A management plan for the Norwegian Sea was first presented in the white paper Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Norwegian Sea (Report No. 37 (2008 – 2009) to the Storting). With this update of the management plan, 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.
Purpose of the 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.
Norway’s management plan system
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.
The management 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.
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.
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.
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’. 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. In order to realise the full potential of the oceans, the report points out that it is essential to ensure that they are used responsibly and sustainably.
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. However, there is still a considerable needs to expand knowledge about the oceans, for example through mapping of larger areas of the seabed.
In addition to this update of the management plan for the Norwegian Sea, the Government is presenting a white paper on the place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy and an ocean strategy in spring 2017.
Update of the Norwegian Sea management plan
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.
This update of the Norwegian Sea management plan focuses particularly on topics where new knowledge indicates that new or updated management measures are needed.
The process of updating the management plan has been coordinated by the interministerial Steering Committee for integrated management of Norway’s sea areas, which includes all the relevant ministries and is headed by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. An important feature of the management plan system is that relevant subordinate agencies and key research institutions cooperate in drawing up the scientific basis for the plans. The Forum for Integrated Marine Management, which is headed by the Norwegian Environment Agency, is responsible for compiling the scientific basis for the management plan. The Advisory Group on Monitoring, headed by the Institute of Marine Research, coordinates and reports on monitoring of marine ecosystems.
This update is based mainly on the scientific basis provided by the Forum for Integrated Marine Management, input from a public consultation held in 2015 and a report published by the Advisory Group on Monitoring in 2016. 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 are part of the basis for assessing progress towards the management goals for this sea area.
New knowledge has been obtained on topics including seabird populations in the Norwegian Sea, coral habitats, important species and habitats in particularly valuable and vulnerable areas, and marine litter.
The 2009 management plan set out general objectives for the management of the Norwegian Sea, and more specific goals concerning conservation and sustainable use. Criteria for good ecological status are being developed in the period up to summer 2017 and this will make it possible to further refine and supplement the goals of the management plan. The 2009 goals have therefore been retained unchanged in this update.
Environmental status and cumulative environmental effects
Characteristic features of the Norwegian Sea are areas of very deep water, the warm Atlantic current (the Gulf Stream) and high biological production and biodiversity. There is a varied benthic fauna as a result of the great variation in water depth. Large coral reef complexes are to be found along the edge of the continental shelf. The northernmost part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs through the Norwegian Sea, and includes areas with a characteristic deep-water fauna associated with mud volcanoes, hydrothermal vents and methane hydrates.
The scientific basis for this update of the management plan concludes that the state of the Norwegian Sea environment is still good, and that the factors posing challenges for management of the area are the same as in 2009. The present document provides updated information on environmental status and trends and on issues it will be important to address in the management regime for the years ahead. These include the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, marine litter, the decline in a number of seabird populations and the pollution situation.
The pollution load in the Norwegian Sea originates partly from hazardous substances transported into the area with air and ocean currents, and partly from releases of oil and environmentally hazardous substances from activities within the management plan area. Pollutants spread and are diluted in the large volumes of water, so that the concentrations of oil and environmentally hazardous substances measured in sediments and the water column are low. However, certain hazardous substances bioaccumulate and are found at relatively high levels in particularly vulnerable species at the top of food chains.
Seafood from the Norwegian Sea is generally considered to be safe. The concentrations of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances detected in seafood are generally below the maximum permitted levels, but concentrations of these pollutants in some fish species, edible crab, seabirds and marine mammals give cause for concern. Levels of radioactivity are low and generally show a downward trend, and are not considered to be harmful to marine organisms.
A review of the scientific basis for the designation of particularly valuable and vulnerable areas has been carried out, with a focus on the occurrence of valuable species and habitats and the importance of the areas to the Norwegian Sea as a whole. This has not resulted in any changes in the areas identified or their delimitation compared with the 2009 management plan. In addition, in the period up to the next update of the management plan, it should be assessed whether areas where there are mud volcanoes, hydrothermal vents and methane hydrates meet the criteria for designation as particularly valuable and vulnerable areas.
Various areas in which it is important to improve knowledge about the Norwegian Sea environment have been identified. These include mapping larger areas of the seabed and improving knowledge about the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on ecosystems; about interactions between fish species; about the causes of the decline in seabird populations; about the sources, inputs and spread of hazardous substances; and about the cumulative effects of underwater noise pollution.
