system is affected by climate change and other large-scale pressures. Further development of Norway’s ocean management system must be based on an understanding of how climate change and other large-scale processes are affecting and will change Norway’s marine areas and how they are used.

Climate change is intensifying more rapidly than other pressures, both globally and in Norwegian seas. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), it is likely that the impacts of climate change, in combination with the use of marine and coastal waters, overexploitation of living resources, pollution and the spread of alien species will further exacerbate the negative impacts on ecosystems that are already becoming apparent. The Arctic is highlighted as one of the regions where this can already be observed.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the oceans are entering a new state, with rising temperatures, more acidic seawater, less oxygen, lower biological production and changes in ocean circulation. At the same time, the rise in global sea level is expected to accelerate. Marine and coastal areas at lower latitudes will be hardest hit. However, important marine ecosystems in Norwegian waters are also vulnerable. These include kelp forests, eelgrass meadows, cold-water coral reefs and ecosystems associated with the Arctic sea ice.

On the global scale, it is expected that both biological production and the catch potential of fish stocks will decline as the oceans warm. The decline will be greatest in tropical seas, and its extent will depend on the level of greenhouse gas emissions. In certain parts of the Arctic, productivity may rise. At the same time, the distribution of areas of suitable habitat for various species will shift towards the poles. The seawater will become increasingly acidic as it absorbs more CO2. These trends will result in major changes in marine ecosystems. The changes we have witnessed so far in the North Sea and the Barents Sea, where biological production has declined in southerly areas and increased further north in response to higher seawater temperatures, are in line with the expected large-scale changes described by the IPCC.

It is difficult to predict all the impacts of climate and environmental change on the oceans. There is therefore growing uncertainty about environmental conditions in the future and whether there is a viable basis for industries that depend on marine ecosystems. This will create new challenges for ocean management at national level and for international ocean cooperation.

Climate change and ocean acidification are altering the ecological basis for exploiting ocean resources; at the same time, action to achieve the necessary emission reductions will intensify the need to make use of the oceans, for example to increase production of food and renewable energy. It will be vital for the public administration both to make use of all ocean-based options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to tackle any environmental impacts this may have.

The cross-sectoral system of integrated ocean management plans combined with sound management within each sector puts Norway in a good position to deal with the challenges arising from rising activity levels and rapid climate and environmental change. At the same time, it will be important to take into account the changes to marine ecosystems and species distribution resulting from climate change and ocean acidification, which may make many species and ecosystems more vulnerable to other pressures. This will require research to understand climate change and its impacts on the oceans, and monitoring to make it possible to detect changes at an early stage; the public administration will also need systems in place to enable a rapid response to new information, including necessary measures. Mapping of the seabed is one approach to building up the knowledge base.

Ocean-based industries and value creation

Norway is rich in natural resources and has always taken a long-term approach to resource management for the benefit of society as a whole. Ocean-based industries play a vital part in value creation in Norway, and the oceans provide livelihoods for many coastal communities. For the foreseeable future, the oceans will continue to be a vital basis for jobs, value creation and welfare throughout Norway, and they can also be part of the solution to the environmental and climate-related challenges the world is facing. The Government recognises that marine resources are important for national value creation, and considers it important for exploitation of natural resources to have positive spin-off effects for communities.

Fisheries and aquaculture: Norway has a large and profitable fisheries and aquaculture sector, which harvests and produces a total of more than 3 million tonnes of seafood a year, mainly for export. In 2019, Norway exported seafood to a value of NOK 107.3 billion. Climate change and other pressures are expected to result in major changes in the size and distribution of fish stocks in the years ahead, creating challenges for fisheries and fisheries management. Current knowledge indicates that there is no potential to increase harvesting of wild fisheries resources that are already exploited, with the exception of snow crab.

Shipping: Shipping in all three management plan areas has risen moderately year by year in the period 2011–2017. This is part of a long-term trend linked to rising transport needs, which in turn are connected to economic developments and globalisation of the economy.

