Meld. St. 35 (2016–2017)

Update of the integrated management plan for the Norwegian Sea

To table of content

2 Introduction – integrated, ecosystem-based management

Norway’s history is tightly bound up with how its people have used the oceans and managed the huge resources to be found down to the depths of the seas. For hundreds of years, fishing and the transport of fish to other parts of Europe were the activities that made up the backbone of the Norwegian economy. Today, fisheries and aquaculture make Norway one of the world’s most important seafood nations. Tomorrow, as yet unknown marine resources may provide new wealth through bioprospecting and the development of new food and medical products.

Norway has managed its oil and gas resources wisely, and has a modern merchant fleet that generates large revenues through sustainable transport of goods. Norwegian seafood is clean and healthy, and this is Norway’s main competitive advantage in the stiff competition for market shares in the sector. It is part of Norway’s responsibility as a steward of marine areas to maintain healthy ecosystems, clean seas and a clean coastline.

Norwegian society will have to undergo a transformation process in the years ahead. Economic growth in the future must have three important qualities: it must be green, smart, and innovative. Sustainable harvesting of marine resources will be the key to blue economic growth. The Government is pursuing an active policy for its seas and ocean-based industries. With this update of the management plan for the Norwegian Sea, the Government is maintaining a long-term, integrated marine environmental policy that is intended to facilitate value creation and at the same time protect the marine and coastal environment of Norwegian sea areas.

A growing population needs increasing amounts of food and energy. The environmental status of Norway’s sea areas is generally good, which gives the country natural advantages when facing global processes of change. There is considerable potential for growth in ocean-based industries, but we still know much less about the sea than we do about land areas. This means that the oceans can offer major opportunities that we are not even aware of. The overall assessments of the marine environment and value creation in the management plans provide a good starting point for growth in existing and emerging industries.

As a maritime nation, Norway has a strong interest in maintaining and further developing its role as a responsible steward of the oceans. Norway’s marine management plans are a dynamic tool for knowledge-based, integrated and ecosystem-based management of its sea areas. Climate change and plastic litter are now major threats to the marine environment. The management plans are a useful tool for dealing with these problems as well.

In addition to this update of the management plan for the Norwegian Sea, the Government has presented a white paper on the place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy and an ocean strategy in spring 2017. Together, these documents are a clear expression of the Government’s view that it needs to give high priority to the oceans to safeguard Norway’s security in the future.

2.1 Norway’s system of integrated marine management plans

The purpose of the management plans is to provide a framework for value creation through the sustainable use of 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 sea areas. The plans clarify the overall framework and encourage closer coordination and clear priorities for management of Norway’s sea areas. They increase predictability and facilitate coexistence between industries that are based on the use of these sea areas and their natural resources.

Activities in each management plan area are regulated on the basis of existing legislation governing different sectors. The different sectoral authorities are responsible for implementing the measures set out in the management plans. Together with the sectoral legislation, the management plans are also a key tool for meeting Norway’s obligation under international law to protect the marine environment of its seas.

The management plans are integrated, meaning that the cumulative effects of all human activities on the marine environment are considered. They are also ecosystem-based, meaning that the management of human activities is based on the limits within which ecosystem structure, functioning, productivity and biological diversity can be maintained.

The foundation for integrated, ecosystem-based management of Norway’s sea areas was laid 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.

Work on the management plans brings together all relevant parts of the public administration (see Figure 2.1). It is coordinated by the interministerial Steering Committee for integrated management of Norway’s sea areas, which is headed by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. Other ministries represented in the committee are the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The scientific basis for the management plans is drawn up by two advisory groups: the Forum for Integrated Marine Management and the Advisory Group on Monitoring. The Forum for Integrated Marine Management is headed by the Norwegian Environment Agency and is responsible for drawing up the overall scientific basis for updating and revising the management plans in cooperation with the Advisory Group on Monitoring. The Advisory Group on Monitoring (headed by the Institute of Marine Research) coordinates monitoring programmes for marine ecosystems in the sea areas covered by the management plans. The work of the two groups is resulting in constant improvement of the knowledge base for management of Norway’s marine areas.