Marine litter and microplastics
The growing problem of marine litter and microplastics is discussed in depth in the present white paper. Plastics make up about 80 % of all marine litter. It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down completely in the sea, while complete degradation of fishing line takes 600 years. During degradation, plastics break down into smaller fragments and eventually to microplastics. Plastic waste and microplastics are transported across large areas by ocean currents and can be found far from their sources.
In 2001, a UN report estimated that about 1 million seabirds, 100 000 marine mammals and unknown numbers of fish and other animals were being injured or killed by marine debris every year. In addition, litter reduces people’s enjoyment of the seashore and has negative impacts on outdoor recreation and tourism, and can damage boat motors and fishing gear such as gill nets. Lost gill nets and traps can continue to catch fish long after they have been lost. Plastics and microplastics have been found in many different marine organisms. So far, little further is known about the impacts of plastics and microplastics on ecosystems and food chains. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers the smallest plastic particles to be of great concern because they can cross cell membranes.
About one fifth of all plastic in the world’s oceans originates from marine sources, such as fisheries and shipping. The rest comes from land-based sources. The scale of the marine litter problem is being monitored through Norway’s management plan system and the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Convention), and as part of the annual ecosystem surveys in the Barents Sea.
The first target under Sustainable Development Goal 14 is to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution, by 2025. Moreover, one of the objectives of OSPAR’s Marine Litter Regional Action Plan is to prevent and reduce marine litter, and each of the management plans for Norway’s sea areas includes goals for reducing marine litter. These goals are not considered to have been achieved.
Sound waste management is of crucial importance in preventing and reducing marine litter. Before summer 2017, the Government will publish a white paper on waste policy and the circular economy, including new steps to combat marine litter and microplastics. Clean-up operations are also important, and include the annual retrieval programme for lost fishing gear, the project Fishing for Litter, and voluntary beach clean-up days.
Marine litter is a global environmental problem that can only be dealt with through effective international cooperation. Norway has taken the initiative for global cooperation to combat marine litter through the UN system. Further information on Norway’s international efforts to combat marine plastic waste will be presented in the Government’s white paper on the place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy in spring 2017.
Ocean-based industries and value creation
The most important ocean-based industries associated with the Norwegian Sea are petroleum activities, fisheries and aquaculture, shipping and tourism.
Fisheries and aquaculture: The four counties bordering on the Norwegian Sea account for a major share of Norway’s overall activity in this sector. In recent decades, the number of fishing vessels has been declining, but their average size has risen. The herring fishery is the largest in the management plan area. A little under half of all Norwegian salmonid farming sites are along the Norwegian Sea coastline. In 2014, the fisheries and aquaculture industry in the Norwegian Sea and along its coastline generated a total of NOK 19.9 billion in value added, and provided employment for 14 800 people, not including wider spin-off effects.
Pressure and impacts from the fisheries affect both fish stocks that are harvested and the ecosystem as a whole. Bottom trawling can also have undesirable impacts on benthic communities. Ever since 1999, coral habitats have been closed to bottom trawling, and several areas of the Norwegian Sea have been closed more recently. The closed coral habitats have been designated as marine protected areas. Norway adopted regulations relating to bottom fishing activities in deep-water areas in 2010.
Norway shares most of its fish resources with other countries, so that international cooperation on their management is essential. There are several different forums for international fisheries cooperation in the Norwegian Sea, of which the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) is most important.
Shipping: The Norwegian Sea is an important area for freight traffic in Norway, and several of the country’s largest ports are along the Norwegian Sea coastline. In 2015, the volume of shipping in the Norwegian Sea corresponded to 31 % of overall traffic in Norwegian waters. Shipping density is highest in the fairways along the coast and in the southern part of the Norwegian Sea. A relatively large proportion of shipping in the Norwegian Sea is in transit, in other words passing through without calling at any ports. Shipping volumes in the Northeast Passage may influence shipping density and traffic patterns in the Norwegian Sea.
In 2014, shipping companies (excluding those in the fisheries, petroleum and tourism sectors) located in the four counties bordering on the Norwegian Sea generated a total of NOK 4.4 billion in value added, and provided employment for 5 000 people, not including wider spin-off effects.