Petroleum activities: Norway’s seas and oceans contain rich oil and gas resources, which have played a key role in the development of the welfare state, and the sector plays a vital role in the Norwegian economy. In the more than 50 years since petroleum activities first began in Norway, this has grown into the country’s largest industry measured in terms of value added, state revenues, export value and investments. There are considerable remaining oil and gas resources on the Norwegian shelf. The resource accounts indicate that after 50 years, about half of the total petroleum resources had been extracted, and the proportion was higher for oil resources than for gas resources. The North Sea accounts for the largest proportion of production from the Norwegian continental shelf, and the province still holds considerable resource potential. New gas infrastructure has been established in the northern part of the Norwegian Sea: the Aasta Hansteen field, which started production in 2018, and the gas pipeline Polarled. There are currently two fields in production in the Barents Sea, Snøhvit and Goliat, and a third, Johan Castberg, is under development. Exploration activity on the Norwegian shelf has varied over the years, but has remained stable at a high level in recent years.

Emerging ocean industries: Offshore wind power, marine bioprospecting, extraction of minerals from the seabed, carbon storage below the seabed and hydrogen production are emerging ocean industries.

Offshore wind power is growing globally, and several processes are underway in Norway to encourage its development. Offshore wind is one of six priority areas in the national strategy for research and development of new, climate-friendly energy technology, Energi21. At present, development costs are considerably higher for offshore wind power than for land-based wind power, and there are other challenges associated with offshore industrial activity than with similar land-based activities. Floating wind power may become a substantial energy source if the costs can be reduced sufficiently for it to be competitive. The Hywind Tampen project is under development in the North Sea and will be the world’s largest floating wind farm to date.

Marine bioprospecting is of particular interest in northern seas because they are home to many species that are specialised to survive extreme and often changeable conditions.

Extraction of minerals from the seabed may have considerable market potential in future as electrification of society progresses. This is expected to increase demand for metallic minerals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese, and for certain rare earths that are used in electronics and battery technology. Polymetallic crusts and sulphides have been found on the Norwegian continental shelf.

According to both the IPCC and the International Energy Agency (IEA), it will be difficult and substantially more costly to achieve climate targets without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Norway already has many years’ experience of carbon capture and storage under the seabed on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Green competitiveness: the Norwegian Government presented its strategy for green competitiveness in 2018. This links together industrial development and climate action. Renewable energy sources such as offshore wind, carbon capture and storage under the seabed, and green shipping are three areas where Norway has much to offer, and where sound ocean management can play a part in a green shift in the economy.

Coordinated spatial management and coexistence between ocean-based industries: in view of the expected growth in new and emerging ocean industries, the Government will consider whether there are certain geographical areas where many different interests intersect. It will be important to review the impacts, including the economic impacts, of various options for the use of Norway’s marine areas, and to weigh up potentially conflicting interests in individual cases.

Overall framework and measures for conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems

A comprehensive set of targets and indicators has been developed for the management plans. This white paper includes a status report on progress towards the targets set out in the earlier management plans. It presents measures relating to climate change, good environmental status and sustainable use, the knowledge base, the exchange of information and experience, and further development of the management plan system.

The earlier management plans presented a framework for petroleum activities in each geographical area. With some changes and refinements, this white paper gives a complete overview of the current framework for petroleum activities for all three management plan areas, which will apply until the management plans are next updated.

On the basis of new information from the IPCC, this white paper focuses particularly on climate change and its implications for ocean management in the future. The Government will ensure climate-resilient management of living marine resources and marine biodiversity, so that it is possible to maintain viable populations and ecosystem services as far as possible in a changing climate. The Government will actively pursue a policy to promote green transformation of the Norwegian economy.

As regards food production from the oceans, the Government will review options for sustainable harvesting of new species, particularly species at low trophic levels.

The Government will present an update of its integrated strategy to combat plastic waste, which will include measures to deal with both ocean- and land-based sources and will consider plastic litter and microplastics in the oceans, in freshwater and on land. The Government is working towards a new comprehensive global agreement to combat marine litter and microplastics, which will have the aim of eliminating inputs from all ocean- and land-based sources.

The Government will build up knowledge about marine ecosystems and how they are changing as a result of greater human activity, climate change and pollution. The Government will also strengthen knowledge about the role of marine ecosystems in global climate evolution.

The Government will continue to promote integrated, ecosystem-based management in international ocean cooperation, and will advocate the use of knowledge about climate change and other factors with an impact on the oceans as a basis for work in relevant international forums and agreements.

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