Following up the Storting’s decisions during its consideration of the white paper Nature for life – Norway’s national biodiversity action plan (Meld. St. 14 (2015 – 2016)), the Government intends to revise the management plans at least every twelve years and update them every four years. Fixed intervals for revision and updating will make the marine management plan system more predictable. Work on the scientific basis for revision of the management plan for the Barents Sea – Lofoten area in 2020 has been started.

Figure 2.1 Organisation of the management plan work.

Figure 2.1 Organisation of the management plan work.

Source Ministry of Climate and Environment

2.2 Some key developments in marine management

Key developments in Norwegian and international marine management are restructuring in ocean-based industries, global discussions within the UN system on the management of the oceans and ocean resources, and growing recognition of the role of marine ecosystems in the ocean economy and of how oceans can play a role as part of the solution to global problems.

Good environmental status as a basis for value creation and the provision of ecosystem services

The management plans are based on the recognition that value creation based on the sustainable use of marine resources is dependent on good environmental status and on species and habitat diversity in the seas and oceans. There has been growing awareness of this point.

According to the report The Ocean Economy in 2030, published by the OECD in 2016, the world’s oceans have great potential for boosting economic growth through emerging industries and the further development of established industries. The OECD estimates that more intensive use of the oceans will result in the ocean economy doubling its contribution to the global economy by 2030. The future ocean economy can be part of the solution to national and global challenges related to energy supplies, climate change, transport and food security. In order to realise the full potential of the oceans, it is essential to ensure that they are used responsibly and sustainably. The OECD report presents ocean-based industries and properly functioning marine ecosystems as the two equally important main elements of a model of the ocean economy. Norway’s marine policy reflects this approach through an integrated, ecosystem-based management regime that promotes both conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems.

In autumn 2016, an expert committee on green competitiveness appointed by the Norwegian Government delivered a report concluding that there is considerable growth potential in the Norwegian marine industries, provided that they are developed in a biologically sustainable way. A focus on sustainability and the environment will be vital for ensuring competitiveness in the future, and growth in marine industries will depend on finding solutions to any conflicts that arise between different interests. The expert committee emphasised that it will be necessary to build further on the marine management plans and the processes for developing them, in cooperation between the public administration, the research sector and the business sector.

Many of the ecosystem services we obtain from marine ecosystems are public goods. Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Unlike private goods, public goods do not have a market price that provides signals to consumers and decision makers about the value of the goods or the limits on their availability. It is therefore vital to demonstrate and raise awareness of the value of ecosystem services and the costs associated with the loss or degradation of ecosystem services, so that these factors can be included in decisions that will affect the marine environment.

Ecosystem services from the Norwegian Sea include fish and other seafood, energy, climate regulation, degradation of hazardous substances, uptake of carbon dioxide, oxygen production, and opportunities for recreation and enjoying the outdoors. In 2013, an expert commission on ecosystem services published an Official Norwegian Report on the values associated with ecosystem services (NOU 2013:10). The report is an important basis for further work on ecosystem services in connection with the marine management plans and in the Norwegian public administration generally.

The Forum for Integrated Marine Management is working on a more direct approach to ecosystem services to be included in future updates of the management plans. Some aspects of the use value of several ecosystem services provided by the Norwegian Sea are included in the figures for value added used in the management plan, for example for the seafood and tourism industries (see Chapter 5). However, the value of ecosystem services that are not included in figures for value added in the traditional sense has not been quantified.

UN Sustainable Development Goals for the oceans and international cooperation

Integrated marine management has been attracting increasing attention internationally. One key trend is the growing recognition that marine resources offer part of the solution to major global problems, and at the same time the oceans are under pressure from human activities.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for the period up to 2030. Goal 14 is to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources’. This goal is supplemented by 10 targets on matters including marine debris, other marine pollution, ecosystem-based management, sustainable fishing, conservation of marine areas and knowledge building.

Norway has large and highly productive sea areas, which provide natural advantages when addressing global trends such as population growth and growing needs for energy and safe food. Oceans and marine resources extend across national borders, and so do the pressures and impacts of human activity. This means that management of Norway’s own marine areas is closely linked with Norway’s regional and global role as a maritime nation.

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) is a legally binding international agreement and an important forum for developing marine nature management in the North-East Atlantic (see Box 2.1).