Shipping can have impacts on the environment through operational releases to air and the sea, illegal and acute releases of pollution, the spread of alien organisms and underwater noise. Since 2009, a number of preventive measures have been introduced that have improved maritime safety in the Norwegian Sea, including traffic separation schemes, recommended routes and improvements in vessel monitoring systems. Governmental preparedness and response to acute pollution has been strengthened.
Petroleum activities: It is more than 50 years since petroleum activities began in Norway, and this is now the country’s largest industry measured in terms of value added, state revenues, export value and investments. There are currently 16 oil and gas fields in production in the Norwegian Sea, seven of which have started producing since 2009. There has been some decline in total production from the Norwegian Sea in recent years, but the level is expected to remain relatively stable in the years ahead. Parts of the deep-water areas in the western Norwegian Sea are still considered to be frontier areas, where large finds could still be made.
Petroleum activities in the Norwegian Sea involve major current and future investments. Established petroleum activities in the Norwegian Sea account for about one third of all direct employment in the industry in Norway. In 2014, petroleum activities in the Norwegian Sea generated a total of NOK 219.6 billion in value added and direct employment for 42 200 people.
Generally speaking, the petroleum industry can have negative impacts on the environment through operational discharges to the sea and air, acute releases of pollutants, underwater noise from seismic surveys and physical disturbance of the seabed.
Tourism: Tourists are attracted to areas along the Norwegian Sea coast by opportunities for enjoying the outdoors, fishing, eating fresh seafood and observing marine mammals and seabirds. The Norwegian tourism industry has considerable growth potential, which can be related to developments in the tourism industry internationally. In 2014, tourism in the municipalities along the Norwegian Sea coast generated a total of NOK 2.98 billion in added value, and provided employment for 7 230 people, not including wider spin-off effects.
Emerging industries in the Norwegian Sea management plan area include fishing for new species, harvesting the copepod Calanus finmarchicus, making use of residual raw materials from the seafood industry, mineral extraction from the seabed and marine bioprospecting.
Use of the Norwegian Sea and spatial management
The marine management plans set out general decisions about spatial management. Greater use of Norway’s sea areas will make it a challenging task to strike a balance between the various user interests and environmental considerations.
Expansion of oil and gas activities, a high level of fishing activity and a certain increase in the volume of shipping are the main trends in ocean-based industries in the Norwegian Sea since 2009. The further development of existing industries and the potential for the establishment of new ocean-based industries in the management plan area will increase the need for coordinated spatial management.
Since 2009, four marine protected areas in coastal waters and fjords adjoining the Norwegian Sea have been established under the Nature Diversity Act, and six marine protected areas have been established under the Marine Resources Act. A plan for establishing more marine protected areas under the Nature Diversity Act is being developed.
As part of the management plan system, the first version of a digital mapping tool for Norway’s sea areas has been developed. This will provide integrated information on industrial activities, species and habitats and regulatory measures. The mapping tool will give a better overview of decisions and measures relating to Norway’s sea areas, both those that are part of the management plan system and those linked to sectoral processes.
The seabed in Norwegian waters is being mapped by the MAREANO programme, which has provided valuable new knowledge on topics including habitats, species and the pressures and impacts of human activity. This can be used to improve the management regime and provide better protection for vulnerable habitat types. Data obtained through MAREANO has confirmed the environmental value of the areas identified as particularly valuable and vulnerable.
Measures for the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems
The 2009 management plan set out long-term goals for the management of the Norwegian Sea. This update of the management plan describes how the measures presented in 2009 have been implemented and assesses the need to maintain them and to introduce new measures. It presents measures relating to climate change, spatial management, good environmental status and sustainable use, the knowledge base, the exchange of information and experience, and further development of the management plan system.
The 2009 management plan established the overall framework for petroleum activities in the Norwegian Sea (announcement of blocks, exploration drilling and seismic surveying). The Government considers that this framework should be retained, with certain specifications and changes, until the next update of the management plan.
In order to implement the international target for conservation of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, the Government will draw up a plan for further work on marine protected areas. The Government will draw up a national action plan for seabirds as one way of improving the situation for seabird populations. The management plan proposes a number of measures relating to marine litter and pollution. The Government will propose new legislation on seabed mining. Steps will also be taken to obtain more information on habitat types and species in deep-sea areas. The need to protect distinctive and rare species and habitats in deep-sea areas will be assessed. In addition, the management plan proposes a number of measures related to knowledge building and steps to continue international work on integrated marine management.