Textbox 2.1 Management cooperation through OSPAR

Under the OSPAR Convention (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic), parties are obliged to take all possible steps to prevent and eliminate pollution and to take the necessary measures to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities so as to safeguard human health and to conserve marine ecosystems and, when practicable, restore marine areas which have been adversely affected.

The OSPAR Commission can adopt decisions (which are legally binding) or recommendations, and issues guidelines or guidance. Previously, OSPAR’s main area of work was controlling releases of hazardous substances and other pollutants both from land-based industry and from ocean-based activities. In recent years, the emphasis has shifted to measures to safeguard marine ecosystems and biodiversity. One important measure is the establishment of an ecologically coherent and representative network of marine protected areas. This network also includes areas beyond national jurisdiction. OSPAR has also adopted a list of threatened and/or declining species and habitats in the North-East Atlantic that are in need of extra protection.

The OSPAR Commission’s work is based on an ecosystem approach to management. This means among other things that management must be based on the best available scientific knowledge and advice. OSPAR has established a set of indicators that are used to assess environmental status in its Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme (JAMP). The results are used in publishing joint assessments of environmental pressures and environmental status and trends in the North-East Atlantic, which are required under the OSPAR Convention.

The OSPAR Commission has overall responsibility for implementation of the Convention, and consists of representatives of all the parties to the Convention: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the EU (represented by the European Commission).

The Government’s goal is for Norway to continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to promote sustainable use and value creation and ensure that the oceans are clean and healthy. This is why the Government recently presented the first white paper on the place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy. It is a core Norwegian foreign policy interest to ensure ocean health and productivity for future generations, and the white paper includes an account of action to achieve this. The world’s dependence on clean and productive oceans, the fundamental importance of the Law of the Sea and the forces shaping international ocean policy are the backdrop for the white paper, which discusses Norway’s options and responsibilities in international marine management and in the development of ocean-based industries. The white paper also points out that Norway’s integrated marine management plans have made it a pioneer in integrated, ecosystem-based management. Sharing experience and knowledge gained from its system of integrated marine management plans is one important way in which Norway can contribute to international marine management.

The system of marine management plans also plays a part in fulfilling Norway’s duty under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to protect the marine environment in its sea areas. This duty is closely linked to the extensive rights Norway has under the Convention to utilise living marine resources and other resources on the continental shelf under its jurisdiction.

International marine management and the place of the management plans in an international context are further discussed in the white paper on the place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy.

Knowledge development

Ecosystem-based management is based on knowledge about ecosystems, their environmental status and pressures and impacts on them. Since the first management plan for the Norwegian Sea was presented in 2009, a number of steps have been taken to strengthen knowledge about ocean-related topics generally and the Norwegian Sea in particular.

More knowledge provides a better basis for environmental management and for industrial development and value creation. The seabed in Norwegian waters is being mapped through the MAREANO programme. In this way, new knowledge has been acquired, the presence of valuable species and habitats has been confirmed, and many new finds have been made, for example of benthic communities such as coral reefs and sponges.

Figure 2.2 The tube-dwelling anemone Cerianthus vogti is characteristic of deep-seabed habitats in cold water.

Figure 2.2 The tube-dwelling anemone Cerianthus vogti is characteristic of deep-seabed habitats in cold water.


New information on seabirds in the Norwegian Sea has been acquired through the SEAPOP mapping and monitoring programme, including the SEATRACK module. For the Jan Mayen area and coastal waters, analyses of existing information have been carried out and more knowledge has been obtained about human activity and environmental conditions

The monitoring system that has been established as part of the marine management plans makes it possible to follow environmental status in the Norwegian Sea systematically. Through the research programme MARINFORSK (and the earlier programme Havet og kysten) under the Research Council of Norway, more knowledge is being built up about marine ecosystems and the impacts of human activity, and this is also providing a better basis for sustainable value creation based on marine resources and ecosystem services. The seas and oceans are one of the priority areas for the Government’s long-term plan for research and higher education 2015 – 2024.

The overall result is that there is now a more robust knowledge base for management of the Norwegian Sea than has previously been the case. However, there is still a considerable need to improve basic knowledge about the seas, for example by mapping larger areas of the seabed.

2.3 The present update of the management plan for the Norwegian Sea

This update of the Norwegian Sea management plan focuses particularly on topics where new knowledge indicates that new or updated management measures are needed. It does not include a full review of all the measures that were presented in the 2009 management plan.

This white paper is based mainly on the scientific basis provided by the Forum for Integrated Marine Management and input from a public consultation held in 2015. The Management Forum’s report has been published on the website, and includes information on environmental status, pressures and impacts, and activities and value creation in the Norwegian Sea. Another key document is the status report published by the Advisory Group on Monitoring in 2016. The scientific basis has also been supplemented with relevant information obtained at a later date and input from the various interests involved.

In the 2009 management plan, the state of the Norwegian Sea environment was described as generally good. However, the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, overfishing of certain fish stocks, the risk of acute pollution, the decline of seabird populations and the need to protect coral habitats were identified as posing considerable challenges.

The scientific basis for this update includes new knowledge that has been obtained on topics including seabird populations in the Norwegian Sea, coral habitats, species and habitats in particularly valuable and vulnerable areas, and marine litter.

Marine plastic litter is a rapidly growing problem and is having increasingly serious impacts on the oceans. Because of the scale of the problem and the national and international attention it is attracting, this issue is discussed separately in Chapter 4 of the present white paper.

Indicators for assessing environmental status and pressures and impacts in the Norwegian Sea have been developed as part of the follow-up to the 2009 management plan. Results from the monitoring system and other relevant monitoring programmes are part of the basis for assessing progress towards the management goals for this sea area. The first results from using the set of indicators were reported in 2012. Many of the indicators are based on time series of measurements that have been maintained for many years. The set of indicators covers important aspects of the ocean climate, the status of various species in the Norwegian Sea ecosystem, and pollutants. Chapter 3 presents the result of the monitoring programme using these indicators.

For most of the indicators, monitoring involves annual measurements at selected sites in the Norwegian Sea. However, the set of indicators and the reporting and monitoring routines have weaknesses, and the system needs to be further developed. The updated information on environmental status in the Norwegian Sea in this white paper includes the most recent results from the Advisory Group on Monitoring available at the time of publication. The indicators for the Norwegian Sea are listed in Appendix 1.

2.4 Goals for management of the Norwegian Sea

The 2009 management plan set out general objectives for the management of the Norwegian Sea, and more specific goals concerning conservation and sustainable use (see Box 2.2).

The marine management plans are an important tool for achieving national targets for marine biodiversity, and particularly for ensuring sustainable use so that ecosystems achieve good status and deliver ecosystem services. The management plans are also important in the overall national implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the oceans and seas.

Goals that are not linked to one specific sea area are generally formulated in a very similar way in all the management plans. The wording of several goals was updated in the North Sea-Skagerrak management plan (Meld. St. 37 (2012 – 2013)). Further harmonisation of the goals in the different management plans will be considered.

An expert committee has been appointed to develop recommendations for scientific criteria for good ecological status, and will deliver its report in June 2017. The committee was appointed as part of the follow-up to the white paper on Norway’s national biodiversity action plan. The recommended criteria for good ecological status for marine waters will be part of an overall system using a common framework to describe ecological status in all Norway’s ecosystems. The Advisory Group on Monitoring will then develop scientific criteria for good ecological status in marine waters as part of its work on the management plans.

This process will make it possible to further refine and supplement the goals of the management plan. Since the work is still under way, the goals from 2009 are not being updated in this update of the management plan. When the goals are updated, this must also be done in a way that reflects Norway’s national biodiversity targets. The 2016 white paper on maritime safety and the preparedness and response system for acute pollution (Meld. St. No. 35 (2015 – 2016)) includes the Government’s new goals in this area, and these will be used as a basis for updating relevant goals in the management plans.

Some of the environmental goals set out in the 2009 management plan have not been achieved. Chapter 7 presents the Government’s proposals for continued action and new measures to achieve the goals.

Textbox 2.2 Goals for management of the Norwegian Sea

General objectives for management of the -Norwegian Sea

The Government has set the following general objectives for management of the Norwegian Sea:

  • management of the Norwegian Sea will promote sustainable use of the area and its resources to the benefit of the region and the country in general;

  • the management regime will take special account of the need to protect vulnerable habitat types and species;

  • the management regime will ensure that activities in the area do not threaten the natural resource base and will thus safeguard opportunities for future value creation;

  • the management regime will supplement necessary new legislation by further developing and strengthening the capacity for cooperation between Norwegian and foreign law enforcement bodies;

  • the management regime will facilitate economically viable commercial activities and as far as possible promote value creation and employment in the region;

  • management of commercial activities in the area will be coordinated to ensure that the various industries are able to coexist and that the overall level of activity is adjusted to take account of environmental considerations;

  • harvesting of living marine resources will promote value creation and secure welfare and business development to the benefit of the country as a whole;

  • living marine resources will be managed sustainably through the ecosystem approach;

  • petroleum activities will promote value creation and secure welfare and business development to the benefit of the country as a whole;

  • steps will be taken to facilitate the profitable production of oil and gas on the basis of health, environment and safety requirements and standards that are adapted to environmental considerations and the needs of other industries;

  • the development of offshore renewable energy production will be facilitated, taking into account environmental considerations and other activities;

  • favourable conditions will be provided for safe, secure and effective maritime transport that takes account of environmental considerations and promotes value creation in the region;

  • the Norwegian Sea will continue to be a source of high-quality seafood for international markets.

Goals for the protection and sustainable use of the Norwegian Sea

The Government has set the following goals for the protection and sustainable use of the Norwegian Sea:

Management of biodiversity

  • Management of the Norwegian Sea will ensure that diversity at ecosystem, habitat, species and genetic levels, and the productivity of ecosystems, are maintained. Human activity in the area will not damage the structure, functioning or productivity of ecosystems.

Management of particularly valuable and -vulnerable areas and habitat types

  • Activities in particularly valuable and vulnerable areas will be conducted in such a way that the ecological functioning and biodiversity of such areas are not threatened.

  • Damage to marine habitats that are considered to be endangered or vulnerable will be avoided.

  • In marine habitats that are particularly important for the structure, functioning and productivity of ecosystems, activities will be conducted in such a way that all ecological functions are maintained.

Species management

  • Naturally occurring species will exist in viable populations and genetic diversity will be maintained.

  • Management of living marine resources will be based on the principles of sustainable harvesting.

  • Species that are essential to the structure, functioning and productivity of ecosystems will be managed in such a way that they are able to maintain their role as key species in the ecosystem concerned.

  • Populations of endangered and vulnerable species and species for which Norway has a special responsibility will be maintained or restored to viable levels. Unintentional negative pressures on such species as a result of activity in the Norwegian Sea will be avoided

  • The introduction of alien species through human activity will be avoided.

Marine protected areas in the Norwegian Sea

  • A number of marine protected areas will be established in the Norwegian Sea by 2010 as part of the OSPAR network of Marine Protected Areas.

  • A representative network of marine protected areas will be established in the coastal and sea areas of the Norwegian Sea at the latest by 2012.

Pollution in general

  • Releases and inputs of pollutants to the Norwegian Sea area will not result in injury to health or damage the productivity of the natural environment and its capacity for self-renewal. Activities in the area will not result in higher levels of pollutants.

Hazardous substances and radioactive substances

  • The environmental concentrations of hazardous and radioactive substances will not exceed the background levels for naturally occurring substances and will be close to zero for man-made synthetic substances, and releases and inputs of hazardous or radioactive substances from activities in the Norwegian Sea will not cause these levels to be exceeded.

Operational discharges

  • Operational discharges from activities in the area will not result in damage to the environment or elevated background levels of oil or other environmentally hazardous substances over the long term.

Marine litter

  • Litter and other environmental damage caused by releases and waste from activities in the Norwegian Sea will be avoided.

Safe seafood

  • Fish and other seafood will be safe and will be perceived as safe by consumers in the various markets.

  • Activities in the Norwegian Sea will not result in higher levels of pollutants in seafood.

Acute pollution

  • The risk of damage to the environment and living marine resources from acute pollution will be kept at a low level and continuous efforts will be made to reduce it further. Activities that involve a risk of acute pollution will be managed with this objective in mind.

  • Maritime safety measures and the oil spill preparedness and response system will be designed and dimensioned to effectively keep the risk of damage to the environment and living marine resources at a low level.

To front page